Overseeing an expanded portfolio of projects under the Second Century Plan is complicated by the fact that Aston Martin is a multi-site company, thanks to a new vehicle development base at the MIRA Technology Park in Warwickshire and a new manufacturing facility in South Wales. Testing sites and suppliers are located around the world, but along with Microsoft Exchange Online cloud-based email, Mark Stringer, Director of Program Management at Aston Martin Lagonda, uses Skype for Business Online to erase the distances with real-time video calls that keep the momentum high.
“Whether we’re communicating a timing plan to a supplier or discussing a test run in southern Italy, Microsoft collaboration tools are invaluable,” says Stringer. “I remember one morning on the test track with the DB11, we were collecting performance updates to present to the board of directors that afternoon. It was getting late and as I drove back to Gaydon, my colleague in the back seat worked on a laptop using his mobile phone as a hotspot to add the final stats to our Microsoft PowerPoint presentation and upload it to OneDrive. Back at Gaydon, we walked directly into the meeting, our presentation finalized and ready to go.”
Enhanced business insight
Now that Aston Martin is accelerating production, the value of its data becomes even more important. “Data is one of the vital assets of any car company. We probably create more data now in a year than the company generated in the previous 103 years,” says Palmer. “And to enhance agility, you need the tools and the processes to make good decisions using that data.”
Aston Martin uses Microsoft Power BI dashboards to get a handle on its data. “With Power BI, we’re turning information into insight,” says Neil Jarvis, Director of Information Technology and Information Security at Aston Martin Lagonda. “The simplicity of the dashboards and the richness of the data is generating interest across the company.”
The goal is always to deliver a car on budget and on time. But when issues arise, employees use Power BI dashboards to zero in on a troublesome metric and solve the problem. “We find Power BI hugely useful for combining information from a multitude of sources so we can immediately see a red flag in a metric or project status,” says Stringer. “The sooner we see the problem, the faster we can solve the issue so we stay on track with the schedule.”
Designing an exquisite car starts with a single idea, but it requires a team to make it real. Four years before Stringer and his colleague presented the DB11 performance stats to the Aston Martin board, the car model existed in a designer’s mind only. It took the collaborative efforts of concept engineering, manufacturing, product marketing, and finance teams to drive that vision to the end of the production line. “If we communicate perfectly with other departments, then we achieve a holistic view and everyone is aligned,” says Marek Reichman, Chief Creative Officer at Aston Martin Lagonda. “Otherwise, we get a beautiful sculpture that doesn’t go anywhere.”
According to Reichman, the ability to access and share information energizes the creative process and drives teamwork at Aston Martin. “To achieve our goals for the next century, our designers can’t wait around for information. Twenty-four hours makes a difference in the design studio,” he says. “We use Microsoft cloud productivity tools every day to make sure the teams have the right information, exactly when they need it. That maximizes their creative energy, which translates into the visual excitement you see in the car’s design—and that’s what our customers respond to.”
New platform strategy
From her perspective as chief engineer, Leathers describes electronics as the lifeblood of the car, touching every single component in the vehicle and defining the human-machine interface. Similarly, electrical engineers have to coordinate with people in every area of product development, including body, powertrain, chassis, and interior trim. This is especially important given the new production quotas expected of her department.
“To deliver the cars on time, we’re designing one type of underbody and set of electrical components that we can reuse for different vehicle platforms,” says Leathers. “That means we need to communicate in different ways, with more interaction between platform engineers and the vehicle program application engineers who modify the platform to create different cars. Before, teams worked in silos on each different model, so there was less requirement for collaboration.”
To facilitate this teamwork, Leathers and her colleagues use Microsoft SharePoint Online team sites to store all the information generated during the development of a car from prototype to the final model. “Whether it’s project timelines, budgets, CAD designs, or presentations for the board, it’s easy to search and find what you need on SharePoint,” Leathers says. “I also have self-service access to data in the Power BI dashboards built by the project management team, so I can manage my resources easily.”
Building each component in a car requires careful planning, from design schedules to supply lead times to build lead times to iterative improvements to final production. Leathers and her teammates use Project Online to “glue it all together.”
“Managing timing is crucial,” says Leathers. “We use task dependences in Project Online to ensure that everything stays on track, even if a supplier suddenly can’t make a delivery date. That way we know that our critical compatibility points among different design elements are always aligned, which means we get a more cohesive product and a higher quality car earlier in the development phase. Ultimately, this means a better car for the customer.”
Better resource management
Stringer and his program management team also use Microsoft Project Online to rationalize the new pace of production. He manages a portfolio of new vehicle programs, from concept to production, liaising with designers, engineers, manufacturers, and marketers across the company. Instead of working on one program at a time, Stringer now oversees up to 10 programs concurrently.
“To manage this level of activity, we had to change the way we work to be even more collaborative and efficient with our time and resources,” says Stringer. “We consider Project Online absolutely critical to the new way we do business. Within our 10 programs, internal resources—between 20 and 30 percent of total costs—ebb and flow over time. As we look at the whole portfolio, we can tweak resource allocation and timelines across programs. We use the same number of people but more intelligently, so we are more efficient and deliver more revenue.”
Secure by design
Closer collaboration requires mobile, reliable access to information so team members never have to wait to get an answer or move to the next stage in development. But the value of the company’s intellectual property means that for Aston Martin, mobility must never come at the expense of security. As the company moves forward with its Second Century Plan, Jarvis is looking to Microsoft cloud technologies, such as Microsoft 365 Enterprise to help. This solution combines Office 365, Windows 10, and Enterprise Mobility + Security.
“Everything we use needs to be secure by design, so by adopting Office 365, we could move our data off employee devices to OneDrive, where it’s safeguarded in the Microsoft cloud environment,” Jarvis says. “Employees depend less on a given device, they can work from anywhere, and we have the degree of security that we require for our intellectual property. And with the Digital Rights Management capabilities within Office 365, we gain a further element of control, specifying who can access documents that we share internally and externally. Microsoft 365 takes us one step further with the integrated simplicity of cloud-based management and evergreen services, while delivering additional intelligent security solutions to help us avoid advanced threats before they hit our network.”
Increased reliability for public site
Aston Martin takes advantage of the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform to host its public-facing website. The website is home to a popular tool for customers to build their dream Aston Martin car. Called the Car Configurator, it is a key marketing device that reinforces the personal, interactive approach to customer relationships and it’s important that the site performs as well as any Aston Martin car.
“Pushing our customer-facing systems into the Microsoft cloud platform makes sense from both an availability and a security perspective” say Jarvis. “The infrastructure that Microsoft has deployed in building the Azure cloud is impressive. Add to that, the Microsoft diligence in maintaining the environment, means that we don’t worry about the integrity of our data and we achieve far better availability figures at much lower cost.”
Jarvis is adamant that everything his IT team does aligns with the goals of the Second Century Plan. “IT is a cornerstone of our strategy for the future,” he concludes. “The IT tools we choose for employees have to deliver a sustainable return on investment. At Aston Martin, we’re using Microsoft cloud technologies, including Office 365, to help navigate the road ahead.”