The American Red Cross Has A New CIO - InformationWeek

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IT Leadership // CIO Insights & Innovation
Commentary
4/16/2008
03:52 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Commentary
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The American Red Cross Has A New CIO

And he has a familiar-sounding set of priorities: cut costs and streamline business processes. He's also got to get to know a new CEO.

And he has a familiar-sounding set of priorities: cut costs and streamline business processes. He's also got to get to know a new CEO.The American Red Cross has been going through some changes at the top lately.

Mark Weischedel is its new senior VP and CIO. He was promoted from interim CIO, a position he held since former CIO Steve Cooper left last year. Weischedel was deputy CIO under Cooper, who worked for the Red Cross from 2005 to 2007. Before that, Cooper was CIO of the Department of Homeland Security.

But the Red Cross has been going through another, more wrenching change at the top since late last year, when then-president and CEO Mark Everson was asked to resign, the result of a salacious scandal. "We've been in a period of transitions," Weischedel says, understatedly. He's met "briefly" with the organization's new CEO, Gail McGovern, who will start officially in June.

Weischedel says he has three IT priorities: (1) complete the organization's data center relocation and outsourcing arrangement with Computer Sciences Corp.; (2) redefine and streamline the organization's blood business; and (3) cut costs.

The first one has been "completed on schedule and on budget," he says. The second one will take a little more time. "We're largely changing our deployment strategy" for automating the blood supply chain, he says, a project that will involve both "IT and business process reengineering."

The Red Cross collects and distributes about seven million units of blood a year from volunteer donors, which represents nearly half of the nation's blood supply. The IT system that supports that processing and distribution was implemented in the 1990s, Weischedel says. "This would be an ERP type system," except "we don't use typical ERP software," he says.

Now Weischedel is looking to restructure that "large and complex program" by "chunking it into smaller projects and implementing it in phases," he says. He hopes to replace the "big bang" approach to blood-supply projects of the past by "restructuring that into chunks."

Weischedel's third priority seeks to address the Red Cross's current "financial challenges," and involves two IT efforts: standardizing the IT infrastructure, including such cost-saving projects as server consolidation, virtualization, and application portfolio rationalization; and reengineering IT through "stronger IT processes" and the "development of IT people." He says he currently has about 300 directly managed staff.

Weischedel wouldn't be specific about his organization's IT budget, even as a percent of revenue, but he did say he's taken a number of immediate actions -- staff reductions, contractual negotiations, and reducing projects that were less critical -- that already have helped close the Red Cross's "across the board" $200 million budget deficit.

Before coming to the Red Cross five and a half years ago as VP of its Biomedical IT Solution division, Weischedel spent 20 years in IT in the private sector. "Like most people, I was drawn to the mission," he says. "Most people come here to make a difference."

He admits that the changes at the top have caused him apprehension -- "largely around uncertainty." But they've also served to inspire him. "Change like that commands that you set aside your personal feelings and really provide leadership," Weischedel says.

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