Welcome to the third blog in the ‘Choosing a LIMS’ series. As a researcher or Biobank manager the belief that tomorrow can be better than today is probably something that’s at the core of your psyche. After all, research is all about trying to give people a future and trying to improve lives. Along with all the hard-work and dogged determination, there’s hope. The (somewhat tenuous) link here is that when you implement a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), you’re trying to improve your lab life. So, tomorrow will be a little bit easier, and better, than today. That’s why when choosing a LIMS, it’s important to consider where you’re going, not just look at where you are today. As a result, you’ll make sure that you’re future-proofing your LIMS investment. Plus, it’ll help you keep an open-mind so you can take advantage of any best-practice already available in a LIMS.
Taking advantage of best-practice in LIMS
Some advanced LIMS already have your key sample tracking workflows, functions, screens and dashboards pre-built in the system. Often these have been created with other labs and Biobanks – and, importantly, they’re tried and tested. When reviewing different LIMS make sure you check out the functionality and workflows that are available in the system as standard. Your LIMS supplier should highlight this to you but if not, ask!
And this is where you need to try and keep an open mind. The workflow or screen may not be exactly as you currently do things step-for-step. But don’t dismiss it immediately. It could actually be giving you the same, or hopefully an improved, end result. Also, remember you’re implementing a LIMS to improve the way you currently work, and this may be one of those areas that you hadn’t considered before.
Try to avoid having a process built if it’s already there in a slightly different form. You’ll save time, money and effort by not recreating functionality that’s already available ‘out-of-the-box’. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel! Also, if it’s not exactly how you need it, then you may be able to configure the changes you require. However, if the functionality is missing or is not at all how you work then should be able to define something new. This will give you an insight into how adaptable the system is – and how future-proof.
Finally, there may be processes and modules available in the LIMS that you’re not going to use from day one. But you may need them in the future. The LIMS may allow you to switch-off this functionality until you need it. Or, if it’s a separate module, add in when you need it.
Understanding the term ‘future-proof’ LIMS
Like any investment you want to make sure you get the most out of it and for as long as possible! You may have identified and calculated your return on investment measures for your LIMS. (Don’t worry if you haven’t, our blogs ‘Avoid going out on a limb* by clearly identifying your acceptance criteria when choosing a LIMS (* pun intended!)‘ and ‘A bonus article from Secret Santa – helping you identify acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures for LIMS’ can help you with this.) These ROI measures might be the benefits you’re hoping to gain over the next 12 or 18 months. But then what?
Typically, labs use the same LIMS for at least three years. This is due to the time, money and effort it takes to implement. Whether you’ll still be getting benefits from your LIMS after 12 months is dependent on whether you:
- Have made any updates to your LIMS to support new processes or changes in the way you operate.
- Are constantly reviewing and refining your return on investment measures in line with your operations.
- Have upgraded your LIMS to make sure it’s using updated technologies.
By future-proofing your LIMS, you’re implementing software and processes that help make sure your LIMS continues to deliver for you well into the future. However, note the inclusion of processes! Your LIMS cannot remain future-proof without you making sure you’ve got review mechanisms in place, as well as the necessary budgets and resource, to make any changes.
Helping you choose a future-proof LIMS
As with everything in life there are no guarantees. However, there are some questions you can ask when selecting a LIMS to give you more insight into the possible longevity of the product.
- How long has the product been in the marketplace?
- What technology platform(s) is the system available on? Is the LIMS cloud based?
- What’s the oldest customer that’s using the LIMS? What version are they on? And how easy is it for them to upgrade to the latest version?
- How often does the supplier release product upgrades? What’s included in these, for example, enhancements, patch fixes, new modules, etc? And what’s the cost?
- Can you configure the software? What can’t you change yourself? What skills or training do you need to configure the software? (We’ll also be exploring configuration in more depth in a future blog as it’s not always what it seems!)
- Is the LIMS modularised? What are the modules? How often are new modules released/updated?
- Does the LIMS have an API to help with integration? How does the LIMS transfer and receive data from other systems?
Armed with the answers to these questions you can then decide what’s compatible with your requirements and budget. And what’s most important to you based on what you’re trying to achieve.
A final thought on implementing best-practice and future-proofing your LIMS
When investing in any software you want to make sure it performs for you as long as possible. So, to help your LIMS do this, you should try to keep one eye on the future and be open-minded!
You need to ask the right questions to assess the history of the LIMS, understand the level of configuration that is available to you, identify the technologies used and appreciate any future developments. Plus, when considering cloud based LIMS identify whether you can host this yourself or is it only externally hosted.
Also, take advantage of what’s already available in the system. That way you make the most of any best-practice workflows already in the system and can focus your budget on making only necessary changes. And when you’re defining your requirements for those changes in your LIMS, think about your processes and their overall objectives, i.e. ‘why you need to do something’ rather than simply thinking about ‘how’.
Finally, remember it’s not all about the LIMS. You need to play your part as well by reviewing your sample tracking processes and updating them. As a result, you’ll make sure your LIMS and processes work together to continue to deliver benefits for your lab or Biobank.
To read more go to ‘Things to consider when choosing a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)‘.
Catch up with the rest of the series so far
- Series introduction – [Just in time for the pantomime season – it’s the oh no it isn’t! Not another] ‘Guide to choosing a LIMS’
- Part one – Avoid going out on a limb* by clearly identifying your acceptance criteria when choosing a LIMS (* pun intended!)
- Part two – Don’t believe the hype? Or do? How to get the most from LIMS recommendations