So, you’re looking for a new Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Maybe your Excel-based systems are creaking or you’ve recently had an external audit and the auditors strongly recommended that you need a new system. Or maybe you’ve received some new funding due to an expansion in your lab’s workload. Whatever the reason, when you’re asked to detail your requirements for a new LIMS it can be an onerous task documenting and prioritising everything you need. Plus, there’s always that worry that you’ve forgotten to include an essential feature in your LIMS user requirements specification!
1. Think about your lab processes – not how your current system works
It’s very tempting to start by documenting how you currently work and outline small changes that address the challenges you face when using your existing systems. This method will identify some “quick wins” but is likely to miss major improvements that you could gain from optimising your processes. Making an inefficient process slightly smoother misses the big win. Step back and think about how you’d like to work and what you can reduce or even eliminate.
For example, if you spend ages searching for informed consent in your document management system that relates to samples stored in your tissue tracking spreadsheets, don’t just try to make the searching a bit easier. Think about possibly storing the consent and the samples in the same system linked together. The linking/searching process then disappears altogether. There’s the big win!
2. Consider mandatory compliances
Some tasks might be mandated by your compliances, be they MHRA, HTA or ISO 17025. They need to be considered and built into your new processes from the start. They will be the requirements that are usually mandatory from day one of your new LIMS system. Whereas many other “nice to haves” can be implemented on a more relaxed timescale.
3. Involve your team
It’s important to gather suggestions and feedback from your whole team. They can come up with some brilliant ideas, especially if they face inefficiencies every day using your existing systems. It also promotes buy-in so the whole team feels involved in the implementation. Make the most of their ideas and imagination.
4. Prioritise your LIMS requirements!
Be ruthless. You and your team will probably come up with a number of new features or like the ones that you’ve seen in the new LIMS you’re considering. Still, try to focus on what’s necessary to implement the simplest and, importantly, critical lab processes for go-live. If you’re getting a LIMS that’s flexible then you can smooth out process steps after go-live and add “polish”. But you need your processes to be as simple as possible. Also, if you leave implementing less critical processes and changes to a later date then you’re benefiting from your experience of using the new LIMS system as well as ensuring any updates are necessary.
It also makes the documentation of those processes and steps much easier, too!
5. Choose a LIMS that really is as flexible as it claims
Your requirements for system changes aren’t going to end when you go-live. Your processes and needs will continue to evolve so make sure you’ve chosen the most flexible system that will evolve with you.
A final thought on specifying your LIMS requirements
You’re not trying to design and document your perfect LIMS in a user requirements specification. Also, remember you aren’t a software designer or you’d be working in IT. Concentrate on optimising your lab processes and let the LIMS support and optimise those. At the end of the day a LIMS is just one element of an efficient lab and such a lab evolves, so you need the LIMS to evolve with you.