The Indianapolis Motor Speedway seems to like the local tech industry—and local tech likes it back.
The motorsports-entertainment company, part of Hulman & Co., is a client of 13 tech firms that are either based in central Indiana or have a sizable office here—from online form builder Formstack to insurance-software developer MyCOI. That’s a lot given that IMS has only 150 year-round employees.
The tech ties go beyond business deals. IMS has hosted notable tech-related events and has more planned, including a new golf tournament teeing off this fall, the Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim. And some of its top officials, including Hulman CEO Mark Miles, are well-acquainted with local tech leaders, including Scott Dorsey, CEO of the venture studio High Alpha.
Few large non-tech companies have such a fond relationship with the local tech industry, tech observers said, and both parties are reaping benefits. IMS gets to tap into products, ideas and talent that can help it with its ongoing internal tech transformation. The tech industry, meanwhile, gets support from a globally renowned brand.
“One of the best things that a big local company can do for the Indiana economy is to be a customer of local emerging companies,” TechPoint CEO Mike Langellier said. “Referenceable customers make getting the next batch of customers so much easier for younger emerging companies, particularly when the customer is a household name like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
He added: “Sometimes those customer relationships yield innovation that helps the big company stay competitive or that launches new products to market.”
IMS contracts with nine software companies and four tech-services firms, the latter of which include data-center firm LightBound and consulting firm Fusion Alliance. Three of those software firms—the marketing giants Emarsys and Salesforce, and the workforce-management firm Kronos—aren’t headquartered here, but have substantial local outposts.
IMS uses these tech products or services for a variety of business functions, including cybersecurity, sales productivity and more.
It uses Quantifi—which is less than a year old—for marketing experimentation, partly to see what kinds of messages and channels are most effective at luring newer, younger race fans to events. It uses Formstack, an online form-creation and management platform, for collecting information from groups, such as event volunteers.
“We want to be smart. We want to be analytical,” Miles said. “We want to use technology to make us more efficient and better able to engage our customers.”
Marketing technology is an important investment for IMS. Hence, its work with three firms in that field—Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Quantifi and Emarsys.
It uses Emarsys, one of its newer vendors, for personalized, multi-channel marketing. It’s been using Salesforce—and its predecessor ExactTarget—at least four years for email marketing and is contemplating adding other Salesforce tools.
“And we are looking to Salesforce for [customer relationship management] software,” Chief Information Officer Rebecca Ruselink said, “so they could come further into the tent.”
IMS does not have a formal “buy local” strategy for technology products and services, and officials said it bases buying decisions on the merits of a tech firm’s offering, regardless of headquarters location.
But Miles said he’s proud to support the local tech industry as a customer, particularly because of tech’s growing importance as a regional economic engine.
“In about 10 years, it’s gone from a meaningful facilitator of the growth of our more mature industries to an important cluster in and of itself,” Miles said. “It has been part of the movement of our culture, from a more traditional industrial culture to a more happening place.”
Relations between IMS leaders and tech leaders have advanced in recent years as longtime acquaintances and colleagues have assumed new roles.
Miles said he first got to know local technology players around 2006 when tech-advocacy group TechPoint became part of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. Miles was CEO of CICP from 2005 to 2011.
During that span, Miles worked with former TechPoint Chairman Mark Hill, who remains a prominent tech investor and adviser, and High Alpha’s Dorsey, who was CEO of ExactTarget when it was acquired by Salesforce for $2.5 billion in 2013. Dorsey joined TechPoint’s board in 2007 and is currently on its executive committee.
Miles also worked with Dorsey on the Super Bowl 2012 Host Committee. Miles chaired the effort and Dorsey led its marketing communications division.
For his part, Dorsey is well acquainted with Cynthia Lucchese, Hulman’s chief financial officer, and Allison Melangton, a Hulman vice president who formerly was president of the Indiana Sports Corp.
Melangton and Miles helped recruit Dorsey to volunteer on the Super Bowl committee.
Miles said he’s gotten to know Scott McCorkle, the former CEO of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, after McCorkle stepped down from that position last summer. “We’ve worked together on some civic stuff, and he happens to be a race fan—he and his wife, Tiffany,” Miles said.
Miles also said he appreciated Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff’s stopping by the Speedway on May 20 for Indianapolis 500 qualifications.
Benioff was in town for the christening of downtown’s Salesforce Tower. After rain marred his plans to visit the track that morning, he came back later, when the weather dried up.
Ruselink also has local tech ties. She was vice president of information technology at the call-center-software firm Interactive Intelligence before joining IMS last September. Since coming aboard, she has maintained some of her prior activities, including participating in a group of CIOs who give advice to local startups.
“You have a savvy leadership team over there who has exceptionally high expectations but has a Hoosier mind-set interested in looking in the neighborhood for excellence,” said J.J. Thompson, CEO of the cybersecurity firm Rook Security, another IMS vendor.
“And that’s a big deal—a lot of times when brands get to be global, they forget about where they came from.”
Those relationships help IMS stay abreast of local tech happenings, observers said, and be receptive when potentially beneficial companies come across its radar.
It learned about Quantifi, for instance, through an invite-only product demo in February attended by about 20 customer prospects.
“I think the fact that they attended our product review says a lot, because we were an unknown quantity at the time,” said Despi Ross, Quantifi’s vice president of customer experience.
Some deals came through referrals, which was MyCOI. The company, whose software streamlines and tracks insurance contracts, was recommended to IMS by insurance agency ONI Risk Partners.
Emarsys connected with IMS last fall through mutual acquaintances on Emarsys’ sales team and IMS’ marketing team.
For tech companies, one advantage to selling locally is that selling cycles tends to be shorter, with face-to-face meetings accelerating the process.
When the client is globally known, that’s a bonus.
Besides using clients like the Speedway to help it land other customers or secure venture capital, a tech firm could use IMS in case studies, then show prospects how it solved a problem for a recognizable brand.
“As a startup, the hardest thing to do is build credibility,” said John Hurley, CEO of file-sharing software maker SmartFile, which signed IMS as an early customer in 2011. “Having IMS as a customer gave us credibility as we went on to sell to NCAA, Roche and Cook.”
Miles said IMS is happy to support emerging local tech companies—but that’s not the motivating factor.
“At one level, if we can help facilitate the growth of this cluster for us, then great. But we’re really engaged because it makes business sense, and we learn a lot every day from those relationships with really smart young people, usually, who are innovative.”
Besides finding tech products and services that help it with its operational goals, buying from emerging companies gives IMS a big voice with respect to how those products and services evolve. In short, its feedback carries much more weight than it might with a large global tech firm.
“For a product like Microsoft Word,” Ruselink said, “what’s the likelihood that you’re going to have an impact on making a change given how many people are using that product?”
For the Speedway, technology is about more than maximizing the effectiveness of its business functions. It collects large amounts of data from recording and sensors during races and feeds that, in part, to race teams. Cellular and data connectivity are critical for fan experience and play a role in IMS’ ambitions to deliver more content to the throngs of fans who attend the Indianapolis 500 and other events.
IMS has been investing in those areas, and Ruselink said she’s excited about tapping into emerging technologies such as the internet of things to enhance fan experience.
High Alpha’s Dorsey is impressed. He said the IMS has a “spirit of innovation that’s permeating everything that they do. And they’ve been reaching out to me, and others in the tech community, wanting to leverage the tech ecosystem that we have here to move the organization forward.”•