The world of international motorsport has a surprising amount of parallels to the public sector in using digital transformation to drive performance.
When Britain’s legendary Silverstone race track offered its services as a COVID-19 vaccination center in January this year, the worlds of elite motorsport and government pandemic response momentarily collided.
As it turned out, Silverstone was surplus to requirements for the vaccine program. But it wasn’t the last time this year that the UK public sector met the glamour of the Grand Prix.
I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Digital Leaders Lecture in Parliament, the centerpiece of a week of events focused on leading through digital transformation. Joining me on the panel were Rox Heaton, director for digital data and technology at the Cabinet Office, and Ruth Studley, head of analysis for the COVID-19 infection survey at the Office of National Statistics. Delivered by Rob Walker, Cognizant’s managing director for UK and Ireland, the lecture explored the digital transformation of one of Britain’s most iconic motor racing brands, Aston Martin Formula One™ – of which Cognizant is proudly the title sponsor.
Using Rob’s lecture as a catalyst, in this blog, I reflect on the three key attributes used by Aston Martin Formula One that could also be put to work in the public sector, to accelerate progress towards a more just and equal society.
At first glance, the high-octane world of international motorsport couldn’t be farther from the world of public service. But look closer, and the parallels become quite uncanny.
If you’re not familiar with Formula One, for example, you might not know that participating teams are subject to stringent cost caps that limit how much they can spend. With the performance of the car paramount, any cost savings the team can make in its day-to-day operations can be directed into design and engineering to shave vital milliseconds off lap times.
The public sector likewise has to operate under severe financial restraints – with budgets actively shrinking in many areas. Government organizations need every penny for front line services, but vast amounts of budget are swallowed up by legacy systems and processes.
Aston Martin Formula One is tackling this problem by using techniques like robotic process automation (RPA) to automate basic activities, freeing time and expertise to focus on the core task of designing and building a world-beating car.
Government can similarly benefit greatly from RPA, for example by automating away the hours spent rekeying data into different systems. Rox Heaton observed that getting the right data to the right user at the right time can reduce technology and cloud costs, as well as enabling better and faster decision-making.
Agility is another area where Formula One teams lead the world. If you’ve ever watched a pit stop tire change, you’ll surely have been blown away by the speed, efficiency and precision with which this crucial maneuver is carried out. Every millisecond counts, and as Rob pointed out, a few weeks ago the pit stop was a deciding factor in Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel beating current world champion Lewis Hamilton in the Monaco Grand Prix.
The pandemic forced an incredible pace of change that showed just what the public sector is capable of when under pressure to deliver, akin to replacing a set of metaphorical tires in under two seconds.
Here in the UK, the tax authority HMRC rolled out the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme on 20th March 2020, protecting jobs and incomes even before the first national lockdown was announced. The vaccination program has been executed at similar speed – as I write, 43.1 million UK adults have had at least one shot since the program began on 8th December 2020.
Ruth Studley also spoke of the speed at which the Office of National Statistics was able to set up the national COVID-19 infection survey. Like the pit team, she and her team adopted a collaborative and single-minded approach to developing the survey, which updates the government and the nation weekly on the numbers of people testing positive for COVID-19.
Much of this has been down to Government’s embrace of digital technologies to work faster, more creatively and more collaboratively. A cultural shift towards agile and collaborative working is part of that, and something I’m sure we’ll see more of in government post-pandemic.
But perhaps the biggest driver of transformation – in both motorsport and government – is innovative use of data. The F1 cost cap makes extensive use of a real-world wind tunnel prohibitive, so Aston Martin Formula One instead uses vast amounts of sensor data to simulate driving conditions and predict performance.
This data feeds a digital twin of the car that allows designers and engineers to evaluate the impact of any proposed changes before they’re applied to the real-world model. It means Aston Martin can move fast to implement changes, confident they will contribute to improved performance.
The use of vast amounts of data to predict and improve performance is something we’re starting to see happen in the public sector, too – especially in healthcare. In another Digital Leaders Week presentation, Cognizant CTO for AI, Dr. Babak Hodjat, spoke about our work with Oxford University to apply evolutionary AI techniques to pandemic data, to predict the outcomes of different emergency response policies.
The use of data is of course even more sensitive in healthcare than it is in F1 – we’re talking about people’s most personal information, rather than engineering secrets. But with appropriate security, privacy and consent mechanisms in place, AI can be applied to anonymized health data sets to find linkages, patterns and predictions, helping governments to respond faster and better to the changing needs of the population.
That potential is only going to grow as digital health devices – from fitness trackers to pulse oximeters – produce more data for analysis. Governments that repay public trust by using that data securely and for good will be in pole position to tackle not just another pandemic, but also rising issues of chronic disease and health inequality.
Watch Rob Walker deliver the 2021 Digital Leaders Lecture in Parliament here.