Guide to choosing a LIMS. What you need to know when choosing a laboratory information management system

Whether you’re a Biobank, biorepository, research lab or global pharmaceutical company there’s LIMS out there for you. Whatever your size and budget. So, how do you choose? Firstly, what’s really important to you? Improved quality, increased efficiency, cost savings, resource optimisation, increased compliance, greater visibility or a growth in revenue generation? And what does this actually mean? This is where our guide to choosing a LIMS can help.

You have to know what you want so you can get what you want!

Laboratory Information Management System - LIMS

Helping you ‘see the woods for the trees’ and work out what’s right for you

We wanted to take a fresh approach to helping you choose a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). We know it can be a bit daunting out there. And it can get very confusing. For example, several systems claim ‘We’re the most configurable LIMS in the marketplace’ or ‘We’re the only system that does ‘insert function here’. Plus, if you add to this the incredible range of weird and wonderful buzzwords and IT jargon used to describe LIMS, no wonder ‘seeing the woods for the trees’ can be difficult.

Our 7 areas that we suggest you ‘explore a bit more’ when choosing a system will help you cut through some of this confusion. We want to arm you with suggestions and tips that will allow you to get some simple, straightforward answers. And to put you in a position to ask the supplier some challenging questions! So, you can find the system that’s right for you.

And keep an eye out for our accompanying blog series where we’ve expanded on these themes.

First things first – what’s a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)?

There are countless articles out there explaining what a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is, what the software should do and the potential benefits of implementing it.

But essentially, it’s software that helps you manage your laboratory operations and accompanying data such as samples, storage, analysis, study and participant information.  Typical LIMS offer functionality such as workflow and process management, data capture and validation, data analysis, systems integration, quality control and auditing. For more information see What is a LIMS and Advantages of a LIMS.

All labs and Biobanks aren’t the same and neither are all LIMS

No two laboratories or Biobanks are exactly alike. Processes, data, security, infrastructure, team and protocol can all vary – quite significantly. You also need to factor in volumes and numbers. Both in terms of people who’ll be using the system and the amount of data you’ll be working with.

Similarly, no two software systems are the same. On the surface they may all seem to do the same things. However, delve a bit deeper and you’ll find there are functional, security, workflow and technology differences.

The main thing for you to remember is that a system that works for one laboratory or Biobank may not be suitable for another. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’.

Cutting through the jargon and buzzwords

Firstly, don’t be bamboozled by jargon and buzzwords. Never be worried about asking a supplier to explain how something works to you in ‘layman terms’. If they can’t explain it simply, it could be that they don’t understand it themselves!

Where to start when choosing a LIMS

Before you go off searching for LIMS providers you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. Otherwise you’ll be both overwhelmed and in awe of the myriad systems out there.

When looking at what you need from a LIMS most people start with a list of functions. This is often based on what they’re using at the moment that works or doesn’t quite work how it needs to. This is an important part of the process but it’s not necessarily going to give you the information you need to help you differentiate systems. For example, I’d be very surprised if there’s not a LIMS out there that doesn’t allow you to register a sample, store a sample or even aliquot a sample.

Plus, if you’re pulling a list of functions together who’s providing you with this list? Is it the IT team that never use the software directly, the user that doesn’t deal too well with change, the person who wrote the existing system(s) or the user that will be using it day-in and day-out? They’ve all got valid opinions but there’s probably some conflicting ones in there too. So, when it comes to listing ‘what’ you want your LIMS to do, you’ve probably got this covered. But how do you work out what’s important?

 7 areas that put you in the driving seat

In our guide to choosing a LIMS we’ve looked at 7 areas that will help you dig a bit deeper into a system to understand how it can help you. They’ll also help you prioritise and enhance your list of functionality requirements for LIMS and:

  • Work out what’s important
  • Identify areas that will differentiate LIMS and their suppliers

And it’s important to note, you should also be assessing the supplier. They are critical to the success – or lack of – of your LIMS. Even if the system itself is excellent, if poorly implemented or supported then you won’t get the benefits you hoped for.

Areas to explore to help you identify what’s important to you

The aim here is to make sure that:

  • you only pay for what you need.
  • you focus on what you actually need and is going to make an impact. Helping you to avoid the ‘dazzle of shiny things’ you’ll never use!

Acceptance criteria

Setting strategic measurable objectives for the short-, medium and long-term, i.e. your 5-year plan for your lab or Biobank. Understanding these will help you prioritise any functional requirements and put you in a position to measure the effectiveness of your LIMS.

Protecting data

Considering what data you need to store, for how long, who you want to access and update it and what are the implications if it got into the wrong hands. Identifying this will help you prioritise any security and protection mechanisms you need to put in place.

Do you need a LIMS?

Understanding the differences between sample management systems and LIMS. So, you can make an informed choice about which type and level of system you actually need. Also, considering a modularised or interim solution to meet your immediate challenges.

Areas to explore to help you differentiate LIMS and suppliers

The aim here is to make sure that:

  • you get a ‘warts and all’ look at the supplier.
  • you’re looking under the hood of the LIMS to test its adaptability and configurability.

Using recommendations

Asking probing questions of the recommender such as their relationship to the supplier, how long they’ve been using the system, what they use it for, whether they were involved in the implementation process and what went wrong, will give you invaluable insight.

Supplier services

It’s not all about the software. The LIMS supplier matters. The LIMS could be great but if your supplier is unresponsive, constantly changing its project team, leaving you to get on with things and you know more about it the system that they do, then it doesn’t bode well for the project.

The right technology

Systems may appear to do the same things but is the LIMS using ‘modern technologies’ and does it fit into your internal infrastructure? If the LIMS is hosted – where’s your data physically held, who has access to it, can you get it out and is it encrypted?

Future-proof

Keeping an open-mind by identifying where you want to be in the future to see potential functionality in LIMS that you don’t need now but definitely will in the future. Understanding what’s in the LIMS ‘out-of-the-box’, how it can be changed, who can change it and any additional modules can help you assess its flexibility.

How to use our guide to choosing a LIMS

Using the 7 areas you can create your own criteria to use to select a LIMS. This may include a list of functional and non-functional questions and checklists. This will give you an objective set of criteria which you can use to compare software and suppliers. You may introduce these at different stages in your selection process to help you:

  1. Create a shortlist of LIMS and suppliers
  2. Use as questions, scenarios or prompts during a product demonstration
  3. Use as questions on reference site visits
  4. Once you’ve selected a LIMS to monitor and track its progress as it’s being implemented or post go-live

But don’t ignore your own instincts!

Sometimes you’ll get a ‘cosier’ feeling from one supplier over another. You should not ignore this completely as it’s very important that you can work with the supplier. So, if they’re getting good scores and you’re building a good rapport it might be right for you to work with them. Even though they may not be the highest scoring supplier.

And if you’re struggling to work with a high scoring supplier then don’t just select them because of their scores. If you really can’t work with them early in the process when they’re trying to impress you – it’s unlikely it’s going to get better.

Latest Choosing a LIMS blogs and insights

Read our ‘Choosing a LIMS’ series so far on our Blogs and Insights page. And read more about our Achiever Software products including ‘sneak-peaks’ at our newest features and changes. Find our most recent blogs below.

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