What Ford vs. Ferrari Tells us About Computing in 2020

An Oscar-winning film about an epic automotive rivalry in the 1960s shows how much things have changed in 50 years.

By Tom Mangan

By Tom Mangan April 21, 2020

It’s always Ford vs. Ferrari for somebody in the technology world.

For those who haven’t seen the recent Oscar-winning movie, Ford vs. Ferrari is the story of how the CEO of Ford Motor Company, the U.S. car-making behemoth, essentially wrote a blank check to defeat one guy – the Italian car-racing legend Enzo Ferrari.

Because cinema requires epic ego clashes and hair-raising car crashes, Ford vs. Ferrari doesn’t say much about the digital dramas that keep technology people up at night. But the movie does illustrate the perpetual challenges of size vs. speed and automation vs. imagination that every tech company confronts.  

The movie also draws into stark relief the differences between doing business in the 1960s and the 2020s. Back then, Ford (like GM and Chrysler) had immense technology resources that pushed most U.S. competitors into extinction. Enzo Ferrari built automotive marvels of exquisite style and performance, but his company needed a corporate benefactor to stay alive (Fiat bought one-half of the company in 1969 and gained majority control after Ferrari’s death in 1988).   

Today, the democratization of technology has leveled the playing field to a degree unimaginable 50 years ago. Cloud technologies, mobile devices and SaaS applications let companies of pretty much any size compete with much larger rivals. Uber and Lyft can disrupt the taxi industry without owning a fleet of cars.

A Telling Example from Italy   

The Ford vs. Ferrari dynamic is evolving in all sorts of industry sectors and specialties. One example is the realm of digital marketing, which uses the latest digital tools, like APIs, machine learning and SaaS platforms, to speed up traditional marketing tasks like raising brand awareness, improving lead generation, streamlining customer engagement and implementing loyalty programs.

Global technology consulting companies often implement these tools for global brands (like, say, Ford and Ferrari). But consulting firms of any size in any locale can access these tools, too.

That’s the core challenge for Raffaele Penna, chief information and security officer at Diennea, a digital marketing consultancy in Italy. Dienna has offices in Milan, Bologna and Paris, France. Its marketing strategists work with global brands like Ducati, the sporty motorcycle manufacturer, and nonprofits like the World Wildlife Fund and Doctors Without Borders. The consultancy also has a wealth of smaller clients that represent Italy’s diverse small-business sector.

Innovating Digital Marketing in Italy

Raffaele Pena, CISO of Diennea, helps marketing firms across Italy use new strategies and technologies to engage customers.

“Digital marketing is always in flux,” Penna said in an interview. “New technologies, development frameworks and new communication channels come up all the time.” Diennea helps its clients keep pace with the relentless evolution of these technologies.

Digital marketing consultancies run the gamut from one-person shops to agencies like Diennea to global behemoths. Much like American automakers that built their strength on mergers and acquisitions after World War II, the largest IT consulting firms have been buying up digital design agencies in recent years to help their enterprise clients tap the full potential of the cloud and mobile devices. A vast ecosystem of technologies like virtualization, containerization and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) lets corporate titans customize their computing environment to do exactly what their businesses and their customers require.

These are the same skills that Penna deploys on behalf of Diennea’s clientele. Penna explained that his country’s expanding digital marketing ecosystem is a mirror of Italian society: Innovators like Yoox, an online fashion retailer, and WeRoad, a social-travel website, are charging ahead while many other companies are lagging behind. The digital marketing sector in Italy grew at 11% per year from 2016 to 2018, topping 65 billion euros, he said. 

About 95% of Italian companies are small firms that place a heavy emphasis on craftsmanship but have limited marketing resources, Penna said. At the same time, digital marketing is rapidly moving into technical disciplines like machine learning, while government agencies are increasingly clamping down companies’ use of digital data.

In this diverse environment, IT departments can either block progress or enable it, Penna said. If they can accelerate time to market, they can give their clients the competitive edge that Ford craved in its rivalry with Ferrari.

Unfortunately, traditional IT infrastructures make it difficult to speed up software release management, mitigate human error and estimate operational expenses. “All of these factors prevent our company and customers from accomplishing their business goals,” he said.

Penna has found that HCI technology from Nutanix has given his consultancy ­– and its clients – a substantial boost. HCI combines compute, storage and networking in a single software package installed on commodity servers, helping companies overcome the limits of conventional datacenter infrastructures. 

“Nutanix helped us simplify IT infrastructure by increasing automation and optimizing the use of computing and storage resources,” Penna said. “This has dramatically increased our speed in delivering new services: Time to market has been reduced.”

Moreover, Nutanix’s data-at-rest encryption elevated Diennea’s level of compliance with new European regulations for processing personal data.

“Now we are more competitive,” Penna concluded.  

New Tools to Win More Races

In the age of Ford vs. Ferrari, the Italian maestro Enzo Ferrari was so formidable that the grandson of Henry Ford needed a bottomless bankroll to compete against him.

Could such a rivalry even happen today? It’s fair to say that Ford and Ferrari have more pressing concerns. Like their brethren across the automotive sector, they are facing disruptive competitors like Tesla and the environmental challenge of climate change.

They are responding. Ford’s next Mustang will be an electric-powered SUV. Ferrari is bringing the most powerful street-legal car on the market – a hybrid whose V-8 engine and three electric motors generate 968 horsepower. Bold moves, for sure, though it remains to be seen if these corporate giants can survive the coming electrification of vehicles and automation of driving.    

The prospects for smaller companies in less capital-intensive markets seem more promising. The dispersion and democratization of computing, coupled with advances in machine learning, place a wealth of powerful technologies within reach of any business.  

Thus, a digital marketing consultancy in Italy can give local merchants in Milan the same digital tools that Ford and Ferrari will need to stay competitive. It might not be the stuff of great cinema, but it will be one of the biggest technology stories of the 2020s.

Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.

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