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Focus Brands' exec keeps on top of IT trends

Focus Brands' exec keeps on top of IT trends

Off the clock, Todd Michaud chronicles his “journey of going from an overweight IT executive to an ironman” at the blog. But even triathlon training must seem less challenging at times than his team’s job of supporting about 1,600 foodservice locations — nearly all franchised — across the Carvel, Cinnabon, Moe’s Southwest Grill and Schlotzsky’s Deli chains.

The 36-year-old Focus Brands vice president of IT, who left the Rochester Institute of Technology after his freshman term to work at Electronic Data Systems — now HP Enterprise Services — and later “rode the dot-com wave,” among other career moves, enjoys sharing his experiences. In recent months, Michaud (pronounced Mih-show) has spoken at trade shows as well as regularly contributed a retail IT column to Evan Schuman’s StorefrontBack blog. 

Title: Vice president of information technology, Focus Brands Inc., Atlanta

Birth date: Jan. 2, 1974

Hometown/Current residence: Dexter, Maine/Atlanta

Career highlights: director of retail technology, Dunkin’ Brands Inc.; director of solutions development, NaviSite; chief information officer, Channels/Conserv; board member, Social Executive Council; completed programs by Center for Creative Leadership and Society for Information Management

Manages: 10 people

Reports to: chief financial officer

Family: married, two daughters, ages 4 and 2, and a baby boy due in December

What key IT changes have occurred at Focus Brands during the past two years?

Focus Brands grew through acquisition. As a result, the IT infrastructure was really a collection of small company IT solutions.  Over the past 12 months we have invested in creating a stable, reliable and highly available infrastructure. This involved data center consolidation, server consolidation and virtualization, storage consolidation and improved wide area networking. We also re-organized the IT team into operations and engineering functions. This allowed us to implement formal project management practices for project delivery and formal IT operations processes to enhance IT performance.

Can you talk about two IT projects in progress?

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards compliance is a never-ending project. We spend a lot of time educating our franchise partners about PCI DSS and the steps that they need to follow to be compliant. We also are working on a large-scale customer relationship management project to enhance our internal business processes around our franchise operations.

Among the emerging technologies, which one has you most excited?

I think that Social CRM [social networking enhanced customer relationship management] will be a complete game changer for the foodservice industry. Combined with location-based services like Foursquare, these Social CRM solutions will allow restaurateurs to obtain a level of intimacy with their customers as never before. Social CRM will allow restaurants to have a dialog with their guests, not just “shout” at them using traditional advertising.

What’s the challenge with Social CRM?

I believe that the next evolution of information systems will come around the concept of data management. I contend that a comprehensive approach is required to really get ahead. Most companies are thinking too small, too “now.” A CRM project is a large project. A business intelligence project is a large project. A guest-loyalty program project is a large project. Social media are not really defined [so applying them to business could be a large project]. When I advocate combining all four of those [pieces] into one comprehensive strategy or project to engage with customers, most people think I’m crazy.

Is Focus Brands ready to embrace Social CRM?

The executives at Focus are highly supportive. It’s still in the business planning stage, but I am hopeful that we will continue to move forward.

As an IT executive, what most commands your attention?

My greatest challenge is delivering quality IT solutions to a very diverse population of users within franchise systems. From sophisticated, larger franchise partners that operate several locations to small, mom-and-pop operators who do their bookkeeping over the kitchen table at night, we have to develop and support solutions that meet their needs. You will never make everyone happy, and that can be a tough reality some days. You just have to feel confident that you are making the best decision for the entire system, and not be afraid to admit that you were wrong and change direction if it is the right thing to do. 

Does your company outsource any IT functions?

Focus Brands outsources the support of our Lawson Financials [software] and development and support of custom applications. We are looking at ways to decrease our spending [for Lawson support]. I am interested in exploring cloud-based computing as an option for POS in the future. 

You mentioned fireworks as an interest. What’s that about?

I love fireworks. For seven years — while living in New Hampshire where fireworks are legal — I put on a large fireworks show for friends and family each Fourth of July. I used a custom-made electronic firing system, and the entire show was choreographed to music. It typically took me over three months to prepare for a 45-minute show. 

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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