NASCAR drives cloud-based efficiencies to win productivity race
By Microsoft Customer Stories on March 2, 2017
Filed under Hospitality & Transportation
Today’s elite racecars have come a long way from the old NASCAR stock cars, but behind the scenes the same frenetic coordination is required to stage every race—only at a scale scarcely imagined in the 1940s. NASCAR employees handle the logistic pressure of televising dozens of NASCAR events every year by relying on Microsoft Office 365 cloud-based productivity tools. Using Microsoft SharePoint Online for real-time collaboration between office and field staff keeps everyone on track for a polished production every time.
A Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racetrack on a Monday morning is a quiet, empty place. By Saturday, when the first green flag falls, it’s a Super Bowl–sized event packed with tens of thousands of fans who’ve come for the weekend to cheer on their favorite drivers. NASCAR fans are the heart of the sport, flocking to these arenas of speed, where dozens of cars drive inches apart at 200 miles an hour, banking through hundreds of 30-degree left-hand turns, for two days of adrenaline-fueled excitement—36 weeks in a row.
“NASCAR is unique for the loyalty of its fans and the way that the entire sport comes together once a week,” says Nick Franza, Manager, Technology Integration and Development at NASCAR. “It’s like the whole league competing on a national scale, building the momentum that keeps millions of fans hooked in 150 countries, 40 weekends a year.”
And it’s not just the premier series; NASCAR sanctions more than 1,500 events in 11 series at 110 racetracks in 37 US states and in Mexico and Canada. “We like to call ourselves a traveling circus,” says Stephen Byrd, Director, Technology Integration and Development at NASCAR. “There is a huge amount of logistical effort required to coordinate efficiently the activities of more than 200 employees and vendors who work together to produce some of the most highly attended sporting events in the world.”
Expanding the sport
For NASCAR, bringing these events to a wide audience is key to increasing the sport’s fan base Ever since the first NASCAR-sanctioned race was held on Daytona’s beach-road course in 1948, the company has strived to make its events accessible to loyal fans. When the 1979 Daytona 500 became the first 500-mile race in history to be telecast live in its entirety, it signaled the beginning of a new era in the sport’s popularity. Today, NASCAR Productions oversees this arm of the business. Matthew Stovcsik, Director of Field Operations and Logistics at NASCAR Productions, manages the process that turns the empty space inside a racetrack into a buzzing compound that houses mobile offices, broadcasters’ trailers, catering units, golf carts, power generators, and miles of infrastructure cables.
“My team manages everything from hiring the personnel and getting everyone there to setting up the site and completing the project for our network partners,” Stovcsik explains. “We come in, put everything together, support the race, pick it all up, and move down the road to do it all again at the next event.”
Overhauling IT strategies
How does NASCAR achieve this feat, week after week? Luckily the same advancements in technology that revolutionized racecars and trackside mechanics also accelerate operations throughout the company. “In the last five years, we have seen NASCAR retool technology in every aspect of our business, from electronic fuel injection to how we work in the office,” says Franza. “We have moved beyond sitting behind desks using a computer linked to a local network to embrace technology that’s expected by a younger, high-energy, mobile workforce. We operate in an around-the-clock digital world, dealing with in-the-moment broadcast and race logistics. So we use Microsoft SharePoint Online as a cloud-based digital cockpit that accelerates how we work together to get things done. Our folks can get their files anytime, on any device, to keep us moving forward. It’s become essential for our business to be successful.”
NASCAR developed a company intranet called Inside Track, a one-stop shop for all employees to stay up to date on current NASCAR news and to find resources they need to be productive. Built using SharePoint Online in partnership with Microsoft Consulting Services, the intranet includes department sites such as HR and Finances, but it’s a subsite called the @Track site that has really made a difference for the logistics team in NASCAR Productions—before, during, and after an event.
The whole idea of creating the @Track site for the logistics team came about when members of the Technology Integration and Development department heard team members, who work in an adjacent office, continually calling out to each other over their cubicles to coordinate hiring and scheduling crews, make travel and catering arrangements, and accommodate rainouts.
“We thought there must be a better way to communicate,“ says Franza. “The ideal way to work today takes a mobile-first, cloud-first approach. We looked at G Suite, but Microsoft Office 365 provides a single platform of services that are enterprise ready. Employees can go from email to SharePoint Online to OneDrive for Business to Skype for Business Online without leaving our work environment—and with security and access management tied in.”
Working from the same page
Today, the logistics team uses the @Track site for the virtual teamwork that is required to coordinate the production of each NASCAR event. This process requires communications between office-bound logistic team members who work Monday to Friday and a cadre of freelance and contract employees at the track, who are busiest Saturday and Sunday.
@Track stores critical files such as the Operations Workbook and Personnel Grid that the logistics team uses as the basis for everything it does. The Operations Workbook evolved from a simple list of 10 vendors that the team emailed out to the field. It has since become a robust document that tracks vendors, catering, golf cart rentals, fuel deliveries for generators, overtime tallies, and operational notes. “Things change from second to second building up to a race, but the logistics team stays on track with SharePoint Online. We’re saving time putting out fires, and our productions run more smoothly,” says Franza. “We no longer mail around locked Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. With the ability to coauthor, we can have 15 people working on the Operations Workbook at the same time. The documents indicate who makes changes in real time, which is incredibly helpful before, during, and after each event.”
Denise Katz, Crewing Manager/Logistics at NASCAR Productions, reports the same productivity and efficiency gains on the personnel side. Once she receives her budget, she uses the Personnel Grid to manage approximately 120 field staff hired to work at a NASCAR event. With it, she tracks staff from when they show up during the week to sign off on Sunday night, including their names, contact information, credentials, travel accommodation, flights booked, and overtime paid.
“The fact that our data is all real time and in one place is the most significant change,” Katz says. “Because everyone shares the same workbook, checking it in and out of SharePoint Online, we don’t worry about versions and can work with the comfort of knowing that we are all on the same page. And now that we have anytime access to current data, employees in the finance department open the spreadsheet on Monday morning and are ready to create all the necessary billing for services rendered over the weekend, so we get paid faster.”
Empowering employees with access to information
With the Inside Track intranet hosted on SharePoint Online, NASCAR employees and contractors are able to access information easier than ever without having to rely on the complexity of a virtual private network. This makes valuable information readily available to NASCAR contract employees in the field who couldn’t access corporate resources before. “Today, field staff handle catering orders and build the vendor pages, work that our office staff used to have to do,” says Stovcsik. “This a key benefit for the productivity side.”
Employees also take advantage of the SharePoint mobile app to stay on top of @Track content. Katz, who rarely gets to the racetrack, uses the mobile app to access and share data with onsite staffers on weeknights and during the weekend. “I love having the app on my phone,” she says. “I can answer questions about accounting codes, or tell someone onsite what the correct gate code is for a particular gate. This is useful for connecting with folks at the track early in the week, before the compound is wired for the Internet. The app is also great for people in the pits who might need the phone number of a cable technician to solve an issue with connectivity.”
Mobility is critical for NASCAR, but building and managing custom mobile applications across platforms has historically been cost prohibitive. Robert Burg, Senior Manager, Technology Integration and Development at NASCAR, recently used Microsoft PowerApps to build a custom mobile app in a matter of days rather than weeks. The “Track App” displays maps, the TV compound, locations for officials, catering operations, hotels, and other logistic information directly from SharePoint Online on Android, iOS, and Windows mobile phones. “By adopting Microsoft PowerApps, we got a fast, easy way to build and maintain a mobile app that uses our SharePoint Online data and that field workers love to have at their fingertips,” says Burg. “Now we can provide content to our independent contractors as well. All they have to do is download PowerApps on their device, and we can make the Track App easily available to them without having to publish it separately on the various app stores.”
Boosting business teamwork and productivity
Employees throughout NASCAR rely on Office 365 to achieve similar productivity benefits. For example, Burg and his team use Microsoft Planner to better organize IT tasks. “The ability to quickly track and show progress of tasks has been a great visualization tool for our business to better understand our resources being consumed,” says Burg. And when Betsy Grider, Managing Director, Strategic Development at NASCAR, describes the impact of Office 365 on the company, she enthuses about how well the cloud-based services answer the need for better collaboration throughout the company. “I work on strategic planning with every department across the business, and there isn’t one meeting where we are not trying to connect with people all over the United States,” she says. “With Office 365, we’ve finally answered a major pain point: collaboration across distance!”
Like the logistics team members, Grider spends a lot of time using SharePoint Online. “People are so grateful to work on cross-departmental documents using SharePoint Online team sites. I often actively jump in and out of 14 different sites to collaborate on strategy briefs. By using SharePoint Online, I’ve transformed how I work.” Employees use Microsoft MyAnalytics and Office Delve to improve their productivity by tracking time spent on different work activities and quickly finding relevant information from across Office 365. Continues Grider, “I checked MyAnalytics the other day to see how much time I’m saving and saw that I have shifted about 10 hours of emailing into pure focus hours, when I get so much more done.”
Members of the Technology Integration and Development team in offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Daytona Beach, Florida, along with R&D Center workers in Concord, North Carolina, use Skype for Business Online “all day, every day.” And with a Microsoft Surface Hub team collaboration device in each location, video calls have become an immersive, productivity-enhancing experience. “Compared with our other conferencing equipment, the Surface Hub is the product that has best lived up to our expectations,” says Burg. “We use the interactive whiteboard, and at the end of the session, I just push the email button and everyone in the meeting receives our handwritten notes. We’ve seen a tremendous amount of productivity come out of these meetings.”
“I feel like I’m the most efficient I’ve ever been,” adds Byrd. “I love the fact that I can work on an Office document on my Mac, then grab my Microsoft Surface Book, go to the airport to fly to a meeting somewhere, and immediately resume work where I left off. Having the SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, and Office apps work together across all my devices is a huge shift in how fast I get things done.”
Grider echoes that sentiment and speaks for the company. “I hear all the time from across NASCAR how people love what Stephen and his team have done for us by introducing Office 365. It’s a great position to be in, watching the business impact and how much employees appreciate the value of technology to take NASCAR forward.”