Racing Boats Compete With BI Onboard 2

Yachts now sailing in an around-the-world race are using a business performance management application to achieve best speeds and measure crew performance.
Business intelligence has taken to the high seas. As this story hits the Web, 12 racing yachts are competing in an around-the-world event, and BI is being employed to help achieve best possible speeds and measure overall crew performance. The winner has yet to be determined, but the saying "Raise the main sail" may already have new meaning.

Advertised as "The Toughest Boat Race in the World," Global Challenge is an amateur sailing competition that originated in Portsmouth, England in October 2004. Before the race is over, competitors will cover 32,000 miles and touch five continents, while navigating through the world's most turbulent waters -- against prevailing currents.

Boston Harbor, the latest port of call, was almost a memory as Georg Ell, a crew member for the yacht Imagine It's Done, took time for a phone interview moments before heading back out to sea. As whoops of "hip-hip hooray" from the nearby regatta nearly drowned him out, he explained that business intelligence "Lets us know what the performance of our boat is under various conditions."

The BI in this case is TM1, a business performance management (BPM) tool developed by Westborough, Mass.-based Applix. A multi-dimensional OLAP engine, TM1 runs exclusively on Windows and Unix servers, and the same version of the program is installed on each boat.

Organizers of Global Challenge went to great efforts to make sure that all vessels were exactly the same size (72 ft.), the same overall design, the same with regard to number and types of sails, and similarly equipped with the requisite sea-faring instruments and other high-tech gizmos. According to Jason Mullins, sales engineer at Applix, "They wanted to take the boats out of the equation." The idea was to see which helmsman and crew could utilize TM1 most effectively, and consistently, throughout the course of the race.

The racing vessels in Global Challenge are wired top-to-bottom for BI. The burden is on each crew then to supply and utilize its own data, which is pulled from standard navigation instruments and configurations such as sail position. All types of variables, including wind speed, tack, state of the sea, and the boat's angle in the water are input into Excel, which serves as TM1's standard front-end view and also provides a multi-user environment for the program. A plug-in allows OLAP cubes in TM1 to communicate with Microsoft Excel as they pick up the information and run it. Charts output the data on spreadsheets and are available on a number of dashboards. There are also various drop-down boxes that allow users to view, for example, a specific sail plan or tack.

The charts in TM1 can be used to analyze, among other things, how current speeds stack up against "best" speeds. Each crew keeps a detailed log of best results, and time-stamped data is available for up to 48 hours. As a result, crews can go back and view how they were performing at various intervals in the past, and then measure that against current performance under similar conditions. This way the crew can make any number of adjustments, if necessary, to achieve best speeds.

"TM1 was very helpful, especially in the beginning stages of the race," says Ell. All of the information is available in real-time, so the crews can analyze data and make changes as they see necessary. They have been running data every 15-20 minutes, which they say allows them to both stay on top of changing conditions and make changes based on past information. The goal is to optimize their performance and streamline their work processes. A key in utilizing the program effectively, according to Mullins, is to run the data in a timely fashion. It will increase accuracy in decision-making, he says.