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Rutgers professor discusses project to manage NJ's personal protective equipment stockpile

John Impellizzeri, director of the Center for Supply Chain Management and professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management, said students involved in the program were tasked with piloting software that could be used to predict when a hospital might need more equipment, as well as suggesting when they should put in an order and which supplier has the best pricing. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

Graduate students from Rutgers Business School have been working on a semester-long project regarding the supply chain of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The project involves the piloting of software programs that could be used to manage the supply chain of PPE for New Jersey’s stockpile.

John Impellizzeri, director of the Center for Supply Chain Management and professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management, said that the state first contacted him in March about running an assessment on their supply chain capabilities.

“I did what they called a rapid assessment to see what the competencies were,” Impellizzeri said. “And in fact, concluded, that we could definitely help strengthen the supply chain capabilities of the state.”

From there, Impellizzeri said he began to form a small “steering committee” that would ultimately make a recommendation to the state as to how they should proceed, he said. The team initially consisted of industry professionals from the advisory board, Google technology professionals and members from the New Jersey Office of Innovation and Economic Development Authority.

“We were able to bring into the mix two state of the art software platforms, and they volunteered and donated their software and their time (due to) the influence that our industry people have with them,” Impellizzeri said.

As the project became larger, the team thought it could be a great opportunity to involve graduate students, as their program requires “experiential learning” in order to graduate, he said.

Joseph Agresta, assistant professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management and co-adjunct for the Masters in Healthcare Analytics and Intelligence Program, said that Impellizzeri came to him about forming a team of students for the project in July. 

“The first order of business was to mobilize the team and enlist potential team members from both the (Supply Chain) Analytics (Master’s) program as well as the Healthcare program,” Agresta said. “I also looked to recent (Bachelor of Science) graduates in (Supply Chain Management) as well ... we got great interest and secured people from all venues.”

Agresta said that he is responsible for the formulation and assignment of the team, as well as the programmatic that goes along with the project. The students were handpicked and the professors wanted a good mix of strong analytical and clinical backgrounds, Impellizzeri said.

“In essence, I am their coach from the Rutgers perspective in bringing them through the process,” Agresta said. “We meet a minimum weekly and I look to work with them to ensure they meet the schedule challenges and or guidance they may need.”

Impellizzeri described more about the details of the project and what goes on every day. He said first and foremost those working on the project had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement given the highly sensitive nature of the data.

“(The) student team (of eight) actually on a day-to-day basis (are) looking at the data, they're building models, forecasting models, because this is all about predictive analytics,” Impellizzeri said. “It’s about getting ahead and not being reactive to the spread of the virus and the distribution of PPE, but actually have a predictive tool.”

For instance, he said that the program could predict when a hospital might need gloves based on the data. From there, the program could suggest to the hospital that they should put in an order to a specific supplier, who has the best pricing, within a certain amount of time, Impellizzeri said.

“You can override (this) or you can put the system on complete autopilot, and that will not only come back with a suggestion but go out and actually place the order,” Impellizzeri said.

The program can also take into account inventories throughout the state and prompt users to move some to warehouses that are running low, he said.

“So it comes up with all these wonderful recommendations that you as the responsible party, when you log on in the morning, actually get prompted to do that,” Impellizzeri said.

The final recommendation from the students will be delivered in early November and the project will ultimately connect all different layers of the government including state police, emergency management and hospital networks by having all this data in one place, he said.

Impellizzeri said this is a great story of the collaboration between the public and private sectors. Those involved put aside all preferences and biases in order to come together for the good of the citizens of New Jersey, he said.

“This project is a critical impactful project for our community,” Agresta said. “It encompasses all aspects of end to end supply chain. It is a real live decision-making process.”

Impellizzeri said this is the exact vision Rutgers Business School Dean Lei Lei had for the program and school.

“Her vision 20 years ago was just this: There would be this high-level industry involvement in the business world so we could be very relevant,” he said. “I think this is just a testimony to that vision coming to reality ... kudos to her for her foresight on this.”


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