Digital transformation and innovation are core elements of the business strategy for the American Cancer Society, a large non-profit organization. On this episode, Jay Ferro describes the role of technology in driving business changes at the Society.

Jay Ferro, chief information officer for the American Cancer Society, is responsible for the people, strategy and operations of the global information technology of the organization. He is a recognized technology leader, known for creating and executing strategic visions to achieve business goals.

Ferro joined the Society executive staff in 2012, bringing a deep personal connection to the fight against cancer. In 2007, he founded the nonprofit group Priscilla’s Promise, in honor of his late wife, who died from cancer. Priscilla’s Promise, for which Ferro serves as the executive director, raises funds for cervical cancer education and research.

Prior to joining the Society, Ferro was the senior vice president and chief information officer for AdCare Health Systems, a rapidly growing and recognized innovator in health care facility management. Ferro spent the previous seven years at AIG (American International Group), most recently as vice president and chief information officer for AIG Aviation, a leading global aerospace insurer. At AIG, Ferro implemented numerous improvements that have delivered substantial value to the organization while managing significant organizational change in a turbulent market environment. In addition to his role as associate vice president of Information Technology with AIG Personal Lines, Ferro was selected as chief financial officer for operations and systems in 2006, and led multiple global IT finance and governance standards initiatives that resulted in millions of dollars in savings for the organization.

Known as a thought leader in the information technology arena, Ferro is a frequent guest speaker and panelist, both in Atlanta and nationwide. In recognition of his accomplishments, Ferro was selected as as one of ComputerWorld’s 2015 100 IT Leaders, as well as Georgia CIO of the Year in 2011, and is currently serving as chair for the Georgia CIO Leadership Association. Ferro was also selected to join Leadership Atlanta’s Class of 2015 and participate in a rigorous year-long leadership development program alongside other prominent Atlanta leaders. His commitment and dedication to community involvement is evidenced by the time and energy he contributes. In addition to his work with Priscilla’s Promise, in 2011, he was elected to the board of directors for TechBridge, an Atlanta-based nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofits use technology to improve their capability to serve the community.

Ferro earned both his BA in political science and his MBA from the University of Georgia. He continues to be involved with his alma mater, both as a mentor for young alumni and as a member of the alumni board of directors for the Terry College of Business. Ferro lives in the metro Atlanta area with his three sons.

Transcript

Michael Krigsman:

(00:34) Welcome to episode number 167 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman, and our show today is going to be a great show. We’re talking with Jay Ferro who is the Chief Information Officer of the American Cancer Society. We’re going to talk about digital transformation inside this very large non-profit organization. And Jay how are you today?

Jay Ferro:

(01:03) Michael I’m great. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Michael Krigsman:

(01:06) Well thanks so much for taking your time and joining us here today. Let’s begin, tell us briefly about the American Cancer society. I think everybody has heard the name, but tell us about what you do.

Jay Ferro:

(01:22) Yeah, you know the American Cancer Society is a global organization. Very simply dedicated to eliminating cancer as a world health problem; we do that a lot of different ways through obviously research where I think we’re known for. We’re the largest governmental funder of cancer research in the country. Patient programs, prevention early detection programs, patient services, advocating, lobbying work, all kinds of things. We’re in thousands of communities around the country, really around the world now. And we have one simple mission, and that’s to eliminate pain and suffering from cancer. Helping people detect it early. Prevent it to begin with. Once they have it you know and get it cured and you know, we’d love to put ourselves out of business Michael honestly.

Michael Krigsman:

(02:10) How did you decide to take the CIO role in this non-profit?

Jay Ferro:

(02:18) Well you know it’s funny. When I first got offered the job at ACS about four years ago I told a good friend that I was thinking about joining ACS as CIO. And he looked at me and said, ‘well are you still going to keep your full-time job?’ And I think he thought I was going to be a volunteer or something like that, and not recognizing how big we are you know.

But this has been my first non-profit and it’s been a real privilege, which I came from AIG, a company and before that, Mariner Health Care and a number of big, large kind of multinational or global entities. But a lot of people may not know this, but I lost my wife Pricilla, and of course I don’t go very far, my beautiful wife Pricilla to cervical cancer in 2007. So in 2012 when I had an opportunity to come here and do what I love, which is be a CIO, but more importantly do it for an organization that’s dedicated to eliminating what took my wife and my three boys mother. I mean how can you say no to that? You’re too passionate right.

Michael Krigsman:

(03:27) So it’s a very professional mission for you but also obviously a very personal mission.

Jay Ferro:

(03:33) It is. It’s a crusade. I always tell people that I think in life you can have a job, you can have a career, and you’re lucky if you have one of those over a job. And the luckiest I think has a crusade. And I’m very honored and privilege to have a crusade.

Michael Krigsman:

(03:50) So that crusade, the America Cancer society, one thinks about it as these volunteers and raising money but as an organization I think it’s larger than most people are aware. So give us a sense of the size, the scope, the activities again of what the organization does.

Jay Ferro:

(04:11) Yeah, no I think it surprises everybody when they hear about how large we are. We have a little over 6,000 employees all around the country. We have 2.5 to 3 million volunteers at any time that are our life blood. And between donors and constituents and you know, all the folks that have helped us, you’re talking about 75 plus million customers at any given time. So we’re very honored. Fund raising is not all we do clearly, but all we do depends on it.

(04:44) So from an IT perspective what does that mean? We’re the best of probably three different worlds; health care, maybe a little bit of higher Ed and

Michael Krigsman:

(00:34) Welcome to episode number 167 of CXOTalk. I’m Michael Krigsman, and our show today is going to be a great show. We’re talking with Jay Ferro who is the Chief Information Officer of the American Cancer Society. We’re going to talk about digital transformation inside this very large non-profit organization. And Jay how are you today?

Jay Ferro:

(01:03) Michael I’m great. Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Michael Krigsman:

(01:06) Well thanks so much for taking your time and joining us here today. Let’s begin, tell us briefly about the American Cancer society. I think everybody has heard the name, but tell us about what you do.

Jay Ferro:

(01:22) Yeah, you know the American Cancer Society is a global organization. Very simply dedicated to eliminating cancer as a world health problem; we do that a lot of different ways through obviously research where I think we’re known for. We’re the largest governmental funder of cancer research in the country. Patient programs, prevention early detection programs, patient services, advocating, lobbying work, all kinds of things. We’re in thousands of communities around the country, really around the world now. And we have one simple mission, and that’s to eliminate pain and suffering from cancer. Helping people detect it early. Prevent it to begin with. Once they have it you know and get it cured and you know, we’d love to put ourselves out of business Michael honestly.

Michael Krigsman:

(02:10) How did you decide to take the CIO role in this non-profit?

Jay Ferro:

(02:18) Well you know it’s funny. When I first got offered the job at ACS about four years ago I told a good friend that I was thinking about joining ACS as CIO. And he looked at me and said, ‘well are you still going to keep your full-time job?’ And I think he thought I was going to be a volunteer or something like that, and not recognizing how big we are you know.

But this has been my first non-profit and it’s been a real privilege, which I came from AIG, a company and before that, Mariner Health Care and a number of big, large kind of multinational or global entities. But a lot of people may not know this, but I lost my wife Pricilla, and of course I don’t go very far, my beautiful wife Pricilla to cervical cancer in 2007. So in 2012 when I had an opportunity to come here and do what I love, which is be a CIO, but more importantly do it for an organization that’s dedicated to eliminating what took my wife and my three boys mother. I mean how can you say no to that? You’re too passionate right.

Michael Krigsman:

(03:27) So it’s a very professional mission for you but also obviously a very personal mission.

Jay Ferro:

(03:33) It is. It’s a crusade. I always tell people that I think in life you can have a job, you can have a career, and you’re lucky if you have one of those over a job. And the luckiest I think has a crusade. And I’m very honored and privilege to have a crusade.

Michael Krigsman:

(03:50) So that crusade, the America Cancer society, one thinks about it as these volunteers and raising money but as an organization I think it’s larger than most people are aware. So give us a sense of the size, the scope, the activities again of what the organization does.

Jay Ferro:

(04:11) Yeah, no I think it surprises everybody when they hear about how large we are. We have a little over 6,000 employees all around the country. We have 2.5 to 3 million volunteers at any time that are our life blood. And between donors and constituents and you know, all the folks that have helped us, you’re talking about 75 plus million customers at any given time. So we’re very honored. Fund raising is not all we do clearly, but all we do depends on it.

(04:44) So from an IT perspective what does that mean? We’re the best of probably three different worlds; health care, maybe a little bit of higher Ed and research and even you know retail to a certain extent because we make millions of transactions. We work in all the major platforms, you know social, mobile, across all the digital landscapes. So we have all the big major challenges that any large entity does, but you know our product just happens to be our brands, our information, our cures, our volunteer network etc.

Michael Krigsman:

(05:22) So your product is essentially research and service, because you’re also the largest cancer researcher outside of the federal government as I understand it.

Jay Ferro:

(05:39) That’s right yeah, we’re the largest non-governmental funder of cancer research in the country. So we’ve played a part in just about every major cancer breakthrough since the early 70s. We’re very very proud of that. I mean you can track and linage of many of the treatments today like for Septin and in many others to funding that was started at ACS. You know that was funded by ACS.

(06:08) We get a lot of great researchers early in their careers. We’re proud to have had I think the number is 47, 46 or 47 of our researchers have gone on to win the Nobel Prize. So we have 47 Nobel Laureates with ACS ties. I mean you just don’t see that kind of intellectual capital at a lot of places.

Michael Krigsman:

(06:29) So you are this very large distributed organization, and you’re also trying to use technology to further the mission and the activities which the organization engages. So can you shed some light on the kind of changes that the American Cancer Society is going through and the impact on technology and how you’re using technology to further the mission of the organization?

Jay Ferro:

(06:59) No absolutely. So when I joined we we’re 12 independent divisions plus one corporate. So there was a huge opportunity right at the beginning to do a whole lot of improvement of doing the blocking and tackling of IT right. You had 13 different independent IT companies, very common in the nonprofit space or in the for-profit space to have this federated model. And we became one unified global functional based IT organization.

(07:25) Once you kind of stem the bleeding and take advantage of some of those early economies to scale, we had a real opportunity to transform the way that we interact with our volunteers, the way we interact with our donors. And it’s not just about taking digital technology and applying it to our old business process. All that does is make old business processes faster, and that’s not always a good thing. Sometimes it is; there’s modernization. But it’s about rethinking the way that we interact with our constituents and our volunteers.

(07:56) Let me give you an example. You know the millennial’s today and again I think they’re painted with a very broad brush at times, but there are some truths. They are very used to highly customized experiences. That’s the same in a not for profit, or fundraising, or volunteering perspective.

(0813) We’ve got to give them volunteer experiences that are tailored to them, to their time, talent, and treasure. Just as in the for profit space, you know you see for profit organizations wanting an experience from Michael Krigsman. They want you to feel special when you walk into a store and want you to buy a product. And they want you to know that they know you’re there and that they care about you. We want the same thing because we want donors for life. We want volunteers for life. We want people to know that we care, that we’re here 24/7 365.

(08:44) So all the systems that are behind that; cloud based identity, and customer identity and access management. You know a more robust CRM, mobile technology, all of those things. Geo-fencing at events you know that we’re rolling out later this year where you can where I know if Michael shows up at an event and I can personally thank you. And you know, just some of those coolest technologies are going to change the game for us. But it’s with the intent of attracting, retaining donors and volunteers, all for the purpose of furthering our mission right. And you know if we can do that it’s going to be a game changer.

Michael Krigsman:

(09:36) So again the impact of technology on this, how do you work with other senior leaders in the organization to convey to them where technology add strategic value to the mission in some of the ways you were describing.

Jay Ferro:

(09:56) That’s been a journey right. So my boss told me when I came here, my old boss and he’s since retired. But when I came here he said Jay, IT is a four letter word in this organisation, which I didn’t really want to ask what he really meant. But he said you know, you’ve got your work cut out for you and that’s why you’re here.

(10:19) So what that really meant is multifaceted. One, IT was you know not where it needed to be. It wasn’t a strategic partner and beyond that it wasn’t even a good order taker. So we had to re-establish credibility. There was no way I could have walked in you know 3½ – 4 years ago and said, let me introduce you guys to digital transformation. They would have looked at me as if I sprouted a second head and said, ‘Let me show you the door’. And I would have walked out, because nobody really cares about digital transformation when email and all the table stakes aren’t even working properly.

(10:52) So you know for me I had to earn credibility. So going back to your question, one of the ways I got folks to begin to listen was to (a) obviously eliminate some of these lingering operational issues, while learning at light speed, while offering up solutions and speaking to them in their terms. Now, I had to learn very very quickly. I started attending events. I started attending meetings. I started doing my own research. I had to make some strategic hires that you know that my new and that had more business competency and perhaps the prior regime. And I truly understood what we were trying to accomplish, that was more resilient and adaptive leaders. And over time we earned the credibility.

(11:45) you know, I don’t know of any CIO – you have a honeymoon period, but there’s no way we could have achieved this without you know kind of eliminating some pain points out of the gate. And you’re never going to get everybody all that once Michael, it’s never going to be a ballroom experience where everybody just nods their head and looks at you and go, ‘Oh yeah, I guess he does know what he’s talking about’. You’re going to partner one by one, two by two. So the first couple of partnerships that we established right out of the gate was with HR, was with corporate communications, with marketing. We have eight horrific relationship with our marketing group. There is no daylight between us, it’s amazing. So, you know this whole CMO/CIO thing just doesn’t exist here, because we speak daily and that’s been terrific. Other groups were a little slower to come along.

(12:31 – 12:52) No audio

Jay Ferro:

(12:52) It goes just beyond are like eating together and liking each other and speaking kumbaya. We do genuinely like each other and we have the kind of same mindset. She’s a terrific partner and we agreed early on that we were going to try and nip it in the bud and create shared goals. That meant sharing resources. That meant sharing our actual business and strategic goals from my organization and hers.

(13:23) And that’s all wonderful, but if I can’t execute her strategy or our organization strategy from a marketing perspective, all that sentiment is going to go away pretty quickly. We have to continue to become a more nimble, more responsive, more reactive IT organization, because marketing tends to move much faster generally than IT does.

(13:45) And in order to keep up with that pace of change – and it’s not without its pitfalls. I’ve screwed up, and I’ve given her permission – not that she needed it, but to call me out when she needed to call me out. And she has done the same thing. So it all starts with the human element. Me looking at her in the eye and vice versa and saying, look the only way we are going to be successful is doing this together and creating that mutual respect. And it trickled down to our teams and I’m happy to say it has worked out very well.

Michael Krigsman:

(14:15) How do you manage the fact as you said the marketing organization has very short timeframes, and IT has a different set of constraints that can affect the timeframes in which you can operate. So how do you reconcile the different requirements of IT and the marketing organization together?

Jay Ferro:

(14:36) Well I looked at some of the technologies that they wanted to roll out ver very quickly, whether it’s you know campaign management technologies, multi-channel marketing strategies, digital, mobile, rebranding all of our web properties, it forced IT. Well first of all let me go backwards.

(14:57) Any new CIO in his or her role has to find out who’s on the bus pretty quickly. You know who’s on the bus, and you know if people have heard me say either you change people, or you change people.

(15:07) So we had to change our culture and IT to be a far more streamlined, simplified, standardized, responsive, forward-thinking organization. But how do you do that, it’s more than just a mindset. You’ll reduce the complexity in your IT organization. You shut down legacy. You streamline processes. You’re invited early to the meeting, you say yes and you never say no. You say, well let’s talk about that we have options. So, there’s a lot of very technical things that go into being a better partner. It forced us to come out of our comfort zone.

(15:43) It also forced us to you know maybe give people sandboxes and let them play in it. I say this all the time. If I can get another department in the sandbox, we talk about shadow IT. If they can stay in the confines of that, meaning they are not going to evaluate security. They’re not going to put the organization at risk, let them play in the sandbox. Some of the best ideas that we’re ever going to get are is if we provide them tools and that kind of environment to play in. The flipside is that we’ve had to educate about security, about threats - digital threats that are out there, and we meet in the middle. I don’t think we’ll ever move as fast as they want us to, but I don’t think we are slow as may be that we are told from time to time.

Michael Krigsman:

(16:29) We have an interesting question from Twitter, Arsalan Khan asks when you’re talking about first improving the operations and then transforming, would it help if the CIO and the COO, the Chief Operating Officer were the same person. is that away to help address this issue.

Jay Ferro:

(16:50) Wow what a terrific question! Selfishly I would say yes! That’s a great question, thank you for tweeting that. I will say this, in a perfect world I think effective all really good CIOs make terrific COOs. And it would certainly eliminate a whole lot of handoffs if that CIO had operations as well.

(17:14) I can tell you that as an organization we’ve mature; we no longer have one, a COO, but we have the functions that would normally have you know record up to a COO and they are simply are called by me and my other group. So I think that’s a vote of confidence you know by my boss, our CEO that he respects our ability to deliver operational initiatives, so but going back to the question, in a perfect world and that would be great. You know, why not be a CEO at the time to but that jobs taken right now.

Michael Krigsman:

(17:49) So one of the core things that any nonprofit has to do is manage donations, is find ways of getting those donations and managing those donations, and you were talking earlier about the importance of having the broad view of the customer and customer experience. Can you elaborate on the customer view? Talk about the customer view for us and how you interact with your customers and what do you do as far as that goes.

Jay Ferro:

(18:23) Yeah what really spawned this for us is you know obviously there’s the retail model that I referred to earlier. And we’re primarily known for probably three for four different fundraising models around the country, really around the world now in 25 countries. Relay for Life is by far our largest, so if you are in one of 5,000 communities around the world you have probably seen a Relay for Life sign near a school or near a track or near you know a park or something like that. That is our primary fundraiser. We have 5,000 of them, 2.5 to 3 million participants in that every year. It’s an amazing thing. I mean 120,000 teams take millions of transactions leading up to the actual events.

(19:14) The models changing though, and it used to be back in the 80s, 90s etc. that you build the event and people come, and they clearly still do and the Relay is amazing. And this is one of many examples but the paradigm is shifting now. You know Michael, the millennial or even the Gen Xer or the Gen Zer wants to fund raise on his or her own terms. You may want to attend a Really once a year, and that’s great. But you may want to have a bikathon, so we’re pivoting and putting some of the fundraising power back into the hands of the individuals versus making it an event centric focus. Well what does that really mean?

(19:55) Well it means I need to know Michael. It means I want to know Michael the fundraiser. I want to know Michael the patient, the survivor, the caregiver, the donor. I want to know all aspects of Michael so I can provide that tailored experience, that rich fulfilling experience that you walk away going, ‘I just made a difference. I enjoyed my time with the American Cancer Society. I’m moving the needle in the battle against cancer’.

(20:20) And the technology behind that comes in the form of more robust CRM, identity and access management you know from a constituent perspective, linkages and the integrations between all of those. You know, we’re building something called the customer or constituent 360 hub which all applications will be able to feed from. So at any given time let’s operationalize that.

(20:44) Michael makes a call to our 24/7 365 call centre to ask a question. I want to be able to see that you have also been a Relay captain that you’re a survivor and you’ve been on our website so I can thank you. I want the mailings that you get. I want the emails that you get for Michael not from me, and we can do that to a certain extent with segmentation and all of those other things and that is table stakes. But I want it to be for Michael, not for a 40 something white male and so and so. I want it to be from Michael Krigsman.

(21:19) And we’re getting there and why? Because you walk away feeling that we are your American Cancer Society, and I’m not serving up data that’s irrelevant or content that’s irrelevant, and making the best use of your donor dollars and your time, because unlike the IRS, you don’t have to pay them or give us anything. I mean they’re volunteers for a reason, and their donors. You have an option to go other places and you know we've got to earn that investment in us.

Michael Krigsman:

(21:48) As you have undertaken these technology programs, it’s interesting I say technology programs because there’s technology obviously involved, but more importantly these are business program changes that technology is enabling. So as you have undertaken let’s say these business programs what about the culture of the organization, how has that have to have changed?

Jay Ferro:

(22:19) Well you know it’s funny. I was talking to somebody even earlier today about this very topic and I laughed because there were times even in the first two or three years where occasionally you would get that older employee perhaps who has been here 20 – 25 years. Maybe has never been anywhere else, and is not used to IT being a strategic or enabler, and they would introduce you. Like, ‘This is Jay Ferro, our chief IT guy’. And you just kind of stand there going, yeah you know, and if you need any help with Windows I’m happy to help. Or if you get a blue screen of death let me know and I’ll come over and reset it for you. I said, but you’ve just have to have my desktop knowledge. It’s been a while since I’ve been an IT guy.

(23:09) But all kidding aside you know, some executives and folks who have come from the outside primarily knew about the power of IT and that had come from more progressive organizations. Our employee based skews some very young millennials and Gen Xers have an expectation that technology is fairly far along.

(23:30) Some of the – and this is not age you know, but some of the folks that may be have been here for a long time weren’t at first is used to ‘What does the IT guy think he knows about all of this strategy. Who is he talking about our programs?’ And again, you and the credibility. Not just through IT delivery but showing that you’re a business leader and not just an IT leader.

(23:52) You’ve heard me say Michael that CIOs are business leaders first and technologist second, or at least good ones but that means me showing up at events. That means me fundraising. I’m happy to say that of 100 plus thousand teams around the world for Relay my IT team is in the top 20. Well yeah, I want the money that comes along with that for the organization. Almost as it important is that all of my IT staff all around the country, we have to eat our own cooking. We have to use the mobile apps, the web apps, all the systems that we roll out. We show up at events and we talk to folks who are using them and the learnings have just been terrific. That’s just one way I’ve earned credibility and our team more importantly has earned credibility that they might know what we’re talking about a little bit.

Michael Krigsman:

(24:40) So this is such an interesting topic and just drill into this point for a moment if you would. So you’re the Chief Information Officer, Information Technology role and yet at the same time of the focus of what you do is a set of business activities, and again how do you reconcile that technology job with the business role.

Jay Ferro:

(25:19) That’s right, so we do have an IT strategy but it’s a subset of our business strategy. In fact that’s a very clumsy way to put it. Let me rephrase that. We have an IT operational improvement and continual improvement strategy. You know, we have all of these other things that we talk about whether it’s social, mobile, analytics, cloud, all of these things where we want to reduce cost and improve efficiencies and security.

(25:47) The big strategic projects that we’re working on are not IT projects, yet every single one of them has IT as a leader in it, right. Our strategy, my boss said it best. He said, Jay, and he said this on an enterprise wide call, ‘There is nothing we’ve done, there is nothing we’re doing, nor there is anything we will do that doesn’t have IT as a strategic enabler or as a leader’. And he’s dead on.

(26:19) I don’t care if it’s research. I don’t care if it’s our new partnership with IBM Watson. I don’t care if it’s any of that, IT is at the table but I don’t go in as the IT guy. I go in as a business business who understands what we’re trying to accomplish and then I lay along how we’re going to accomplish. So you know, too many CIOs or IT walking with cloud this or cloud that and our bits and bytes and blinking lights, and racks and use and line speeds all super important. All super important. They will yawn you out of the boardroom unless you can give them a real reason to care. And you know, the onus is on us as CIOs to understand and lead our business not for the business to understand and lead IT.

Michael Krigsman:

(27:08) So how do you give them a reason to care, what do you do?

Jay Ferro:

(27:12) Got to prove it. Got to execute, and you know you’ve got to show them at times that’s requires us to build proofs of concept that prove our understanding. I’ll give you a perfect example of. Our mobile app which we just rolled out a new iteration that we can take credit card, we can scan checks, people can check on their teams. You can use social login, our new fundraising app. It’s terrific. We just did a soft launch, so next week is our big – a little sneak peek there, but it’s raised millions for us. Even in the old iteration which did half of what our new iteration is.

(27:52) The reason I bring this up is because our organization at first never asked me for this. They never said, Jay we need a mobile app that does all of these things. They said we need to do more with mobile. They said well boy wouldn’t it be great if we reduced our dependency on checks and used more than just a mobile web page that was very pretty, but something beyond that. but nobody said Jay we need a mobile app. We listened and heard all the business problems. I give my people permission to tinker to use a percentage of their time at all times for quick wins, for tinkering, for innovation. And we created a proof of concept that scanned credit cards, safely using PayPal’s technology but very transparent. Partnered with Apple, partnered with a whole bunch of folks that helped us design it and brought it back to the head of marketing at the time, and they all kind of stared and said, ‘I didn’t know we could do that’.

(20:53) And they said you’re solving business problems. You’re actually applying technology in a way that we hadn’t even thought of. And that’s just one of dozens of examples where we’ve led the conversation. Now, what they did is they said, ‘But wouldn’t it be great if it did this’. Because once they saw that proof of concept and that strawman, we were able to iterate from that point on because we got some credibility right out of the gate. They realise that, hey, you guys might actually know our business processes. That’s pretty solid for a first effort’. So I challenge you know folks to listen, learn, and when you have an opportunity don’t wait to take the order. Don’t wait for the ‘I need the full business requirements’. If you’re listening you know 80% of it. Go iterate, create a proof of concept and bring it back. If you miss, you miss. At least you tried.

Michael Krigsman:

(29:44) So the foundation is having real clarity and very very strong cooperation with the business, otherwise you wouldn’t understand the nuances of what they actually need in order to build an app that meets their needs.

Jay Ferro:

(30:00) That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right, and I think too often IT professionals get enamored with the technology, and we do it for technology’s sake. We built that not for our own edification or because mobile apps are cool; and they are. But because we saw a business problem; we were taking too much paper. We were taking too many checks. At events we couldn’t process credit cards fast enough. We couldn’t send out machines to read them fast enough. We didn’t have a great peer-to-peer technology, where you and I are sitting at dinner and I say well you know, would you like to make a donation to my team – yeah, I don’t have check book with me. Don’t worry I can take this right here and securely PCI compliant, all kinds of things. And that was something they just hadn’t been exposed to it, and they didn’t know it could be done, and we knew it and created a strawman.

Michael Krigsman:

(30:55) So part of that customer relationship then is using technology to allow people working that the American Cancer Society as sales people say always be closing.

Jay Ferro:

(31:08) Always be closing. Always be closing. You know the thing is though I love what we do. I love my IT organization, but what I’m most proud of is Michael about everything we do is that it’s never for the glory of IT. Now we love what we do, don’t get me wrong, and we’re very proud of the technology solution and we always want to get better, you know. We are our own harshest critic. And if you’re a CIO and you’re not harder on your team than the businesses, you’re not going to be a CIO very long.

(31:38) That said, we love what our organization does and so the passion for our mission, the passion for our ‘product’. The passion for our research, or fundraisers god bless them our volunteers. Our field staff who just works their butts off who are amazing, community managers, we want to make their lives easier and we’re very passionate about that.

Michael Krigsman:

(32:00) No audio

Jay Ferro:

(32:08) Yeah, I mean multiple reasons right. first and foremost I think we dipped our toes in the way that everybody does payroll and time and labor maybe you know with ADP, they’re like we’re in the cloud, we’re a partner with company x.

(32:26) Cloud is not a one size fits all, you know, it’s a tool that a CIO has in his or her tool belt. And we looked at it and I said that if somebody can do something better, faster, cheaper, or more securely and it offered me more capability for the same or less. Or even more if it is significantly more capability, I want to have a discussion. I want to get rid of the commodity technology.

(32:51) So the first big foray was getting off of Lotus Notes and moving to Microsoft 365, and that was huge for us. I mean notes had been here since 1998; you get 5000 applications in Lotus Notes. And moving so moving to SharePoint, moving to the cloud, moving to all of that was a huge cultural change more than it was a technology change. But it proved, and it was very very successful that but enabled so many other things. It enabled cloud-based storage. It enabled cloud-based collaboration with our volunteers. It enabled all of these other things, VOIP, UCAS solutions for some of our smaller offices where we were beginning to allow using some of the more advanced stuff that Microsoft is rolling out now.

(33:35) Why? Better capabilities, more security, faster, iterations that I can do. For me to replicate what they’re doing – and again it’s not limited to Microsoft. There are dozens of terrific cloud providers out there that we’re looking at all have used.

(33:51) For me to replicate them it would be cost prohibitive, and nor would I want to invest donor dollars, so I want to be able to look at our constituents in the eye and say, I am squeezing out the most I can for the dollars that we’ve been given.

(34:04) Other things we are looking at our future state’s CRM. Right now our CRM is on-prem. It’s a legacy’s CRM. It’s huge install, and it’s a heart of lot of what we do; almost 77 million constituent records, huge by any measure. Whatever we select here later this year it will not be here. I want it to be in the cloud. I want it to be mobile first, and I want it to enable our workforce out in the field, because they are the people doing the real work; them and our volunteers, not me or not us. Our job is to make their lives easier, and not have them beeping on in and standing on one foot, dance in their circle in order to get what they need. I want it on their terms in a platform agnostic, mobile enabled secure way.

Michael Krigsman:

(34:50) Is there any part of your systems technology data that you plan to keep on premise because you don’t want the cloud. If so what would that be?

Jay Ferro:

(35:02) Yeah, some of our research data right now. I mean longer term we may look at those. We have a lot of research studies and epidemiology data that probably we will you know not look at right away. You know, we are slowly moving DR.

(35:25) When I joined we had a couple of hundred data centers, and I’ll qualify data centers as a closet in Michael’s office that had a rack and you know a local active directory replica, local router, and local file and print server. I am happy to say we pulled out 90% of that, and we are now at a point where you know I can hand off DR and I can hand off these commodity technologies to a cloud provider. But there’s a handful of things, particularly around the research arena and some of our cancer control information, and other things that short to mid-term will probably keep on prem. But I can’t imagine a scenario where longer term we wouldn’t consider the cloud for just about everything that we do.

Michael Krigsman:

(36:10) You mentioned earlier that changing over to the cloud required a culture shift, which again is one of those things I find so interesting because on one level the cloud is a change in technology. It’s not a change in mind, but actually it is a change in mind, so maybe elaborate on that point.

Jay Ferro:

(36:30) Yeah, the cloud I think you know three years ago when we first kind of dove in headfirst was a little bit of a scary thing for some of the older school folks, IT and non. We took great comfort and the warmth of our blinking lights, and the fact that I could go in and touch the silicon and all of that.

(36:54) I think just getting folks comfortable that first and foremost our data is secure that we are truly going to capture the efficiencies that we are going to capture. So we put together a business case. I said, look, let me put my money where my mouth is and let’s measure ROI, let’s measure the benefits that we’re getting. And I’m happy to say that they all bore out, and it was really more a fear of change than it was actual fear of reality.

(37:28) And you know, one of the things that has helped us Michael, and I would be rude if I didn’t bring this up, is that we’ve established champions all across the countries. So I’m talking about non-IT folks, who are more tech savvy that want to be early adopters of technology, that want to be change agents. You hear me and my good friend David Bray, and so many other people talk about being change agents. And I’m proud to say that we have a number of change champions and change agents around this organization that are terrific, that are early adopters that want to become evangelists.

(38:00) Whenever we roll out a new technology, whether it’s our mobile app, or 365, or new business and analytical capability, new mobile CRM capability, we establish these groups of eight change agents around the organization to beat it up, provide feedback. And they’re allowed to be brutally honest with us about what works. And guess what? They feel like they are in the fold and they are; they’re invaluable. And when we do roll it out you have built in evangelists that are at your defense you know whenever you roll out a big technology. So it’s worked really well on multiple fronts

Michael Krigsman:

(38:39) Jay, you mentioned David Bray, and for folks that don’t know David Bray is the Chief Information Officer for the Federal Communications Commission.

Jay Ferro:

(38:50) Yeah he is and I should have said that and David is a terrific change agent and a terrific CIO and a good friend.

Michael Krigsman:

(38:54) So historically we thought about change management as very often you’re rolling out a new ERP system and central HQ is sending out newsletters and everything’s going to be great.

Jay Ferro:

(39:13) Oh you’ve been here!

Michael Krigsman:

(39:15) So what is change management in today’s world?

Jay Ferro:

(39:22) Well it’s about transparency and inclusiveness quite frankly. You know, I heard a change manager once tell me you can’t communicate too much, which I think is a bit of an overstatement. But to me, it’s all about setting the right expectations about what is and what isn’t going to happen, and being as inclusive and transparent as you can. Describing and being very articulating the desired outcomes and the reason is that you are changing. And being as open and as honest about those as you can, and God knows when you screw up admit you screwed up.

(40:04) You know, when we decided to move to Office 365 and one of the things we also did was implement the email retention. Well, you know as well as I do that when a CIO tries to lead email retention it doesn’t go very well. So I enlisted our general counsel and our COO at the time and said if I’m going down I’m taking you to with me. But it was a huge change. People were using email as a file retention system, and that was just not a good place to be. And this is just one kind of small tactical example, but we had to be very open and honest about why we needed to change. I know it’s tough. We’re giving you these alternatives. Come along with us for the ride. Trust us it’s going to be okay. We’re giving you these different ways of collaboration through team sites or through our new intranet or through all these other things like Yammer and other technologies that we use. I promise, just take the leap, it’ll be worth it.

(41:04) I’d say 95% of the people were okay with that, and when we did screw up it wasn’t some cryptic message from Information Technology. It was an email from Jay Ferro saying whoops, you know when it was a big enough error I said, look I expect better. We should have done better, and you won’t see this happen again on my watch. We’re going to do everything we can to prevent it. And that earns credibility along the way too.

Michael Krigsman:

(41:28) So if traditional – god I don’t want to insult any of my friends who are in change management. I’ll say it anyways, if traditional change management is about whitewashing and getting the corporate line out there distributing the corporate message, then modern change management is blank and I will ask you to fill in that blank.

Jay Ferro:

(41:55) Transparency.

Michael Krigsman:

(41:56) Transparency, okay, so is change management today then also to some extent an influencer relations function as you were describing essentially.

Jay Ferro:

(42:10) Oh absolutely it is, absolutely it is. You know the reason so many change management initiatives fail is because they’re incomplete. We think that sending out a bunch of to your point, whitewashed memos to the organization ‘Well we told you. You didn’t read the memo?’ Or putting cover sheets on the TPS reports these days. Maybe you know, did you, you know not get that?

(42:31) And you know that’s not change management, that’s an email, and that’s a memo. So we put into a multi-pronged communication change management strategy within IT when I first came where it’s, these are all of our different communication vehicles. These are out different constituents. This is how we communicate to them. So we have this whole communication strategy which actually Garner did a case study on, but we’re very proud of it. It’s we wanted to open the Kimono as much as you can.

(43:04) Now, here’s what I’m not saying. There is proprietary data or proprietary things you can’t discuss. I recognise that, so you always kept that one interarea and that’s going to be like, ‘Oh, you can’t talk about salary’. I know you can’t talk about salary information and personal data and all that. But where you can be open and transparent you need to be. This is what we’re expecting. It’s going to be hard. I apologize in advance, and we’re going to be living in a dual system role for about three months. I know it stinks, but thank you for your patience. Thank you. When we get here we are going to save the organization millions. I may get here you’re going to be able to do this. Come long for the ride with me, and it required me and my leadership to be extremely visible. Recording videos, walking around, visiting sites, thanking people you know is part of being a servant leader.

Michael Krigsman:

(44:00) We’re almost out of time, but since you brought up the concept of servant leadership, maybe you can elaborate on that very briefly though because we’re really just about out of time.

Jay Ferro:

(44:10) Yeah, you know to me if you’re not ready to serve you’re not ready to lead. And you know it’s all about enabling your team, providing strategic direction, thanking them. You know, getting out of their way, knocking down barriers, disciplining when necessary, but with a servant’s heart in mind. And recognizing that the best way to lead is to serve and maybe people think it’s a position of weakness and it’s the complete opposite.

(44:36) The big misconception is there a big finite amount of glory or recognition, a finite bucket. And the reality is that the more that you give away the bigger the bucket becomes. And you know, my dad taught me that years ago. I don’t know that I appreciated it Michael and I was a young man. But the older I get the more I realize that guy was right about a lot of things.

Michael Krigsman:

(44:58) We had a guest, Sanjay Poonen who is, do you know Sanjay?

Jay Ferro:

(45:03) I do yeah.

Michael Krigsman:

(45:04) And he spoke at length about servant leadership, but we are just about out of time. But let’s finish, what advice do you have for both CIOs and their organizations to get the maximum value, the maximum benefit from IT.

Jay Ferro:

(45:22) Start with the problems you’re trying to solve. Start with the customer in mind. Start with the product you’re trying to deliver. Start with the service that you’re trying to provide. Don’t start with the solution in mind. Educate yourselves, reach across the aisle. Relocate, knockdown the barriers.

(45:47) At the end of the day I see Michael, the biggest problem, the biggest challenges that in any organization is that people just don’t communicate. They don’t get in a room, and everybody is worried about turf, they’re worried about credit, and they’re worried about head count, and they’re worried about all this other stuff. Worry about outcomes. What are you trying to accomplish in this organization, there is plenty of glory to go around. There’s plenty of work to be done, and just roll up your sleeves, check your ego at the door, focus on the outcomes. Focus on transforming and delighting your customers, and good things really begin to happen and the technology, I promise will fall into place.

(46:28) For CIOs, never take your eye off the operational ball while you’re doing all this. Nobody cares that you want to set sail to Bora Bora while your boats taking on water. You’ll be underwater pretty quick and you won’t get out of the harbor, so we get to do both.

Michael Krigsman:

(46:44) Okay, wow lots of wisdom on how to be a good CIO and how an organization can take advantage of technology in the business context. You have been watching episode number 167 of CXOTalk, and we’ve been speaking with Jay Ferro, who is the Chief Information Officer of the American Cancer Society. Jay again, thank you so much for being with us today.

Jay Ferro:

(47:13) Michael, thank you and it’s been terrific here and congratulations on 167, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Michael Krigsman:

(47:19) You know just relentlessly doing it. Everybody thank you for watching, and again thanks to Jay Ferro and come back next time. Bye bye everybody.

 

Companies mentioned on today’s show:

AIG                                          www.aig.com

American Cancer Society       www.cancer.org

Apple                                       www.apple.com

Gartner                                   www.gartner.com

IBM                                         www.ibm.com

Mariner Health Care              www.marinerhealthcare.com           

Microsoft                                www.microsoft.com

PayPal                                     www.paypal.com

Yammer                                  www.yammer.com 

 

Jay Ferro

LinkedIn                                   https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacobferro

Twitter                                    https://twitter.com/jayferro?lang=en-us