Although laboratory information management systems (LIMS) have been around for decades, implementations remain challenging and can leave you dissatisfied. Properly implemented laboratory information management systems can make your lab more efficient and reduce errors. To ensure that your LIMS optimizes your laboratory operations, we want to provide you with a few guidelines on how to prepare for the implementation. If you follow these steps, you will keep your project on schedule and end up with a successful implementation.
- Define User Requirements Specification (URS)
Many customers say they “need” a LIMS without first identifying the functional needs of their laboratory. It’s important to clarify your laboratory processes to define the scope of the project and the role of LIMS in your lab environment. Once you create use cases that include who the user type is, how they will log in a sample and enter results, your implementation team will know what to prioritize and the process will run a lot smoother. Some of your requirements may include general business requirements, user/functional requirements, IT requirements, interface requirements, regulatory issues, data management requirements, error handling, reporting requirements and performance requirements such as access control and security, look and feel, scalability and technical support.
- Prepare Business Process Diagrams
In order for your laboratory to use the LIMS efficiently and effectively, your implementation team needs to comprehend the major objectives of the project. When they have a clear understanding of what your business does and how it operates in terms of information flow, they will be able to figure out how the LIMS will impact that overall flow and support your operations. It is necessary to have business diagrams prepared to clarify the relationships, process and workflows of your laboratory for the team to review prior to implementation. When the implementation team is designing the LIMS environment, they also need to consider all the other systems and instruments in the lab that must interface with the LIMS. Since data will need to be transferred directly from the instruments to the LIMS to avoid transcription errors, getting all the instrument details and data files for instruments is important. If reports are part of the scope, gathering examples of those reports and where the data for those reports is coming from is helpful. Finally, if your lab requires barcode scanners or label printers and you don’t have them, start researching which will work best for your laboratory.
- Determine Key Business Objectives and Strategies
Identifying what you want to achieve in your business and understanding how you plan to achieve these objectives are key to moving from your present system to the future one. We consider these to be strategic objectives that all stakeholders should be aware of so that there’s complete alignment between the new system and everyone’s expectations. These need to be constantly evaluated against the list of user requirements to make sure the requirements indeed meet the strategic intent of the system. Some examples of these key objectives could be allow easier access for customers to access/review testing results, streamline the sample submission process, enforce common business processes, eliminate/reduce paper processes, reduce sample cycle/processing times, eliminate/reduce the amount of data transcription, effectively track work completed to ensure accurate invoices when billing for laboratory services. This list may be quite extensive, and if it is, it should be prioritized as well.
- Understand the Degree of Business Process Engineering
An essential step in the project is to verify if the current business processes and data workflows meet your organization’s criteria. If they don’t, it is better to inform your implementation team of the problems and shortcomings laboratory workers experience before implementation. Asking for recommendations on how to improve the existing laboratory processes when the implementation has already started will prolong the project’s time frame. When the implementation team understands the current processes and where the bottlenecks in the processes are, they will be able to improve them to ensure they deliver business benefit in terms of productivity, IP protection and regulatory compliance.
- Have all Data Types, Formats and Sizes
Formulate a model that illustrates the major relationships between the laboratory data and information. What pieces of data do you need to capture? In your system there is a product ID, how big is it and is it numbers or letters? For all the different pieces of data you want to capture when logging a sample, what are those data types and what do those columns look like?
- Review Hardware Configuration Requirements
The primary requirement for deployment of laboratory informatics systems is to be integrated within the organization’s existing IT infrastructure. Making sure that browsers and versions are compatible with the version the vendor deploys is crucial. If your lab is running the wrong version of the browser or a version the LIMS provides is no longer supporting, it will increase the workload for all parties. Customers need to comply with the hardware configuration requirements provided by the vendor and upgrade or move to a version they support.
- Get Trained
This step is frequently overlooked, but it is important to take an introductory course and learn how to use the LIMS. With proper training, you will be able to configure, operate and understand the features in the system and increase productivity and efficiency in your laboratory. Keep in mind that training is not a single ‘event’ but a process within the overall implementation that starts at the beginning and evolves throughout the entire project.
- Plan How to Secure Data
A key driver to implement a LIMS is to improve knowledge management in the organization by sharing and making lab information accessible across departments, sites and geographies. However, security, access control and electronic signatures are factors that must be given appropriate consideration.
- Test Use Cases
Once your implementation team starts delivering the system, you will have to test it. During the testing phase, you will have to test the use cases you created and meet with the implementation team for a regular status update to notify them if there are any problems or issues that need to be fixed. Be ready to provide feedback!