JULIUS TOMEI, CHIEF CUSTOMER AND INFORMATION OFFICER AT FOCAL POINT LIGHTING
Julius Tomei likes to watch the Chicago Blackhawks, play golf, fish and use his DSLR camera to capture memories with his five children. He also likes to help drive change in organizations, which is the perfect fit for his current role as Chief Customer and Information Officer at Focal Point LLC. Focal Point is a Chicago-based, family-owned and operated company that designs and manufactures superior, specification-grade architectural lighting. Julius joined Focal Point in 2012, bringing with him 30 years of IT experience in the manufacturing industry. Since joining the organization, Julius has helped transform the company’s IT department into a team that enables business transformation through technology.
In 2014, Focal Point selected Terillium to help with their implementation of Oracle JD Edwards. Terillium and Focal Point worked together to automate manual processes, improve customer service and enable other business process improvements.
INTERVIEW WITH JULIUS TOMEI
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge CIOs face today?
Julius: In today’s digital and connected world, IT is no longer considered a behind-the-scenes support function. Instead, technology is being used to create efficiencies, improve the customer experience, enable business intelligence, etc. As a result, every CIO is finding themselves with multiple requests from the business, often putting them in a situation where they have more work than they have resources. It’s a balancing act to meet the ongoing business needs, and it requires CIOs to really work with their counterparts to identify where technology can make the biggest impact on the organization at the lowest cost. This is a challenge that I think CIOs will continue to face forever: finding the balance between quality, price, and results…while also managing expectations since the business “appetite” is always growing.
What is one strategy you’ve implemented as CIO that has paid off the most?
Julius: I knew that if our ERP project was considered an “IT project” it would fail. So I ensured that our executive team was actively involved from the start by setting up a Steering Committee. This committee met weekly and became the governing structure that connected every executive to the project, making them stakeholders in the success of the implementation. The Steering Committee held the business accountable for the project, and as a result each executive felt ownership for the project and a responsibility to do for his or her part to ensure its success. Our executives were active participants during the project and their engagement continues today after go-live. We still meet once a month to set priorities for the business and evaluate how our systems are running.
Why did you choose to implement ERP at Focal Point?
Julius: When I came into this role, we had a lot of single point solutions and I worked to retire several of them. However, we still didn’t have a single source of truth that we could leverage to make business decisions. There was no continuity of data. Additionally, we didn’t have the advantages of integrated, end-to-end business processes and systems. By implementing an ERP system we were able to create efficiencies, obtain a single source of truth, and we were able to eliminate another 30 separate systems.
What advice would you give to a CIO considering an ERP/JDE implementation?
Julius: You can’t place enough emphasis on the change process. An ERP project is a business transformation project – it affects people, processes, and technology. The people part is the hardest part of the transformation. From the beginning, we had an outside Organizational Change Management (OCM) partner help us through the transformation. Communications and training were two key components.
To help with communications, we had town hall meetings once a month. At these meetings we shared what we’d accomplished, what we were currently working on, and what was coming next. We also continued to reinforce the benefits – such as having access to information we didn’t have before. Having gone through large ERP implementations, I felt extremely prepared. I knew what we were going to go through and I could help the team understand what to expect. This helped take the edge off for everyone as they didn’t go in blindly.
A lot of the change occurs after go-live so we are still working with our OCM partner. Implementing ERP is the beginning, not the end, of the journey. It takes many months to work through the system. And it takes a while to let the system settle in and let people get comfortable with the change. An ERP implementation brings out the good, bad and the ugly – it exposes all of that.
At the end of the day, our main goal was for this transformation to be transparent to our customers. Our success was measured by whether or not our customers felt the change. We achieved our goal; our customers did not feel any of the bumps…and now they are starting to experience some of the benefits.
What are helpful resources to you as CIO?
Julius: Quest User Group has been a good resource, especially for companies using JDE. All of our Business Analysts are involved with Quest. Collaborate is a great event to connect with other companies and bring back a wealth of information. I am also involved on a CIO Council as a way to network and share information with my peers.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
Julius: One of my original mentors was my company’s CIO when I was coming up in my career. He and I spent a lot of time together where he’d give me insights, preparing me to be a CIO. He always told me not to be quick to offer a solution without fully understanding the situation. That many times as CIO, you are under the gun – and in that situation you don’t always fully listen. His advice was to take the time to understand the underlying data before making a decision, because a wrong decision can be costly. He taught me to be patient and make sure to understand the situation. Motivations behind a problem can be political or they can be financial. To this day I do not use anecdotal information to act on; I use empirical data only.
What advice would you give a new CIO?
Julius: There are three parts of a technology department: development, pure IT (hardware, software etc.), and business transformation. The value of the CIO is to spend most of your time driving business transformation as this is what will have the biggest impact on your organization and its bottom line. Of course you can’t neglect the operations side of IT – making sure you “keep the lights on” – but otherwise IT has to be about adding value to the business.
The business needs to feel like they own IT and that it is driven by their requirements and priorities. After all, IT investments and solutions should enable your company’s goals and strategies. So IT can’t be self-serving. If the business doesn’t own IT, it’s an endless battle. The only way to avoid that is to give the business the key.
What was the most memorable moment working with the Terillium Team (so far)?
Julius: We had fun amidst all the craziness. Our teams worked well together to collectively ensure the success of the project. Our ICRPs (Integrated Conference Room Pilots) were a good example – it was great to watch everyone come together for those. And because of everyone’s dedication, our go-live was a success – I think everyone felt that monumental feeling that our hard work helped make it go as well as it has.
What’s the next big project for your team?
Julius: As I mentioned earlier, this is a journey. Before we even started the ERP project, I had a three-to-five year roadmap. I use this roadmap as a communication tool at every meeting. It started with a software evaluation, then the implementation of the finance, manufacturing, distribution and PLM. This year is about stabilization and optimization.
Next year we need to implement Business Intelligence. We will also implement document management and archiving to manage our data collection. Fortunately we now have a great foundation to build upon as we work toward these goals.
THE ART OF LIGHT
Focal Point is a Chicago-based, family-owned and operated company dedicated to advancing the Art of Light®. Using the most advanced equipment and processes, Focal Point designs and manufactures superior, specification-grade architectural lighting.