Path BioResource IT Steps Up To Facilitate PSOM Resumption of Research

June 17, 2020

For more than three months, the PSOM Ready COVID-19 Response Team, under the leadership of Chris Masotti, PSOM Vice-Dean for Finance and Operations, has been tackling all the issues related to operations, research, and education in the Perelman School of Medicine. As a member of this committee, Professor Jonni Moore, PhD, was instrumental in finding an IT solution to manage ULAR (University Laboratory Animal Resources) operations to facilitate resumption of services that would allow maximum use with compliant social distancing by enlisting the Department's Path BioResource IT. Since mid-May, the PRR IT Team has been working rigorously to create a scheduling and procedure room workflow platform, complete with user guide and online knowledgelink training. All this was accomplished in less than four weeks, so that the Victory Vivarial Scheduling platform can be fully launched on June 22.

Senior application developers Herb Holyst and Chris Sarnowski, Project Manager Tara McSherry-Hurst, and application developer Jim Clisham worked closely with the ULAR team, primarily Derrick Dow and Odell Jones, ULAR Directors of Vivarial Facilities and Husbandry Operations, respectively, to quickly gather requirements and set a development timeline, allowing for feedback from ULAR throughout the process. The new application is now being tested by scientists from 20 laboratories in preparation for its debut to all scientists using animals for research.

The Path BioResource team was well-positioned for this quick turnaround in new web-based tools, having created and maintained a custom infrastructure to interact with Penn’s unique IT environment since 2010. This infrastructure leverages a multitude of Penn systems (PennERA, Hs ERA, CAMS, Penn Directory) and simplifies that data into a single collection of Penn-specific information. Using this existing infrastructure as a foundation, custom lab-specific applications (which might take months to years to create) only take weeks now. The secure infrastructure helps PBR developers focus on a lab’s unique workflow from start to finish. In this case, ULAR staff needs to manage 300 rooms in facilities across Penn for more than 1000 clients, while monitoring Phase 1 resumption guidelines to ensure social distancing and 20% building occupancy.

Project manager McSherry-Hurst describes how the team effectively morphed their already collaborative work style after COVID-19 halted campus research operations, "Even though we are all working remotely, technology allowed our team to communicate easily, work collaboratively and develop this useful tool from home." Programmers Holyst, Sarnowksi and Clisham emphasize that the team benefits from being embedded in shared resource labs in the School of Medicine. "We already had a lot of the building blocks in place to solve the big issues and it was really just a matter of figuring out ULAR's specific requirements. Interfacing with the Penn community was already implemented in a tested and proven way; we were freed up to focus just on ULAR; we were able to meet regularly with their team and rapidly iterate to figure out their needs."

Being embedded in cores becomes an asset and PBR’s biggest strength. "In software development, success is when unanticipated challenges arise and the design decisions that have been made over years can be used effectively without much anxiety," says Holyst.

Path BioResource Executive Director and Director of Penn’s Cytomics Facility (Flow Core) Jonni Moore said the team’s successful efforts are being lauded by Chris Masotti, PSOM Vice-Dean for Finance and Operations, at the PSOM Ready COVID-19 Response Team meetings, with Penn research leadership thanking her profusely for her foresight in matching the team’s talents to this need. Diane Gaertner, Associate Vice-Provost for ULAR reporting to Dawn Bonnell, Vice-Provost for Research, stated the vivarium scheduler "will impact every scientist who uses animals for Penn research." ULAR had been looking for years for a commercial program that would provide this scheduling function. Now there will be a system that is securely located behind PennKey sign in which provides the range of functions needed, and with a Penn-based support team to solve problems and expand functions.

Given that the PBR acronym might also refer to a brand of beer, the team traditionally chooses a beer name for each of its applications at project inception. In this case, the ULAR operations team dubbed the vivarium scheduling platform "Victory Vivarial Scheduling."
On June 22, the ULAR group plans to launch this application to groups in PSOM, Penn VET School, Arts and Sciences at Penn, and Penn Dental School. With the support of PBR IT team and their admistrators, Chanel Wright, Financial Analyst, and Luellen Fletcher, Associate Director, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine again is at the forefront in offering solutions to PSOM challenges.