How our remote support tool proved instrumental to a successful NGS installation under difficult circumstances
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has presented challenges to all of us, even those charged with installing and supporting the very instruments that could enable discoveries that help us prevail against it. When researchers at one of the largest hospitals in Barcelona, Spain recently decided to enhance their next-generation sequencing (NGS) capabilities with a new Ion Torrent Genexus System, they looked forward to accessing the first-ever turnkey NGS solution that automates the complete specimen-toreport workflow and delivers results in a single day. The highly flexible and simple system promised to enable even researchers with no sequencing experience to perform NGS.*
Then the virus happened and nations around the world, including Spain, went into lockdown. Of course, the hospital in Barcelona had a crisis to deal with, and that included implementing extra security measures and limiting on-site access.
In the middle of this unprecedented situation, the new Genexus System arrived at the hospital, and the Thermo Fisher Scientific Global Services and Support team was charged with installing, setting up, and calibrating the instrument, as well as getting the hospital’s team up and running samples on it.
“It was during the complete lockdown. No one was supposed to travel anywhere. We couldn’t just fly someone in to quickly and easily go and do the install,” explains Ian Grinsell, the service territory specialist in Europe for next-generation sequencing, who had been leading Genexus System training prior to the lockdown. “Ordinarily, I would’ve flown out to Barcelona to help with the install myself.”
But the situation was far from ordinary, and the team needed a strategy. With help from the enhanced capabilities of the Thermo Fisher AR remote support tool, they took on the challenge.
“Fortunately, we had an experienced engineer, Jaime Vicioso, living in Barcelona where the hospital is located,” Grinsell explains. “He wasn’t trained on the Genexus System, but he had a lot of experience with other Ion Torrent instruments, so we knew he would be able to get to the customer site—and that’s where we started from.”
Vicioso, a Field Service Engineer with over 11 years of experience as a regional specialist on multiple instrument platforms, was the right guy to get the job started for more than one reason. Not only an expert in Ion Torrent instrumentation, he had an ongoing relationship with the customer. Before bringing in the Genexus System, the laboratory had installed an Ion S5 XL System and an Ion Chef System in 2017. Vicioso had been their contact for those NGS instruments, so the customer already had a trusted partner to help them through the less-than-ideal installation. Additionally, Jaime had been a volunteer participant in the pilot of the recently added capabilities of the Smart Remote Support tool that the service team would be using to help get the job done.
Once on-site, “We were then able to set up a log-in session and manipulate the system using the remote tool,” Grinsell says. That first day, he used the remote tool to perform software updates, and provided on-the-spot training for Vicioso to help get the instrument set up for installation.
The other engineer involved in those initial remote sessions was Angel Gomez, a 22-year veteran of the company based in Madrid. Gomez is the regional service specialist for all CE instruments and NGS platforms. This would be his first Genexus System installation, too, but he had already received training on the system in the United States.
Vicioso explains that they decided to bring Gomez on-site to help complete the installation. “My being there a day ahead helped get the system up,” he says. “And that saved a day of work that Angel would need when he arrived.”
The logistics of getting Gomez across the country under the circumstances, however, were challenging. He had authorization to travel to perform this essential work, but because of the lockdown, plane and train travel were out. He would end up having to drive the 6 hours to Barcelona.
Gomez describes the journey: “Finding a hotel was a problem because 90% of them were not open. And I was a little nervous traveling; I didn’t know what to expect. There wasn’t much open along the way, just gas stations. And then the destination is a hospital where you’re concerned about infection. But you have to try to normalize the situation, and with the right protection and equipment, you can be safe.”
Once on-site, Gomez was able to help complete the installation, setting up the consumables and running tests—with the remote support of Grinsell.
The AR remote support tool that enabled this trio of skilled engineers to perform their various tasks offered several advantages. First, it didn’t require access to the hospital’s network to operate. Everything was done through mobile hotspots. So once Grinsell was connected to the laptops of Vicioso and Gomez—and for some tasks, even the customer—he was able to access and use their computers as if he were on-site. And the customer didn’t have to download anything, only click a link and grant the access. The customer could even use the computer while the Thermo Fisher team ran the installation operations in the background.
But the capability of the Remote Support Tool that most enhanced the effectiveness and speed of the process was the real-time video feature.
Vicioso explains how it works: “Through an SMS or email, the on-site technician or customer clicks a link and then transmits a live video feed through their mobile device to the person who is helping them remotely, so instead of it taking up to 20 minutes to explain the issue, they can just point their phone at the screen or instrument, and the remote person can see it in real time. It helps make troubleshooting much faster. And the customer really appreciates that because there’s no time wasted.”
Gomez agrees, and adds that not only can you share video from your mobile device in real time, “you can freeze, capture, and draw on images to help pinpoint issues.”
While on-site, Vicioso and Gomez wore personal protective equipment and observed social distancing, aided by the lab’s limit on the number of people that could be working at one time. They stayed connected to Grinsell, who says he also considers the live video feature critical to the success of the installation.
“With live video through the phone, we could have discussions while I was able to physically see what was going on in the lab,” he explains. “I could advise Angel in real time about what connections he should be making. And when he had any concerns or questions about the instrument, I could use the video link to see what he was talking about.”
After 3 days, Gomez was able to leave the site. “As soon as the things that he needed to be there for were done, he went back to Madrid, and the rest was done by me either on-site or using remote tools from home in sessions with the customer,” says Vicioso. “But always with the remote support of Ian and Angel.”
Remarkably, the installation ended up taking about the same amount of time it would have taken under normal circumstances.
“And the outcome and results were great,” says Gomez. “We got it installed during a tough time.”
Grinsell adds that after the installation, some of the Field Application Specialist (FAS) training that could normally be done on-site was also completed with remote tools. The FAS in Barcelona, Beatriz Cabot, was able to perform some training on-site. But another part of the training needed to be done with the help of her colleague in Madrid, who used remote meetings for the additional support.
Grinsell points out that although the installation was successfully completed in 3 days, it took the time and efforts of 3 specialists where it might normally only require one.
Gomez concurs, explaining that “the remote support tool is not a complete substitute for a physical visit, and it’s not really intended for that. It’s a useful, additional tool that can help us shorten the time of our installs and calls.” And in that respect, for assisting customers in these difficult times, the tool has proven invaluable. Gomez adds that since the Genexus System installation, they have used the remote tool a lot.
As Vicioso puts it, “Since SARS-CoV-2 appeared, we have all started using the tool more, and it has helped—not just with the Genexus install, but with other customers, too. It’s enabled faster troubleshooting and, in some cases, helped us avoid visits.”
The ultimate test of the success of the Genexus System installation, of course, is in the satisfaction of the customer, so we asked the hospital lab manager for his thoughts, particularly on the value of the Remote Support Tool in helping them get the system up and running.
Here’s his response: “Not only specifically in these challenging times, but, in general, the remote tool is a great way to overcome access issues with the hospital network. It also helps us to work closely with the specialists and engineers. The tool was very useful when we performed the installation of the machine because the remote access enabled the engineers to implement all of the settings to prepare the equipment.
“And, in my experience, the most exciting feature was the live video, which I personally used. The ability to connect the technician to the camera on my personal mobile device was very useful for performing instrument settings. In real time, I had a session with Jaime the specialist where he was remote but observing the same things I was observing while I was touching the screen or explaining what I was doing.
“So, it’s a true real-time solution. I’d say it’s really worth it to work with this remote tool.”
Learn more about our service and support tools at thermofisher.com/innovations
*Specimen-to-report workflow will be available after the Ion Torrent Genexus Purification System and integrated reporting capabilities are added in 2021.