A bonus article from Secret Santa – helping you identify acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures for LIMS
Dec 17

A bonus article from Secret Santa – helping you identify acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures for LIMS

You’ll typically be looking for a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) to help your laboratory or Biobank save costs, improve quality, increase efficiency and increase revenues. You may already have a system in place that’s not quite working for you and you’re thinking about updating or even replacing it. Or you could be using spreadsheets and following paper-trails, so you’re looking for a LIMS to replace these. You want to be sure your LIMS delivers your desired outcomes, so you know it’s been worth the investment. To do this, whether you ‘re looking for a new system or already have an existing LIMS, you should have clear, documented and measurable ideas of what you want your LIMS to achieve. This is where acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures come in.

Acceptance criteria versus return on investment

The first thing to note is that with both acceptance criteria and return on investment you need to be able to measure their success. So, you must define them clearly and know how you’re going to test them out.

Acceptance criteria can include statements such as ‘All our data must be imported into the LIMS before the system is live’ or ‘We need to be able to report on how many processes we are running each week’.  Some acceptance criteria can be one-off items, this means that they’re only relevant during the actual LIMS project.

Return on investment measures are what you use to justify the costs and work involved in implementing the LIMS. This justification is usually in the form of cost savings or revenue increases that you’ve gained from your LIMS. These are not just one-offs and you should review them frequently. These could include items such as ‘We want to reduce the time it takes to do x by y%’.

It’s important to look at return on investment early as you need to know if any reductions are actually going to be worthwhile. For example, if you calculate you’re going to save £10,000 a year by implementing LIMS but it’s going to cost you £100,000 initially followed by £30,000 each year then you’re never going to break-even!

Why bother?

Well, there’s the obvious one that’s stated in the first two sections – so you know it’s worthwhile, and you’ve achieved what you set out to achieve.

But then there’s the not so obvious ones. A LIMS can be expensive and time-consuming to implement and maintain. Some things will always increase the cost of a LIMS, such as configuration, data and large numbers of users and teams. But believe it or not, days, weeks and even months can be wasted by people changing their minds on what’s needed. This results in increased costs – often unnecessarily. Understanding your critical reasons for using a LIMS, and not losing sight of these, can help keep these unnecessary changes to a minimum. By focusing on your acceptance criteria and ROI you stay on track and work on the things that matter and are going to have the most positive impact.

Defining your acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures

Unfortunately, there’s not one set of acceptance criteria or return on investment measures that are applicable to every lab or Biobank. However, we want to try and give you some ideas to help you formulate the ones that matter to you. Firstly, you really need to know what you’re trying to achieve:

  • Strategically
  • Functionally
  • Legally
  • Technically
  • In what timeframe
  • Within what budget

Plus, importantly, when you’re building your list you should consider how, and what you’re going to use, to measure your criteria and ROI.

It’s important to recognise that for some just being able to measure something in the first place is an important acceptance criterion. And once you’ve got your first measure you can use it to compare against your future figures. You’ve now also sorted your most basic return on investment measure. And on you go from there!

Some common challenges and suggestions for acceptance criteria and ROI

You’re probably not used to defining acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures for systems. So, we’ve put together some common challenges along with acceptance criteria to help start you thinking about your own requirements.

You don’t have to bring in expensive consultants or spend months putting this together. You probably know where your main issues are – and if you don’t then just ask your team!

However, be realistic. Any new LIMS probably won’t be able to solve all your challenges. It’s highly likely you’ll need to create new processes or adapt the way you do things, too. This is ‘Change Management’ and we’ll be tackling this as part of our implementation series in 2020.

Finally, depending on your budget and internal procurement processes, you won’t necessarily have to go through the tender process. But if you do, then factor this into any costs of your LIMS so you can get a more accurate return on investment measure.

Challenge one

You hold your sample data in multiple spreadsheets. You have no idea how many spreadsheets you’ve got or how many samples you’re storing in total. If someone needs to work with samples, they just buy more as it’s quicker than trying to track them down. You’re also running out of freezer space so you’re going to need to buy more freezers.

Your acceptance criteria might be:

  • A single, searchable inventory management system to hold all our samples that will be live within x months.
  • To be able to see average # new samples received each week/month, # samples categorised by type, # samples currently in storage and current storage capacity.

To work out and identify your return on investment:

  • How long does it take you on average to find a sample?
  • What does it cost to store a sample, buy a sample and buy a new freezer?
  • How many samples have been in storage for over x months? Why?

Challenge two

You’ve got an audit coming up soon. It takes you weeks to pull together information for an audit inspection. And you’ve also got to make sure that people are in during the audit as they’re the only ones that know where their samples are.

Your acceptance criteria might be:

  • A system that will help us comply with Human Tissue Act (HTA) by:
    • Allowing us to search across samples to see where they are stored and across storage to see what’s in there.
    • Providing a searchable, extractable audit trail of sample movements against each sample.
    • Allowing us to record, track and withdraw informed consent against each participant.
    • Protecting patient identifiable data …

To work out and identify your return on investment:

  • How long does it take everyone on average to get this information together?
  • What are you and your team not working on while you’re pulling this information together and how much extra revenue might that missed work have generated?
  • What would the implications be of failing an audit or losing your licence?
  • If you could spot issues earlier would that help? In what way (for example, reduced remedial costs)?

Challenge three

You’ve got hundreds of thousands of samples in your Biobank. Researchers send you an email to request samples, this request then gets manually added onto a spreadsheet. You track down the relevant people to see if they have those samples available. If not, you may need to order them. By the time you give the researcher an update, weeks have passed, and they’ve decided to go elsewhere.

Your acceptance criteria might be:

  • Providing a secure, searchable browser-based system, that does not require plug-ins, where researchers can request samples and track updates.
  • To be able to see # requests made each week/month, average time taken to fulfil requests, # unfulfilled requests by reason, compare # requests this month versus last month.

To work out and identify your return on investment:

  • What impact would it have on you if –
    • you increased your sample turnaround time, so your samples spend less time sitting in storage?
    • researchers were recommending you to others due to your quick, reliable turnaround time and quality of tissue samples?
    • the number of requests you could manage at any given time increased by x%?
    • you reduced the sample request fulfilment time?
    • you moved from email and paper-based processes?

LIMS acceptance criteria and return on investment measures are not ‘one hit wonders’!

Return on investment (ROI) is not something you only measure once when you first install or update your LIMS. It’s something that you should do regularly. This is so you can measure any promised long-term benefits as well as making sure your LIMS continues to be ‘fit for purpose’. The same can be true for some of your acceptance criteria.

Also, nothing stands still and we’re all striving to do better. As part of any changes, you should be consistently reviewing and, if necessary, refining your criteria and return on investment measures (ROI). That way as you implement your changes you can check that they’re having the desired outcomes and you stay focused on what’s important to you now.

You can also apply these principles to proposed changes to internal processes or on-going phases of your LIMS usage but maybe that’s a subject for another series of blogs in the New Year!

Catch up on the series so far


About The Author

Sharon Williams has over 20 years’ experience of helping businesses successfully implement Sample Management Software and CRM systems. Appreciating that the software will deliver significant business change and improvements, Sharon guides businesses to help optimise these benefits. This includes advice on how to obtain user buy-in, evaluating and redefining existing business processes and how to gain a better understanding of their data to provide invaluable insight and inform business decisions.