Securing the Last Mile with an Enterprise Browser: NASCAR Team Hendrick Motorsports

CXOTalk episode 836 explores the role of technology in driving high-performance organizations. Learn how NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports, leverages data analytics, machine learning, and the Island Enterprise Browser for competitive advantage.

29:46

Apr 23, 2024
26,391 Views

In this CXOTalk conversation, Michael Krigsman speaks with Matthew Cochran, Director of Information Technology at Hendrick Motorsports, one of NASCAR's top teams. Cochran shares his experience leveraging data, analytics, machine learning, and innovative tools like the Island Enterprise Browser to gain a competitive edge in professional racing.

Cochran emphasizes the critical role of real-time data processing and cybersecurity in Hendrick Motorsports' success. He discusses the challenges and opportunities of managing diverse users and systems, and how the IT team collaborates across departments to align technology investments with strategic objectives.

Cochran's experience demonstrates how to align IT with business goals to succeed with data and technology in highly competitive environments. Watch now and read the transcript to learn more!

Episode Highlights

Embrace a Data-Driven Culture for Competitive Advantage

  • Invest in tools and technologies that enable real-time data collection, analysis, and visualization to identify performance trends and actionable insights quickly.
  • Utilize machine learning algorithms to process large datasets efficiently, automating tasks like image recognition and competitor analysis to free up human resources for strategic decision-making.

Foster Collaboration Between IT and Business Units

  • Establish clear communication channels and invest in resources that translate technical jargon into actionable insights for non-technical personnel, ensuring data-driven insights are effectively communicated and utilized.
  • Align IT initiatives with key business objectives and performance indicators to ensure technology investments directly contribute to achieving organizational goals, such as winning races in the case of Hendrick Motorsports.

Prioritize Cloud-First Strategy for Agility and Scalability

  • Migrate applications and data to the cloud to enable remote access, collaboration, and scalability to accommodate evolving business needs.
  • Consolidate tools and reduce IT complexity by centralizing data and applications in the cloud, leading to cost savings and improved efficiency.

Leverage Zero Trust and Granular Access Controls for Enhanced Security

  • Implement a zero trust approach to data and application access by leveraging solutions like the Island Enterprise Browser, granting access on a per-user, per-application basis for enhanced security.
  • Utilize granular controls and auditing capabilities to maintain visibility and control over user access, mitigating potential data breaches or unauthorized access.

Prioritize User Productivity and Adoption

  • Evaluate solutions that seamlessly integrate into existing user workflows, minimizing the need for extensive training and encouraging organic adoption.
  • Incorporate built-in productivity tools, such as password managers, AI assistance, and copy-paste managers, to enhance the user experience and boost efficiency.

Continuously Innovate and Embrace Emerging Technologies

  • Stay informed about the latest advancements in areas like AI, machine learning, and data analytics, and evaluate their potential to enhance your competitive edge.
  • Foster a culture of continuous improvement and experimentation within the IT team and the broader organization to remain agile and adaptable in the face of evolving industry demands.

Key Takeaways

Embrace Data-Driven Decision Making for Competitive Advantage

Leveraging real-time data streams and advanced analytics empowers organizations to make informed, rapid decisions that can significantly impact performance and outcomes. Investing in robust data processing and visualization tools allows key stakeholders to quickly consume and act upon insights gleaned from vast datasets. This data-driven approach is crucial for maintaining a competitive edge in today's fast-paced business environment.

Implement Granular Security Measures to Protect Sensitive Data and IP

Utilizing solutions like the Island Enterprise Browser allows organizations to maintain stringent security standards by providing granular control over endpoint access and implementing comprehensive zero-trust architectures. Adopting advanced security measures, such as watermarking and data leak prevention, is important for safeguarding sensitive information, especially in highly competitive environments where threats may be in close proximity.

Foster a Proactive IT Culture to Boost Productivity and Innovation

Cultivate an IT culture that embraces innovation and focuses on user-friendly tools, to drive productivity and continuous improvement. By selecting technologies with familiar interfaces and integrated productivity features, organizations can ensure smooth adoption and minimize learning curves. Encouraging IT to say "yes" to new ideas and empowering employees to solve problems fosters a culture of innovation and responsiveness.

Episode Participants

Matthew Cochran is Director of Information Technology at Hendrick Motorsports, where he brings over 20 years of IT experience to the organization. Cochran joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2001, initially serving as I.T. Manager, he was promoted to Director of IT in January 2022.

Prior to Hendrick Motorsports, Cochran worked as a Network Manager at Lance, Inc. from 1995 to 2001. He launched his IT career at Collins & Aikman SSD, serving as Store Room & Public Relations Specialist from 1993 to 1995. Cochran earned a Project Management Certificate from Cornell University in 2021 and holds a CCNA certification from Cisco, obtained in March 2023. He has also completed LinkedIn certifications related to virtual collaboration in May 2021.

Michael Krigsman is an industry analyst and publisher of CXOTalk. For three decades, he has advised enterprise technology companies on market messaging and positioning strategy. He has written over 1,000 blogs on leadership and digital transformation and created almost 1,000 video interviews with the world’s top business leaders on these topics. His work has been referenced in the media over 1,000 times and in over 50 books. He has presented and moderated panels at numerous industry events around the world.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman: We're discussing data, analytics, machine learning, and the Island Enterprise Browser with Matt Cochrane, Director of IT at Hendrick Motorsports. They're one of the top NASCAR teams, and he takes us on a tour behind the scenes looking at this data.

You have about 600 users that IT supports and manages. Is that correct?

Matthew Cochran: Yes, sir. Probably closer to 2,000 to 3,000+ machines that we utilize and probably 300-ish servers – to kind of give you an idea of scale. 

We built our first data center when I started in '01. We outgrew it but built a brand new one in a new race facility that we built here on campus in 2005. This was still when we were seeing a lot of physical iron, before really the virtualization phase kind of kicked in. 

It was pretty impressive back then. Now everything is kind of consolidated down. Certainly, to the cloud as well, and that's all part of being agile.

Michael Krigsman: You have such a diverse user base. You have engineers. You have mechanics. You have your office workers. Can you talk about the collaboration and the productivity aspects?

Matthew Cochran: You look across the organization, we have a lot of degreed engineers here. We have mechanical engineers. We've got aero engineers. We've got electrical engineers. Then you've got the traditional business systems on top of that: finance, marketing, PR, facilities. 

We've got a huge transportation issue because we've got to get to 36 races a year. And so, we've got a fleet of haulers, race haulers that we've got to maintain. We've got a fleet of aircraft we've got to maintain. We've got a hanger over at our Concord Regional Airport that we've got an awesome staff of pilots, mechanics, and folks to keep us safe and get us back and forth to the track.

And so, there's a lot of different systems in play, a lot of custom and proprietary systems too, so you can imagine there's not a whole lot of engine shops out there to devote, writing a bunch of software, from a commercial perspective.

And so, a lot of the systems are proprietary and in-house developed. How do we expose all of that and really collaborate around all that data? 

We rely on our partners and sponsors and things because we do live and rely on the stickers on the car not just from a monetary standpoint but from a business and eco standpoint as well. And so, you look at Island, for example, the productivity increases that we produced off of that product.

We're able to say yes (from an IT department). So often, an IT department is cornered into saying no or "That's a security issue," or what have you when, internally, we really want to say yes. We just hadn't had the ability to do so, right? And so, with a partner like Island, we're able to say yes a lot more and increase that productivity.

Michael Krigsman: What you're describing is like a breath of fresh air because, as you said, so many IT departments simply default to no. How does this approach enable you to say yes more often?

Matthew Cochran: It's really about the toolkit that you have. You think about why we had to say no in the past. Well, it's because so often there was a huge financial burden to enter the space to be able to say yes; provide the end-user what they need and in a manner to do so securely.

What's interesting, I think, specifically about the Island browser is once you have it installed, you've got this last mile toolkit installed on your machine that IT departments can then light up individual components or configure it in a manner in which you're saying yes more often because, at the end of the day, what the end-user is trying to get to is a piece of data (whether that's a photo, whether that's a database, whether it's a Power BI dashboard, what have you). Most likely, in today's world, it's going to be presented via that browser. 

From an administrative standpoint, it's as simple as going into a single console and, in a few clicks, we're able to say yes, and we're able to say yes in a zero trust environment in which we have full control, auditing, and an ability to report on.

Michael Krigsman: Can you drill into this? What is it about the enterprise browser that enables this productivity gain and enables the simplicity that you're describing?

Matthew Cochran: From an end-user perspective, we all use the browser. And if you're using a modern browser today, it's all built on Chromium. It looks and feels very similar, whether you're using Chrome, Edge, Safari, Firefox. You name it, it feels the same, right?

For the Island browser, there's zero overhead as far as user training is concerned. It feels right at home to the end-user. And so, we take a layer of complexity away from the end-user.

From an administrator and an IT standpoint, what we're looking for is not adding additional administration burden. How can we take burden away? And how can we audit and really allow access to all these resources and do so in a manner that A) we're not having to open up ports on an Internet-based firewall or outer edge. We're simply using that broker that's already in place just to enable that end-user one access to a specific resource.

You're really getting that finite data or layer of detail into what you're trying to expose to that end-user. Then from an IT perspective and a security perspective, we've got a whole lot more granular control over what that end-user is able to view, present, and then copy or print or do whatever. All that is part of that critical last mile that we've never really had access to from an administrative standpoint in the past.

Michael Krigsman: From an IT standpoint, you have a far greater degree of control than in the past. But from an end-user perspective, they're operating in the browser as they always have, so the transition is far easier. 

Matthew Cochran: Absolutely. Ultimately, if you're giving somebody something they're asking for – in this particular case, they're asking for access to maybe a particular resource or application – we're now able to say yes. Well, that immediately is going to give someone increased awareness and want to use the application because now you're giving me something I need. But from an end-user perspective, I'm also given a bunch of added benefits and productivity increases. 

For me, as an IT executive, I'm having to constantly deal with budgeting and putting in requisitions or purchase orders – all that kind of stuff, right? I'm constantly copy and paste. But the Island browser, the copy-paste manager inside of it, I think you can have like 50 different copy and paste (your previous history of your copies), and I can go and grab them as I need to.

The other one, password management, now we're able to provide a password manager for our user population that's standard, that we know is secure, and is good policy. And so, we start adding these little productivity increases to it and, before you know it, it becomes the tool of choice.

Michael Krigsman: It sounds like user adoption happens very naturally and organically because there's a close fit between what the users need and what the tool, the browser, and its associated elements is providing.

Matthew Cochran: Absolutely. Obviously, there's a lot of press and a lot of things in the media about large language models and AI has really become more of a household topic. But at the same time, you've got folks that have never really used it asking for it. 

"Hey, we'd just like to use large language models to help us create a more pointed email or check my spelling a little bit better or grammar. How do I increase my communication?" We're able to say yes immediately with the Island browser because A) it's got an AI assistant built right into it that doesn't send off all your intellectual property to the cloud.

You now have people coming to you asking for it. That's a great feeling as an administrator.

Michael Krigsman: I was going to say, as an IT person, having end-users coming to you and making friendly requests because they like what you're doing, that's pretty darn good.

Matthew Cochran: It's a good feeling to say yes. It's a good feeling to give productivity and time back to your end-users. Ultimately, that gives them time back to make a difference in what they're really doing. And, in our case, that's winning races and winning championships.

Michael Krigsman: What about cost savings and consolidating tools? How much do you think about that issue as you're running your IT team?

Matthew Cochran: Everything has a litmus test that comes to me. Is this going to help us go faster and win races? If the answer to that is yes, then we've got to prioritize it.

And so, the nice thing about Island is we're not having to spend time and energy opening up ports on a firewall, making sure it's all documented, and all the regulation that goes into those kinds of things because, with the Island browser, we're not opening up any additional ports. We're just adding that access on a very strategic profile base level.

Michael Krigsman: Earlier, you described data and car racing being data-driven. Can you tell us about the telematics and the data associated with the races?

Matthew Cochran: The interesting thing about NASCAR is that they've always had a focus on the human aspect, the man and machine, and man pushing that machine to extreme measures. We've always wanted to kind of keep that level or that aspect of the sport.

Then you look at the newer generation or younger generation of folks that's coming along. Today's cars, they all have computers in them and they all have data flowing in them. 

From a young person's perspective, they like to be able to plug in and maybe tuning their car, right? And so, there's a new generation of performance enthusiasts out there. 

I think it's important to keep up with the times, and so NASCAR said, "Okay, hey, we know the teams want this data. But how can we do this in a manner in which we're paying homage to the sport but also keeping the playing field equal for everybody?"

And so, they worked with a company called SMT. Basically, it's a GPS-based system that's tracking the car all around the track. I think it's down to – I forget the exact – like less than a meter of accuracy. 

Then they plug into the ECU, and they're streaming. I think it's about ten channels' worth of data. Not a great high-fidelity of data stream, but it's a decent data set. 

The interesting thing is, you're not getting that just for your car. You're getting it for all the cars, right? 

They said, "We're going to give it to you, but we're going to give it to everybody," and everybody has got everybody else's stuff, right? So, the playing field is equal.

Now, the difference is, how do you handle that data? And what are you doing with it? How do you consume it? And how do you make it an actionable data set? 

And so, we think about what's coming across the car. Obviously, GPS position, so we know where the car is on the track at all times. 

We know throttle position, steering angle, brake pressure, yaw of the car – all of these, you know, several different things. And it's streaming in, right? We consume that data in a multitude of ways. 

SMT itself has a graphical analytics application where it shows a 3-D rendering of the car of where it's at on the track. And on the other side, we've got all these different data streams, and we can overlay and really start to see our car and our driver's performance against other cars' drivers and performance. 

And so, that's the data sets coming in, and so we're looking at that in more of a real-time environment. But we also get the raw feeds coming in, and so that raw data set, we stream all of that via JSON. We stream it into a database, and then we're using analytics on it to try to come up with nuggets of information out of that (almost like a data mining kind of thing). 

Then you obviously have your predictions and how the race strategy is going to go. All of that is kind of playing in. But at the end of the day, it all is coming through the browser as an endpoint, too.

Michael Krigsman: You're gathering very large volumes of real-time data. 

Matthew Cochran: Yes.

Michael Krigsman: Then you mentioned that it's streaming through the browser. How does that work? Paint that picture for us.

Matthew Cochran: It's basically just a cloud resource. All of this data is going to the cloud to be processed in some form or fashion and then represented to us.

You've got all of the teams and, I would say, on average, probably four or five individuals per team that's consuming this data real-time and in that graphical format via the browser. It's just like going to a webpage and viewing this information, but also inside the browser.

We can pull up our simulation data, our prediction data, our trends and stints, and graphically plot it in different manners because, for different people – let's say you are an engine tuner – the data that you're looking at is very important to just a very specific set of criteria. Whereas if you're a race engineer and you're looking at strategy, it's totally different.

We analyze a ton of photography, for example. I think we get something like 7,000 images a race. It's crazy how much just data photography we get. 

You've got to be able to process that. A human cannot process that amount of data that quickly, at least to bubble up the pertinent information. I think that's the key is we've got to get to a point where we can consume all this data effectively. 

Really, the difference on a track today, in today's data-driven sport, is how fast you can consume that data. And not just consume it but create actionable data sets and get that information to the crew chief and the race engineer actually on the pit box so that they can make a race-winning decision. 

If you're looking at a place like Bristol (where we just went to a couple of weeks ago), it's 15 to 20-second lap times. That's not a whole lot of time to decide whether you want to pit or not, to key up a microphone, a radio, and let the driver know, "Hey, come on in and pit." We've got to do that right now in less than 15 seconds. It's pretty intense.

Michael Krigsman: This is all happening real-time during the race, and you've got your various team members analyzing their sets of data. 

Matthew Cochran: Absolutely, and not only that. You look back, I think it was 2015-ish, they imposed roster limits at the track. And so now you have to be a member of the team or own a roster spot in order to get into the facility (if you're on the competition side). 

Funny enough, IT was on that. And so, now we can only really send one IT person. Or if we want to send two, you've got to pick somebody else (maybe a mechanic or a pit crew member, somebody). Somebody has got to stay home if you want to send somebody else. 

Now, instead of sending 75 or 100 people to the track. Now we're going to send 50. But you've still got the same amount of information coming at you. You've still got the same amount of work. 

Now we've come up with an operation center so we can do things remote. And so, we've got all that data coming back into our operation center as well. Then we can consume that data in a better thinking environment. 

Obviously, it's not as noisy. You don't have the environment going on. And you've got a ton of your friends sitting beside of you that you're pounding off information with. 

Then we're able to consume it all and get it to the engineers and the crew chief on the ground at the track. Like I said, though, you've got to do it real quick. 

Michael Krigsman: And so, what's the role of IT in all of this?

Matthew Cochran: If it plugs in or has got a computer chip and it doesn't work, IT is going to get the phone call, I promise you. 

But I think about (back in 2001) some of the folks and the minds that we had here. They were already thinking about the forefront of the sport and where it was going. 

They knew it was going to become more engineering-focused and data-focused, and we needed an IT department in order to get to that data because you've got to have your foundation before you can build up. And so, we spent several years building that foundation and then adding on applications and the productivity. Then you start to see it kind of go.

But as an IT professional, we've got really three groups on staff. 

  • That is software development and engineering who is developing our machine learning models and things like that, as well as our custom-driven applications. 
  • Then we have a business applications group who handles our ERP systems, our engineering applications, our BA-type resources so that we can kind of bridge that gap between racing and the competition side and IT (because sometimes we speak different acronyms and data sets). 
  • Then on the operation side is just everything from cybersecurity to networking and administration and audio-video and just everything that goes into it. 

Just the amount of technology at the racetrack now, I feel like it's probably 100-fold from when I first started. Just one pit box – to kind of give you an idea – I think there are probably about 15, 20 monitors on the air, probably 6 or 7 workstation class machines, and a server on each pit box that pulls in pit stop information and breaking down footage. We've got to get all that information back home so we can analyze it quick. 

Michael Krigsman: Matt, you mentioned machine learning. You're dealing with such large volumes of data. Where does machine learning come into play?

Matthew Cochran: We think about the 7,000 photos, for example. How do go through them and sort all of that? 

As a race engineer, you may be only specifically looking at maybe your car or maybe another, a competitor's car, and you need to be able to surface thousands of photos. But you might only be interested in two or three. 

Not only that. How do we compare one car against another? Well, an easy way to do that is machine learning. 

Think about you're in the middle of a race and, all of a sudden, one of your competitors starts picking up speed. Well, as a crew chief, that might be something that you're interested in knowing, right? 

Okay, this guy just picked up speed. Well, why? Did he just pit and take four tires, or maybe he's backed off or changed his driving style a little bit. Maybe he's backing up to turn, letting off the throttle a little bit earlier, or getting on the brake a little bit sooner or later (depending on the track or the turn). Or maybe he's changed his line (maybe just a little bit) and, all of a sudden, he's picking up pace.

Well, that's pertinent information that you want to relay to your driver. "Hey, the 18 car just moved up half a lane and now he's dropped his lap time a tenth. Maybe you want to try that exact same line and see how your car reacts."

All of that is the kind of information that has to happen, and you can't do it times 36 cars every lap, but a machine can. It can pick up that information and bubble it up to you. 

You also have to start doing more predictive analytics as well. 

Michael Krigsman: Trackside operations are intensely data-driven. Where does Island and the Enterprise Browser fit into the track?

Matthew Cochran: All of that data resides in the cloud, and so you've got to have an entry point. We're obviously going to use a browser to do that. We need to make sure that that browser is secure. 

Besides that point, we look at the workflow, in general. If you're a race engineer and you've got these massive monitors in front of you and you're trying to call a race, in the past, we've had a bunch of different applications running, consuming memory, consuming resources. 

If we can prevent having multiple applications running on their machines and causing resource constraints, we can do that via the browser. Certainly, Island does that. 

How much can I do inside the browser? Well, from an Island perspective, I've got remote desktop. I've got remote command line console capabilities, be it remote, and it hits that same broker that gives you access to other resources that you're doing the same thing for remote desktop, so we can quickly get access to information back at the shop, for example.

Typically speaking, if you're in the corporate environment, your competition is typically separated by at least buildings or cities or, heck, even oceans. But for us, it's a self-policing sport simply because your competition is no more than five feet beside of you, right? You're staunchest competition is five feet from you and can see your computer screens (if you're not careful).

And so, how does the Island browser protect us there? Well, you've got the ability to do watermarks, for example, the transparent watermarks. So, if data gets leaked out and takes a picture of a screen, at least I will know, based on those watermarks and bar codes, when it was taken, which machine that it was taken from, and the user that was logged on and all the associated time stamps.

Michael Krigsman: It's really fascinating, as you were describing your intense competition is five feet away. And so, your cybersecurity posture obviously must address that. 

Matthew Cochran: Yeah, absolutely. With the zero trust built into the browser, that's a big thing. The other big thing is the anti-phishing capabilities of it. 

Once I saw that, I think I was sold on just that one feature because, in today's timeframe, the bad guys are using AI. They're using it to beat spam filters and anti-phishing filters and you name it. So, we're constantly getting pounded.

There is no way that you can constantly stay up to date with whatever. Somebody creates a GoDaddy domain name and stands up a phishing domain, and it has all their DMARCs and SPF records and you name it. It looks legit, right? It's coming in. There's nothing you can do to stop it from making its way to the end-users inbox. 

The interesting thing about the Island browser is once they click that link and they go to start typing in their email address – because you do have control of that last mile – you can see what's going in. It's not that big brother is watching. We're not. But as they start to type in their email address, it's going to stop them. It's going to pop up.

As an administrator of the Island browser, we've got an option. We can either allow it with just a warning or we can prevent it from happening in the first place. Just say, "No, you're not going to use your corporate email address to enter in this phishing website," even if you don't know it's phishing; it might be legit. Just that alone will prevent an intrusion.

Michael Krigsman: The security posture then is enabled by the fact that you're so strongly cloud-based and you're using the Island Enterprise Browser as the intermediary, so to speak.

Matthew Cochran: Absolutely. It's the last mile. It is that connection. 

When we talk about enterprise browsers, the first question that comes to mind is, "Why do I want to pay for a browser?" Well, try to take away all that bloatware and the trackers and just everything that's inside of it because those companies—the Microsoft of the world, the Google of the world—they're monetizing that information.

It's not free. "There's never a free lunch," as my dad would say. And so, they're going to monetize that.

With the Island browser, you get rid of all that mess. And so, it ends up being a faster user experience, too, being a cloud-first company; being able to be agile, adopt, and create these new applications; and get it to the end-users quick. 

One of the side effects of that, though, is you end up with, "Where is my data?" That challenge, we were able to overcome with the Island browser because you can build custom homepages. 

This was one of my CFO's biggest wish list items. "How can I use this so that my end-users will quit asking me where their financial reports are?"

We were able to build custom homepages based on user groups in an active directory group. If you're a member of the finance team, you get this load out on your homepage with all of your business icons and reports. 

Everything is laid out as a standard and it don't matter if you're on your work computer, your home BYOD device, or your mobile device. It's that same experience. It's the same location.

I know where to go to get my stuff. And it's a different one if you're an engineer or if you're IT. It really gives us the ability to just be productive out of the box, out of the get-go.

Michael Krigsman: You love data, whether it's the telemetry coming from the cars or the telemetry coming from the browser. You love data.

Matthew Cochran: I love data. We love data. We eat it. We love spreadsheets around here. Man, we will consume it if you give it to us. I promise you that. 

Michael Krigsman: Well, Matt Cochran, Director of IT for Hendrick Motorsports, thank you so much for giving us the behind-the-scenes tour of data at your organization.

Matthew Cochran: Well, thank you for having me. 

It's a lot easier to look and see who is on top of the mountain, know that that's your goal, and to get there. You know what you've got to do to get there. 

But then when you get there, how do you stay there, because now everybody else has got their eyes on you and seeing how you got there? Well, how do you keep innovating and keep pushing the envelope? I think that's what we've got to do just to stay relevant, stay competitive, and stay on top of that heap. We've definitely got to innovate, be agile, and embrace the change.

Michael Krigsman: Great words of advice. Matt, thank you again. 

Matthew Cochran: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Published Date: Apr 23, 2024

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 836