May 12 2021

How the University of Central Florida Successfully Administered COVID-19 Vaccines to Thousands

UCF’s IT department built a user-friendly vaccine registration app in just three weeks.

Like many higher education institutions across the U.S., the University of Central Florida has been tasked with mass vaccine administration. In a matter of three weeks, UCF’s IT department built an application to help the university ensure the timely delivery of vaccines.

Despite the quick turnaround, the app was a success. In under two months, the university vaccinated about 2,300 faculty and staff members and 6,000 students. For the most part, community members were impressed by how easy it was to schedule vaccination appointments from their mobile devices. “A lot of the feedback that we’re getting is, ‘This is very easy to use, very easy to understand,’” says Scott Baron, associate director of IT performance and service management at UCF.

According to the IT department, the linchpin of the initiative’s success is a low-code, self-service portal that is easily scalable. Here’s a look at the technology behind the university’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker.

A Low-Code COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker for Higher Ed

The university built the app on ServiceNow’s App Engine.

The platform creates webpage URLs for the IT department to customize and scale on the fly — a feature that proved crucial as UCF adapted to local, state and federal requirements that were frequently changing. “We are able to change the server and client code pretty much live, without having to change any URLs or redirect people to a different location after we make the change,” says Chris Martineau, a senior programmer analyst at UCF.

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Despite having to make two modifications after the app went live, the university was still able to get thousands of people vaccinated in a relatively short period of time. This would not have been possible if the IT department had to rely on in-house infrastructure to build and maintain the app.

“Since this is cloud-hosted infrastructure, it’s a lighter load on us. We don’t have to worry about the infrastructure as we’re trying to change the code,” Martineau says.

The cloud-based platform also helped the IT department save months of work during a time when speed is critical to containing outbreaks. “I was able to quickly develop on this platform because I didn’t have to focus on creating the full-stack framework or possess an expert level of Angular,” says Martineau.

MORE ON EDTECH: To improve higher ed data security, address these risks in research projects.

Protecting COVID-19 Vaccination Data from Hackers

Some of the most common questions and concerns surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations involve how the data will be collected.

For higher education IT professionals, there is always a concern that third-party vendors are creating unintended security risks — especially when universities are dealing with a large number of personal health records.

To manage the risks, the UCF IT department worked closely with the university’s legal team to ensure the app was in full compliance with privacy laws. “For example, it was very important that we not store any sensitive data. We ask the questions, but we don’t store that information,” Baron says. “With ServiceNow, you have the leisure to choose what to store.”

Baron says it also helped to know that ServiceNow has received certifications, including the following, from independent auditing firms and government bodies:

Scalable Infrastructure: The Key to Equitable COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution

UCF did not have a clear picture of how many vaccines it could obtain until the last hour. “We found out very quickly the vaccines had arrived. We needed to open up slots and get that information out,” says Baron.

The IT department immediately collaborated with several teams, including the marketing and communications department, to let the campus community know vaccine appointment slots were opening.

To everyone’s relief, the app scaled smoothly in real time to meet user demand. “Before you know it, we were seeing thousands of appointments fill up within minutes,” says Baron. “It met the needs of the university very quickly and effectively.”

Without the scalability feature, the IT department would have had to manually test and reprogram the app multiple times during development. “That would have taken way longer than two to three weeks,” says Baron.

At the end of the day, the simple user interface on both the front and back ends made it possible for the institution to get vulnerable populations vaccinated. “That’s why it was successful,” Baron says. “If it were a very complicated system and we had to roll it out in two weeks, this would not have been a success story.”

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