Mazik Global and Microsoft’s custom PowerApps solution for Purdue University research teams during COVID-19
When everything was closing down during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was hope that a two–week period away from workplaces would be enough to stem the tide of infections. Universities and laboratories, like those at Purdue, put in place strict measures to mitigate the spread while keeping operations moving through online classes and remote work.
Quantifying the impact of campus closures on university research
While professors and students headed into social isolation to finish the school year, some researchers followed suit and continued computation-based projects remotely. But as Indiana’s stay-at-home order continued, it became immediately clear that the closures, and the remaining researchers’ inability to access labs, would have an incalculable financial impact on any lab-based projects. In addition, some researchers were reassigned to COVID-19-specific research projects, further impacting their original projects. Gaps in data collection were widening by the day.
Previously, researchers recorded their time spent on projects in spreadsheets, manually entering the data as time and research progressed. Deans of research and principle investigators spent time poring over the spreadsheets to analyze them, but the data became increasingly difficult to quantify as days turned into weeks of stalled projects.
The real challenge was finding a more efficient method of acquiring and analyzing this data to report on the impact of university closure on each project. Documenting COVID-19’s impact on research disruption was crucial for requesting additional funding or getting project extensions to complete the work.
“At this point, we have more than 1,100 faculty members on campus using the tool, and it is allowing us to get a clearer picture of how the COVID-19 event has affected our research programs.”
—Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnership at Purdue
A custom application is made
Purdue, already a Microsoft customer, approached Microsoft and Mazik Global for an easy-to-deploy solution that could be put into place using the tools at hand. The result was a two-part system: a customized Microsoft PowerApp where users input their data and a Microsoft Power BI dashboard where leaders could easily analyze it. Knowing the urgency, the COVID-19 Sponsored Program Impact Application was developed in under two weeks. We also rapidly deployed and trained Purdue’s IT staff so that the tool could be used immediately.
Before launch, the user-facing app was prepopulated with data from each research project, including its payroll numbers. Post-launch, Researchers can, and allows researchers now add their data remotely with the same ease of any mobile app. As data continues to be collected, the Power BI dashboard allows Purdue staff to easily see the impact of COVID-19’s disruptions by project in real time, enabling the institution to efficiently respond to federal agency questions and meet the criteria for project extensions or additional funding.
Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnership at Purdue, immediately saw the results. “At this point, we have more than 1,100 faculty members on campus using the tool, and it is allowing us to get a clearer picture of how the COVID-19 event has affected our research programs,” she said in a news release. “Until now, we have not been able to quantify impact at the research project level this efficiently. The program also allows researchers to indicate which researchers were reassigned to work on specific COVID-19 research projects so those efforts can be understood as well.”
The tool will continue to help Purdue University quantify the impact COVID-19 and other disruptions have on university research projects, and a modified version will be rolled out on June 3. Microsoft and Mazik Global will continue developing this app technology to help other universities with similar needs.