TechnologyImpact of COVID-19
During the initial phases of lockdown, the IT teams were tasked to consider the imminent needs of Dechra employees who would be required to 'Work away from the Office' for sustained periods. Although we do have a sizeable mobile user base who are already serviced remotely, we experienced a significant increase in users requiring extra IT kit: monitors, keyboards, laptops and VPN keys to access services securely from home. Once the initial configuration and supply of equipment had been overcome the team were inundated with calls to the helpdesk for support and training in the use of these remote services.
As the international communities moved to lockdown, we planned for an increase in home working and the need for extra IT hardware. The Global IT team also made several other arrangements in anticipation of a change in operational working. The IT managers commenced weekly meetings to review the overall performance of the remote services such as virtual meeting rooms, Internet connections into the office locations, the use of Skype and messaging, the increase of malicious attacks on employees devices, the amount of remote connections into head office from home users at any one time and the influx of helpdesk call logs across the IT Group.
Within the first few weeks of lockdown, virtual meeting room usage increased by 200%, Skype meetings increased by 500%, the number of remote connections increased to a new daily high of 623, our network Internet connections increased traffic to 90% of capacity and the influx of calls into the helpdesk increased by 31%. The team had worked to implement counter measures in advance doubling our virtual meeting room capacity, increasing our Skype business server's memory capacity by 300%, increasing the numbers of remote connection licences by 200% and where possible our Internet connections flexed up to their maximum bearer capacity to accommodate extra remote connectivity.
It is to the credit of the team that they have managed to provide a consistent level of service to the Group throughout this difficult time and were able to transition over 60% of our workforce to home working virtually overnight. In addition, the entire IT team also moved to predominantly homeworking themselves in line with lockdown measures, with a skeleton crew supporting the hardware on-site.
There is no escaping the impact that the COVID-19 outbreak has had on the veterinary community globally, but as it is an online resource, our Academy was able to meet the increased demand for support.
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Two Global Market research activities* highlighted The Dechra Academy as one of the most useful resources to the profession. One UK veterinarian cited that "the best advice/support received during the COVID-19 outbreak was Vetoryl and Zycortal webinars on managing conditions within fewer clinics".
The Academy was also able to support the launch of an online clinical trial, the first of its kind, to enable a Diabetic Clinical Study to continue, despite the restrictions of the pandemic.
Normally, a detailed protocol describing the steps involved in reaching the study objective is developed over months by the Dechra study team and shared with the veterinary hospital performing the study through a half-day intensive training session. Typically, the Dechra study team is on-site to deliver this training, but in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to deliver the training remotely. Therefore, the study team members pre-recorded key training modules and collaborated with the Digital Learning team to upload these to the Dechra Academy for access by study site personnel. Modules were kept under 30 minutes each to allow viewers greater flexibility in how they could complete the training. A quiz was put in place to confirm comprehension. The Academy tracked the time and date in each module, quiz score, and percentage completed. Results were emailed to the study team daily for easy tracking. Additionally, a feedback survey was added to obtain important information for the improvement of the process and platform.
These pre-recorded modules were supplemented with a shorter, live GoToMeeting with the study team to answer questions, confirm compliance, review critical procedures, and discuss any concerns the sites may have. Having reviewed the study background and procedures through the recorded modules prior to the live training, site personnel arrived at the live training better prepared with questions for the study team making the live interaction shorter and more efficient.
Building strong relationships with study site personnel is crucial to running a good clinical study and it is unfortunate that the study team missed an opportunity to visit the veterinary clinics carrying out our research. Despite this setback, the study team's partnership with Digital Learning created an alternative that enabled the study to start on time whilst maintaining everyone's safety. Whilst this approach will not be suitable with every new study and every site, it provides an alternative in delivering training to both internal and external parties.
Feedback from attendees has been very positive and they appreciate Dechra's solutions to provide training in the COVID-19 environment. Study participants commented that it would be helpful to have a combination of remote and live training in the future. The training modules would provide background and general knowledge about the study whilst the live training would be focused and more productive and hands-on while building strong relationships.
*CM Research – Impact of COVID-19 on Veterinary Practices (Wave 4) & Kadence – Veterinary COVID study.