Choosing to implement a laboratory information management system (LIMS) is a considered purchase. Although there are affordable options available for labs of all sizes such as those offered by cloud and hosted LIMS solutions, they still involve you investing your time and money. Firstly, you have to find the right solution, somehow import your data into the new system and then train your team.
Having said all this the right system, implemented well, will bring many benefits. But before you choose it’s important you identify your individual return on investment (ROI) measures. And one of these, simply because of the cost of getting it up and running, might be to make sure your lab information management system is in place for several years. But for that to happen successfully the system must continue to meet your requirements as you change and grow.
So, is configuration the answer to ensuring your LIMS is sustainable?
The difference between configuration and customisation
Let’s start at the beginning. Many laboratory information management systems allow you to make some changes. However, they don’t all offer the same level of changes, nor do they all make those changes in the same way. It’s also important to remember that you may not need all the options on offer. So, knowing what you need and what resources and skill levels you have will help you identify what’s right for you. One of our earlier blogs ‘Benefits of Configurable LIMS and Biobanking Software’ delves into this topic in more detail.
There’s a difference between configuration and customisation. Configuration is where there are tools in the software to allow you to make changes. Customisation involves coding and often requires elevated development skills to make any changes. Some systems will offer both options and knowing what skills you need to make certain updates will help you realistically assess how much you’ll be able to do yourselves.
Is the fact that the system is configurable more important than who actually does the change?
Being able to change the system to meet your evolving requirements will help make sure that the software remains relevant and fit for purpose. But when it comes to making changes speed and cost are also a major factor.
Being sustainable means that the software has to work for you when you need it. Implementing a change months after you initially identified it may be too late. You could already have moved away from your LIMS and be using alternative systems.
Sustainability isn’t just achieved by having the right functionality it’s also about the continued cost of the software.
If you can’t do the change yourself and the cost from the vendor is prohibitive then you may not be able to go ahead with all the updates you want.
Remember doing the changes yourself isn’t free either – and may also take longer to implement due to your team’s existing workload and other priorities. Plus, you also need to make sure you’re fully documenting and testing any changes. Just as you would if your LIMS vendor was doing it on your behalf.
Setting aside a budget each year for changes can help you manage any costs. Plus, it will allow you to understand and track your real ROI. Being prepared means you have a choice of whether you do the changes or ask your vendor to do them. Making sure those important changes happen when you need them to.
Configured to the point of bespoke
Depending on the configuration tools available you can configure a system so it’s almost unrecognisable as the ‘out-of-the-box’ application.
This sounds great as you’ve got a product that works exactly how you need it to. But what about the burden on support? And what do you or the vendor need to know if you want to make any further changes to existing functionality?
Plus, what happens when you upgrade, or you want to purchase additional modules?
It’s easy to get carried away when you know you can add in whatever changes you want. And note the word ‘want’ – it’s not necessarily the same as ‘need’.
With every change consider the cost. Not just in terms of making the change but also training, supporting and updating it if needed. Then review the value of the change – time saved, quality, meeting regulatory requirements and so on. If the cost outweighs the value, then think long and hard before implementing.
You could be seriously damaging the sustainability of your LIMS by over-configuring.
It’s not just about configuration …
Being able to configure the software isn’t the only way in which you can make a LIMS sustainable.
The upgrades, extended functionality and modules the vendor offers also ensure your LIMS continues to be fit for purpose. Vendor updates could include major infrastructure and technology changes that may have a significant impact on the potential lifespan of your chosen system.
Again, some of these vendor enhancements may have costs associated with them. So it’s important to understand and budget for these.
A final thought on configuration being the answer to creating a sustainable LIMS
Because of the time and money invested in choosing a LIMS you want to make sure it continues to meet your lab or Biobank’s requirements for as long as possible. Being able to configure the system enables you to change the system as your needs evolve. All of which adds to the longevity and sustainability of the software.
But it’s not just being able to configure a system that determines its sustainability. You also need to factor in the costs of making, testing and supporting those changes as these could outweigh any anticipated benefits. Plus, for a more complete picture you should also consider enhancements, upgrades and modules offered and planned by the vendor.
In summary configuration is just one of the elements you need to create a sustainable LIMS.