"CIO By Committee"
Wall, a self-described "motorhead" while growing up in nearby Concord, started at Hendrick when it was formed in 1984, leaving only to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from North Carolina State University. He began pushing for computer-aided design and manufacturing tools in the late eighties, and really got religion at the 1990 International Machine Tools Show, in Chicago. "My head was reeling when I walked out," he says. "There were computers embedded in machines that could do all the things we do. I went to the show to get numbers for a proposal, but I left convinced that we really needed to be using this."
Management was slower to respond. Without a formal IT organization, Wall picked up the slack. He strung cable, set up machines, and harkened back to some experience in grad school to repair the phone system. He even registered Hendrick's Internet domain names when the company was building its first Web sites. Eventually, he was allowed to hire some help, but even in the late nineties management still was not fully committed to IT. "Even then we didn't realize the level of commitment in terms of people that we needed to make an IT department," says Turner. "We took it for granted." When one of Wall's key hires left for a competitor offering more money, he deemed it time to force the issue.
"I had to say that I did not want to be IT, I just wanted to use it," Wall says. "I was willing to participate on a committee with management to get beyond the nucleus we had established, to professionalize the function." That led to what Turner calls a "significant increase" in the company's investment in staff, including the hiring, in early 2001, of Chris Newsome, who had previously worked in the snack-food and textile industries, to become Hendrick's Director of Information Technology.
"We had to get more sophisticated very quickly, and thanks in large part to Jim we've been able to do that on both the financial and engineering sides of the business," says Turner. "We could do that because of the confidence we had in the engineering group."
Wall describes the current setup as "CIO by committee." He still oversees the major design and production systems, and he manages relationships with technology sponsors Haas and UGS. Newsome serves as the de facto technology officer, with a staff of eight, probably the largest of any NASCAR shop. Together, they have upgraded network infrastructure and put key applications on the network, and also rewritten a critical data acquisition Web application in order to make its dynamometer and engine performance data accessible via Web browsers. The CIO "committee" can include non-techies, too. An online application called Avantis that provides real-time parts inventory, along with features such as automated procurement and reordering capacity, was driven by Chief Financial Officer Scott Lampe as way to better understand and control the costs of parts and material.
In an ideal world, Wall, Newsome, Lampe and company might use their data to create a fail-safe NASCAR engine, but, given the complexity of the product, and the stresses of its environment, that remains a pipe dream. For now, Wall is focused on expanding the searchable product data management system, Teamcenter Enterprise from UGS, that he used to redesign the pickup frame; when completed, it will allow the organization to know its engines down to the material composition and tolerances of any component.
"Right now, we can't afford to have every small part documented and drawn in the system," Wall saysthis, just days after a tiny, vendor-supplied doohickey, called a retaining ring, failed in Jeff Gordon's engine during a race at the Michigan International Speedway. Gordon had to drop out of the competition. Wall's argument remains that successful teams must know how to findor build a replacement in a hurry.
This article was originally published on 08-01-2004