Data – you can’t work with it and you definitely can’t work without it. Today’s labs generate large volumes of data. You can spend hours entering information and even longer trying to find and decipher it. Working with data is seen by many as a necessary evil – something that’s just part of the job. Which is why for many labs – large and small – spreadsheets are still their primary data management tool. But data is the lifeblood of every laboratory and an essential component of digital transformation.
Every day you’re making decisions based on your data – or lack of it (usually referred to as ‘gut feel’). As a result, your data can cost you money or help you save it depending on its quality and how you use it.
This is no different when it comes to defining your digital transformation strategy. Contrary to what many may believe, digital transformation isn’t just about buying the latest equipment and software or moving all your systems to the cloud. That’s only a small part of it. It’s about reviewing your processes and how you work and then leveraging technology to help you make improvements that will increase your efficiency, quality and productivity. But how do you know what needs improving in the first place? The answers are to be found in your data.
And if you can’t find them or don’t know where to start then it’s probably time to take a closer look at how you can start making your data work for you and start your lab’s digital transformation at the same time.
Seeing your data as a valuable asset
One of the most valuable assets within organisations is data. Some really use it to brilliant effect. Just think of those online shopping sites or film subscription apps that have ‘recommended for you’ and ‘we thought you might like’ sections that appear when you log in. It can sometimes seem a little ‘big brotherish’ but they really understand the power and potential of data. And there is a lot of responsibility to make sure they protect that data and use it ethically.
In many labs emphasis is placed on recording data with very little thought for how that data is going to be used or how it can help you in your decision making. You can address this as part of your digital transformation strategy by starting with your outcomes and what you’re trying to achieve. Then work backwards. Once you know what you want to achieve then you’re better able to understand what information you need to record, when and how. You’ll then start to see your data as something that is benefiting your organisation at all levels.
Data isn’t just for the benefit of management and stakeholders
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that data is only useful for producing reports for the board. As a lab manager or researcher you’re using data every day. From choosing which samples to use in research through to deciding whether you need to free up space in a freezer – or buy another one.
What’s more, if you’re a biobank and you’re publicising what samples you have available in your biorepository you are, in fact, publishing your data. And it needs to be accurate and complete, so researchers are armed with as much information as possible on the samples they’re using. It also needs to be standardised in order for researchers to find the samples they need.
How a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) supports data management
A laboratory information management system (LIMS) like Achiever Medical supports data management in several ways. From instilling standardisation and formatting rules when you’re adding data manually through to providing bulk data upload tools for quick data entry.
It also includes support for handheld barcode scanners so you can simply locate a sample, scan the barcode label and the system will return the sample record. Plus, you can also scan racks and boxes for bulk sample check in and check out.
What’s more, all sample events and activities are automatically audited providing that all-important traceability as well as evidence for compliance.
Achiever Medical LIMS also supports integration with lab instruments and other systems to reduce time spent re-keying information and reduce data transcription errors and improve accuracy.
Crucially, it helps you find what you’re looking for quickly and easily. If you’re working with multiple spreadsheets it can be difficult to find the samples that you need – you can spend hours. Your lab data is centralised in Achiever Medical LIMS – meaning it’s one place for you to look and as the data is entered consistently you don’t need to perform multiple searches for all the variations.
Likewise, with analytics. Achiever Medical LIMS includes a library of interactive dashboards displaying real-time data so you can see exactly what’s happening in your lab. You can check your lab’s performance at any time and address any issues before they become critical.
Including lab data in your digital transformation strategy
Your data can tell you what’s happening in your lab at any time. From the quality of your samples to highlighting bottlenecks and, importantly, non-compliance. But you have to use it and in order to do that it needs to be accessible.
But before you go ahead and rush to buy software take time to work out exactly what you need from your data. As mentioned earlier, digital transformation is as much about process improvements as it is technology. Also, you’ll need to involve the team at user- and management-level as you’ll need their input and support.
Take a look at your processes. Identify all the things you do and what you capture, where and at what stage. Make sure people who actually do the work are involved. This makes sure that you are clear that it’s what you actually do and not what you think you do.
At the end of this you’ll have your ‘as is’ process. You can then set about working on your ‘future state’ process. Step back. Be realistic and work in stages. Ask challenging and critical questions such as:
- Do you need all those steps in the process? Why?
- What aren’t you doing? Why and why do you need to (i.e. what’s its value)?
- What data are you recording, when and why? Why aren’t you recording other data? Why do you need it? What does it tell you?
- Where do you record your data? Who records it, when and how? What’s the quality, completeness and accuracy of your data?
You can then overlay your processes with the systems and equipment you already have. This may highlight gaps. You can then look at what you might need to help you implement your ‘future state’.
Finally, when thinking about systems keep an open mind. Take a look what’s out there. Don’t automatically think configuring or upgrading your existing software will be cheaper, quicker or easier.
Need help making sense of your data?
Download your free copy of our Data Migration Guide for useful hints, templates and advice. It can help whether you’re reviewing your data, thinking about a new LIMS, starting your lab’s digital transformation journey or you’re in the process of implementing a LIMS.