by Maryfran Johnson

CIOs Join Forces to Fight Cancer With IT

May 30, 20143 mins
Healthcare Industry

Editor in Chief Maryfran Johnson describes the profoundly hopeful and uplifting story of how informal coalitions of CIOs from some of the country’s leading medical institutions are crossing boundaries to collaborate in the fight against cancer.

Jeff Como’s mom used to chide him about his workaholic tendencies. “Why do you work so hard?” she’d ask her son, the IT executive. “It’s not like you’re curing cancer.” That was before Como became CIO of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) nine years ago–joining the unique breed of dedicated IT leaders featured in our cover story (“CIOs Join Forces to Battle Cancer”).

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“I’d always wanted to apply my skills to something that wasn’t just about building shareholder value,” says Como, an IT veteran of aerospace, dotcom and outsourcing companies. “I was looking for a way to give back based on my skill sets.”

In this profoundly hopeful and uplifting story, Stephanie Overby writes about informal coalitions of cancer-fighting CIOs from some of the country’s leading medical institutions. These CIOs cross business boundaries with potential rivals–everyone competes for donor dollars–as they collaborate on technology strategies, share best practices or work jointly on developing a data-sharing platform. They compare notes on project management, data visualization and the best mobile technologies for fundraising activities.

“The end game is so similar that we thought, ‘Why don’t we share ideas?'” says CIO Jay Ferro of the American Cancer Society, who joined forces two years ago with LLS’ Como and CIO Robert Machen of ALSAC, the fundraising arm of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “Some people have a job, some people have a career, and some people are on a crusade,” Ferro says. “We’re on a crusade.”

Being part of that crusade means taking full advantage of leading-edge IT practices in data management, new cloud-based services and the latest collaboration tools. It means enabling everything from donor management systems to next-generation DNA sequencing.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, for example, IBM’s supercomputer Watson is being used as a decision-support tool to optimize patient treatment plans. “I couldn’t be alive at a more exciting time in cancer research,” says Sloan Kettering CIO Patricia Skarulis, “and we’re helping to get that to the bedside.”

“Mission” is a word you hear often in conversations with CIOs in the cancer field. “I have to deliver an awful lot of basic services like every other CIO–networks, storage, file services, security,” says Warren Kibbe, CIO of the National Cancer Institute. “But I have this really exciting additional mission to take into account.”

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