Our ‘Choosing a LIMS’ series has come to an end. We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reading our blogs on this topic. And we hope that we’ve helped get rid of some of the mystery that often surrounds the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) selection process. We firmly believe that the right lab and Biobank management software can have a huge impact on the way you operate. So, to finish the series we’re taking a look at the importance of software in the lab, why you should use a LIMS and recap on some pointers to help you choose the system that’s right for you.
Why use a LIMS and why is it important?
The main importance of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is how it can help automate your lab workflows and processes. As a result, your data quality, workflow consistency and lab efficiency can improve significantly. In addition, a LIMS solution can also play an important role in helping you meet compliance. It usually achieves this by providing complete traceability through audit trails.
Many LIMS and Biobank Information Management Systems (BIMS) have in-built processes that mirror and even improve the way your lab operates. But if you want to build your processes into the lab information management software then you should work through them first. You need to make sure they are efficient before mapping them into your LIMS solution. Software, no matter how good, cannot itself improve poor processes.
There’s no doubt that a LIMS, when implemented successfully, can deliver tangible benefits. You can read more about those on our ‘Advantages of a laboratory information management system – LIMS‘ page. But determining whether you’re actually able to reap these benefits and if it’s cost effective for you, is another question.
How do you choose a LIMS?
Your biggest, and most critical tasks are understanding how you work, where you want to be and what’s really going to make a difference to you. Then you need to ask very direct questions to make sure you get what you need.
Therefore, it’s important to be clear about why you want to use a LIMS. You need to understand the importance of the functionality and benefits available to your lab. This will help you select the solution that’s right for your lab and Biobank. It might not actually be a LIMS solution that your lab needs.
Every organisation works differently. So, when you choose software to manage your lab or Biobank data, you need to know what’s important to you. How your lab is logging and tracking samples and the information that’s important to you is probably quite different to other labs.
And it’s not just about how your lab operates but also what stage your lab is at. What’s important in a LIMS to you as a paper-based lab, is quite different to when you’re a lab already using software but considering changing or upgrading it. If you’re unsure about defining what you need, our ‘Helping you identify acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures for LIMS’ article can give you some pointers.
Is my data secure in a LIMS?
When you’re logging your lab and sample data in a LIMS, you want to make sure it’s not only validated but also protected from unauthorised access. LIMS solutions provide different mechanisms to secure your data. These include user authentication, authorisation and data encryption. The type and level of protection you need depends on the data you’re logging in your LIMS. If, you’re logging Personal Identifiable Information (PII) then you’ll probably want to use encryption to ensure that access is restricted. To find out more about securing your lab data read our ‘Choosing a LIMS that protects your sensitive information’ blog.
However, before you even think about securing your information, you may be wondering how you get your existing data into a new software system in the first place. Our ‘7-step guide to data migration’ gives you some helpful advice and guidance on planning, extracting, formatting and your data migration work.
Is the technology that the LIMS system uses important?
Likewise, with all other types of software applications, its underlying technology can deliver both additional advantages and disadvantages. Cloud-based LIMS and Biobanking software mean reduced implementation time, less training and no internal IT costs. All of this sounds wonderful. However, they can also mean increased questions and considerations about where your data is stored, who has access to it and to what level. As well as what changes you can make to the software.
Only you can determine what’s most important to you – or poses the most risk. This is often based on the data you want to hold and your processes.
Finally, you can put yourself in a stronger position if you, or your IT team, are aware of what the underlying technology provides or limits. You can then assess this alongside what you know the LIMS system offers to find the system that best suits your needs.
Is a configurable LIMS the best solution?
A configurable laboratory information management system will allow changes to be made to the software. This means you can change the software as you grow and evolve. As a result, you’re getting a longer-term solution.
However, just because it’s configurable doesn’t mean that you can make the changes yourself or that it’s easy to configure. It also doesn’t mean that there aren’t any restrictions. Plus, make sure that any configuration that you do is not going to be overwritten by a software update.
Try to get to the bottom of what “configurable” actually means and looks like. It will be different across different LIMS systems.
But also, be realistic. Do you really want a system you can change? Or are you just looking for something simple ‘out-of-the-box’? Not everyone needs a LIMS they can configure themselves.
Some final thoughts on the importance of a LIMS and how you choose the one that’s right for your lab
The importance of a LIMS solution is measured by the significant improvements it can bring to your lab or Biobank.
But for the software to be successful it requires you to be honest and realistic. About where you are now, where you want to be and how you’re going to measure ‘success’. Having clear requirements, acceptance criteria and return on investment measures will help you to be objective and stay on track.
However, don’t discount your gut feeling. Also, make sure you have a good relationship with your LIMS supplier. They play an important role in helping you get the most out of the system. A good supplier can be seen as a kind of partner.
There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to choosing a LIMS. Remember, you’re trying to find the one that’s right for your lab – not the perfect one!