The Marussia Formula 1 team has embarked on a project to overhaul its backend processes, where it is moving from using time-consuming siloed spreadsheets to a single view ERP system provided by Sage, in a bid to boost race speed and performance. 

Computerworld UK spoke to Marussia’s operations manager, Kevin Lee, at Monza Grand Prix in Italy about the implementation and how migrating data into a single platform for view across the business can bring benefits to the team’s drivers.

Lee joined the team in December 2010, after decades working in Formula 1 across a number of teams, where he found he was landed with a business that he quickly dubbed “spreadsheet city”.

“There were very few processes and systems in place, pretty much everything was done on an Excel spreadsheet. There were hundreds of processes and there was no integration,” says Lee.

“Because I have a background in larger companies I was aware of the advantages that an ERP system could bring.”

Avoiding spending too much on consultants

Shortly after joining, Lee approached the Marussia board of directors and convinced them to procure an ERP application and was given the go-ahead in early 2011. He then conducted some research and managed to whittle down the list of potential suppliers to three – Sage, Vantage and another UK-based provider.

Lee explained that when he worked at Toyota he worked on a similar project and because of this he was keen to stay away from some of the more traditional, larger ERP vendors.

“When I was at Toyota it took SAP 18 months, a pile of money, more consultants than you could possibly imagine, just to get to a point where we could turn it on. Marussia, at the time, was a team of 70 people and I felt that the size of such a product was inappropriate,” he says.

“I needed something that was flexible, easy to use, easy to install – but at the same time gave us the scope to grow.”

After meeting with and speaking to the potential suppliers, Lee and the board of directors agreed to go ahead with Sage in June 2011. Lee felt that the other contenders were still “too close to SAP” in terms of approach to the project.

Implementing in eight weeks

Marussia didn’t base the decision on an official business case or an ROI, but rather Lee’s “gut feeling”. But he felt comfortable with this given that the team would be going from no system to a fairly comprehensive ERP. He says: “The decision was based on my experience of understanding the advantages of having an ERP system.

“You can see the whole process end-to-end – if you have half a dozen spreadsheets you are walking around the factory asking everyone questions. Now I can sit at one screen, see what part for the car was created, see when it was received, see the invoice etc. I can see every aspect.”

Lee wanted the system in place before the next Marussia car was due to be built in 2012, requiring a quick implementation. He described how from the first scoping meeting at the end of the summer in 2011, the Sage team managed to go live just eight weeks later.

Les says: “The implementation was extremely rapid, but we just had to make some common sense decisions about what modules to turn on. We went for what I would describe as core functionality – finance, purchasing, stock control etc. Core modules that control the flow through the factory.”

Sage UK did the implementation themselves, supported by Lee and his team. Marussia laid out the processes for Sage, who then configured the system, downloaded the data from various spreadsheets, and then uploaded near to 10,000 records into X3.

The migration involved converting all the data into CSV format, which was then mapped onto Sage X3 templates, and then directly uploaded into the ERP system.

Lee said that the main challenge with the implementation was going live in such a short timeframe.

“I don’t think Sage thought it could be done in such a compressed timescale, but we assured them it could and I like to think that we taught them a thing or two. The reason we could do it was that we worked in a pretty small team – four people – so when a question needed to be asked about the implementation, we could get an answer there and then. We didn’t have to go to a user group and debate the decision,” he explains.

“In hindsight this worked for about 80 percent of the implementation. You look back and think: Oh maybe we should have thought about that other 20 percent a bit longer, but frankly we wouldn’t have got it implemented then.”

He adds: “I don’t regret it, but if I had done the whole process again I would maybe make a few different decisions.”

Customisation brings a world of pain

Marussia also made the decision early on to implement X3 with as few customisations as possible, which in turn sped up the implementation process. Lee said that customising “brings a world of pain” when you want to upgrade, and so has kept 98 percent of the platform standard.

Since going live, Lee and his team have been working to bring more and more of the Marussia systems onto X3. He is currently working on integrating the team’s Siemens PLM system, which is used to design parts for the car. Lee’s hope is that once the design team has created a part on the PLM system, this data will be instantly fed into X3, where parts can be ordered and delivered as quickly as possible to those working directly on the car.

“We are working with Sage to automate the link between the two systems. We are still going to use the CSV template methodology, but we want an automated workflow that does it all in the background. So as soon as design creates a part number in the system, it will be available in Sage so we can get the drawings out and request quotations,” said Lee.

“We want to shorten the process of someone looking at the car and telling us that a new part will make the driver a tenth of a second quicker, and getting him that part as fast as possible.”

So far this project has taken the team three months and is more difficult than the original implementation due to challenges developing an interface to integrate the two systems.

“This time it’s not just me and a couple of other people – it’s the whole design team, it’s Sage, it’s Siemens. Instead of a few people working on the X3 implementation, it’s 100 people. It’s a bigger headache and more difficult,” Lee admits.

“Integration is tricky and it’s difficult to get the systems talking automatically. What we have tried not to do is write tonnes and tonnes of code to do it; what we have tried to do is use as much of the standard functionality as possible. However, we have had to do some customisation around the Siemens interface, but only where it is business critical.”