by Martha Heller

Rebuilding Trust in IT

Jul 08, 2015
CIOIT GovernanceIT Jobs

Jay Ferro, CIO of American Cancer Society, on his four tenets of IT leadership

jay ferro head American Cancer Society

When Jay Ferro became CIO of American Cancer Society in 2012, he went to work on the difficult jobs of improving the IT function and rebuilding trust and credibility for the department.

At the same time, the American Cancer Society was embarking on a global transformation to consolidate department and processes, and IT was slated to be the first to transform.

“We were taking 13 different organizations, each with its own leadership and technology, and bringing all of the functions together, and IT was going first,” says Ferro.  “I had to build our business’s confidence in what was seen as a function in great need of improvement and rally an organization about to go through major change.”

To start the process, Ferro met with his IT staff and a large number of IT’s constituents to formulate a path to a better place, based on four key tenets:

1. Truth and Facts:

To Ferro, establishing a fact-based mindset is the most important pillar of the four. “Whether we are talking about outages, customer support, business goals, or outcomes, we are talking metrics, not emotion,” says Ferro.  

As a case in point, one of American Cancer Society’s key applications is their CRM system, which captures data on tens of millions of donors. “Everything we do flows through that system. I said let’s break down the problems and get to the heart of what was going wrong.  Could you not log in? What is slow? Do you need more training? Within a few weeks of deliberate conversation, we came out with eight facts that would help us make significant improvements. We knew that if we upgraded those areas, the system would work better for everyone.”  

Ferro noted that the American Cancer Society is an evidence-based organization whose leaders make research and program decisions based research, but that the IT organization was making decisions on influence, emotion and morale.  “Now we start with basic metrics: uptime, customer satisfaction, and through-put,” he says. To underscore the fact-based approach, Ferro uses a combination of COBIT, ITIL, ISO and other delivery standards for IT.

“We don’t subscribe to one standard overall; we use best of breed,” he says. “But when you are having fact-based conversations and then you tie your delivery practices to industry standards, you are re-enforcing the fact-based approach. This is not just ‘Jay’s way,’ this is the industry’s way.”

2. Live Our Values:

To overhaul the system and improve the IT experience,  Ferro  took a proactive approach to developing a more positive brand for the function. He asked a group in his IT organization — directors and below — to develop a new set of IT values, and they came up with IT CODE, an acronym for Integrity, Teamwork, Communication, Ownership, Dedication and Excellence.

Ownership, Dedication, and Excellence. “The IT Code is baked into our objectives; my team is incented on it and I am incented on it,” says Ferro.  The IT Code is also an award received by IT staffers nominated by employees in IT and other business areas. “Our new CEO will recognize our IT Code winner at our next all-staff meeting,” says Ferro. “I’ll give the winner a gift card, a plaque and all of that, but when your CEO thanks an IT person for a job well done, it’s pretty powerful.”

3. Empower and Include:

To Ferro, “IT cannot be an island, especially when you are going through a huge transformation.” Some of Ferro’s key partners, right out of the gate, were the talent strategy group, corporate communications, and legal. “I went straight to our chief talent officer to share our talent strategy and to ask for feedback,” he says. “And I worked with our head of corporate communications on our IT Code communication plan.” Ferro turned over  some IT functions over to his business partners.

“We built a new IT PMO, which three years later has a dotted line to me and a solid line to our EPMO. And our IT finance group is in the finance organization. Sometimes inclusion means letting go.”

When it comes to empowerment, “It is all about pushing responsibility down in the organization,” says Ferro. When he first took the job, he heard that the office of the CIO was shrouded in secrecy and only the CIO could provide budgetary approval. To change this, he pushed decision rights and budget authority down as far as he could. “We were very open about our budget, and we delegated approval authority incrementally,” he says. “Now, a much larger percentage of IT people can make decisions about training and purchasing; we eliminated a lot of the tape and bureaucracy.”

 4. Share and communicate:

“Every CIO should have a formal communication plan with a library of materials to share at a moment’s notice,” says Ferro. “But to us, sharing and communication means something more.” Ferro and his fellow executives talk openly with IT about the mission of American Cancer Society and how the is doing against its goals. “Three years ago, only 20 percent of the IT organization participated in our mission through donations and volunteering at our events,” he says. “Today, that number is over 95 percent.”

To Ferro, this kind of participation in American Cancer Society’s mission gives the IT organization credibility and forces it to use its own fundraising and volunteer coordination technology.

“It’s amazing how much you learn when you have to eat your own cooking,” he says.


About Jay Ferro

Jay Ferro is the Chief Information Officer for the American Cancer Society. He joined the organization in January 2012. Previously, he held CIO roles with AdCare Health Systems and AIG. Jay is also the Chairman, Board of Directors for TechBridge and is on the Terry College of Business Alumni Board of Directors as well. Jay received both his BA and MBA from the University of Georgia.

About the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is a global grassroots force of 2.5 million volunteers saving lives and fighting for every birthday threatened by every cancer in every community. As the largest voluntary health organization, the Society’s efforts have contributed to a 20 percent decline in cancer death rates in the U.S. since 1991, and a 50 percent drop in smoking rates. Thanks in part to our progress nearly 14 million Americans who have had cancer and countless more who have avoided it will celebrate more birthdays this year. As we celebrate 100 years of service, we’re determined to finish the fight against cancer. We’re finding cures as the nation’s  largest private, not-for-profit investor in cancer research, ensuring people facing cancer have the help they need and continuing the fight for access to quality health care, lifesaving screenings, clean air, and more. For more information, to get help, or to join the fight, call us anytime, day or night, at 1-800-227-2345 or visit