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CIOs join forces to battle cancer

Stephanie Overby | May 30, 2014
Join forces with a seeming archrival to develop a data-sharing platform? Jay Ferro ... Ferro is the CIO of the American Cancer Society (ACS).

A Radical ROI
While their day-to-day IT work doesn't look much different than what you'd see in any other IT organization, the returns, these CIOs say, are.

Machen is focused on three goals: creating a single view of the donor with a more robust donor-management system, improving donor engagement with mobile and social media tools, and delivering actionable insight through advanced analytics. Substitute the word "customer" for "donor" and it could be a to-do list for any Fortune 500 CIO. But Machen's real focus is the St. Jude patient. From his third-floor office, he has a clear view of the hospital. He eats lunch at the on-campus cafe, where he might share a table with a patient, a nurse, a janitor.

"You can't work here and be separate from the mission," Machen explains. "It's sacred ground. Parents come here clamoring for hope when they've been told there is none, and we receive them with open arms."

It takes $800 million to fund the institution, and most of that comes from donations of less than $30. ALSAC is processing about 17 million transactions a year. "Everything we do here is generated by those donors, and the enabler of all that is great technology," says Machen. When IT implements a new CRM system or rolls out smartphone check-in for the organization's 31,000 events, the return is better fundraising to support patient care.

Machen met a St. Jude patient's dad his first day on the job four years ago. He expected a sob story. Instead the man's eyes lit up, he raised his arms, and declared, "It's just too good to be true." He and his family were in their darkest hour, but when they got to St. Jude, they received world-class care for their daughter, subsidized meals and a place to stay as a family.

"My job is about providing something that's too good to be true," Machen says. "It drives me crazy when we don't. And we do miss the mark. But if 'too good to be true' is the goal, you get a lot closer to that than you would otherwise."

Ferro gets that. He's thinking about social, mobile, big data and cloud--like any CIO of his caliber. He's building a service-oriented architecture. He runs a 24/7 call center year-round. He handles the infrastructure and applications for the ACS's 800 locations, along with the Hope Lodges where cancer patients can stay during treatment. His IT underpins the largest nongovernmental source of funding for cancer research in the country.

Certainly Ferro measures his progress partly in the traditional way. By streamlining and standardizing IT systems, he's cut this year's budget 20 percent from last year while boosting customer service numbers. But those dollars and cents add up to something more. "We measure ourselves in lives saved," Ferro says.


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