A Perfect Match

Technology makes good medicine for National Marrow Donor Program CIO Michael Jones.

by Aaron Lazenby, May 2010

When Michael Jones was hired as the first CIO to serve the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), he believed his new position sent a message that information technology can’t be an afterthought. “It is an essential component in our strategic visioning and planning process,” he says. Today, Jones’ staff is working on the NMDP’s first strategic IT plan and cosponsoring the organization’s business transformation, focused on how NMDP manages information about critical bone marrow and umbilical cord cell donations. (The NMDP has more than 8 million donors on the Be The Match Registry.) These efforts resulted in 4,800 cellular transplants last year for patients suffering from diseases such as lymphoma and leukemia. Profit spoke to Jones about his plans for the NMDP, the changing role of the CIO, and the technologies he expects will alter the future of enterprise IT.

Profit: How does technology and the use of information support the NMDP’s core mission?

Jones: The success of our organization is centered on the effectiveness of our matching algorithm, which helps NMDP facilitate stem cell transplants by predicting the probability of a successful match between a patient and a willing donor of marrow or a cord blood unit. It represents the convergence of the science and the technology.

We interface and exchange information with network members throughout the world. When I’m talking about our network, I’m talking about this vast array of transplant centers that take care of the patients, donor centers, collection centers, laboratories, and so on, that support the transplant process. Given this broad network, there’s a lot of analyzing, storing, and transmitting of information that needs to be done in the safest, most efficient manner.

Profit: Powering the matching algorithm and keeping track of the partner network must generate a tremendous amount of data. What is the scope of the data you are managing?

Jones: The information exchange is constant, and it needs to be done in a very expeditious yet safe way. We easily deal with 60,000 to 80,000 transactions a day on a global basis. These transactions all center on the constant identification and selection of potential cell sources, and then the provisioning of those sources. And because we’re exchanging very personal and private patient and donor information, these transactions also need to be secure. We need to make sure we have the proper security protocols in place.

But even before we talk about exchanging information, we need to be able to store and analyze this data. The analysis not only helps us as we facilitate current transplants, but it also helps us from a research standpoint to learn about the effectiveness of certain medical protocols—it drives decision-making around subsequent donor or cord blood unit selections in the future.

Profit: How is the role of the CIO changing as technology becomes a more critical part of business operations?

Jones: The more innovative CIOs have embraced the role of being outward facing. CIOs nowadays, and particularly here at the NMDP, have had to step out of that back-office-type role where they’re just concerned about server lights and widgets. You really have to get out and understand the business model just as well as those in the operational areas of your organization.

For example, for me to be effective, I need to understand what’s going on in the industry and how it is evolving, in order to deliver the solutions that are really going to have an impact on the lives of the patients we serve.

CIOs also need to have joint ownership of customers. As I indicated, our network is extremely wide and complex. I need to understand what those customers’ needs are and the roadblocks they face. You don’t really do your business any good if you don’t interface, engage, and innovate with your customers.

Profit: What new technologies have the greatest potential to change enterprise IT over the next five years?

Jones: There are a lot of things out there. Some are purely technology driven, others more culturally driven, based on how people use technology.

One example is around enterprise architecture, particularly those organizations that are moving toward a service-oriented architecture [SOA]. Organizations that have legacy infrastructure that is very monolithic—that doesn’t provide the scalability or flexibility to meet the organization’s needs in a very fluid manner—are the organizations that will continue to struggle. Organizations that take a SOA approach will be more capable of delivering features and functionality more rapidly for their customers.

Then there is a cultural component to how you use technology, and a great example is around social networking. The technology is nothing new, as we all know. But the proliferation of a culture of social networking and the information people are ready, willing, and able to share about themselves could have a profound impact on organizations like ours. To have a donor that has provided a patient with the stem cell donation take on the role as an ambassador by sharing their experience through social networking could have huge benefits.

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