Social Media for business! That is the current buzz. It turns out that we may be on to something; real-time feedback on ideas and concepts? Fantastic! I must admit I have been spending more than a few minutes a day checking on forums in Linkedin particularly. Two specific discussions caught my eye recently. The first spoke of the excessive use of acronyms to define the laboratory informatics space…. LIMS, ELN, SDMS, CDMS, ECM, LES, LIS, EDC ad infinitum. Several members recommended that we all try to “unify” our definitions of the above by utilizing the LIMS Wiki (http://www.LIMSwiki.org). Everyone agrees there is much confusion in the marketplace currently and it is only getting worse as the laboratory informatics marketplace continues to consolidate.
For someone like me, with almost 30 years experience in the LIMS and informatics space, I have seen firsthand the convergence of what was once called LIMS. LIMS sits smack dab in the middle of everything. Most companies are telling us that they would prefer to have one LIMS/informatics platform if possible. In fact, nearly fifty percent of organizations would prefer to purchase their informatics products from one vendor if they could. Innovative features and add-on modules will further grey the line between traditional definitions of ELNs, scientific data management systems, and LIMS. Things are not “black and white” any more as islands of disparate data and point solutions no longer suffice. I often have potential clients ask me what type of product I should buy first (i.e. LIMS or ELN is the most common). Unfortunately this is not an easy question to answer especially with the lines so blurred. The “chicken and the egg” analogy comes to mind.
As the LIMS Wiki suggested, maybe a better definition of the terms themselves will alleviate some of the problems — but I am not 100% convinced. To me it all comes down to basic problem solving. What problem are you trying to solve? Once that is identified, you can seek out solutions which will certainly come in various sizes and shapes.
Conscientious vendors will then need to provide the said “solution” as required. The key word here is “solution”, which might be comprised of one or several of our acronym buddies from above. LABVANTAGE has been working very hard to provide LIMS, ELN and EDC solutions to our clients which often times are integrated with other “best of breed” 3rd party applications like SDMS and CDMS. It is clear to me that in this marketplace, one size does not fit all; thus the ability to tailor or configure a solution to the specific needs of a client is paramount. I am not talking about writing custom code but using tools within a product or solution (e.g., LABVANTAGE) to make each implementation uniquely your own. So coming full circle on this topic, I believe a better definition of terminology would be helpful, but I believe that the real key is to utilize the appropriate tools for the task.
The second topic was “Do you use SDMS”? Of all the blurry lines, this one might just be the worst. Here the key question is “What does SDMS mean to you”? LABVANTAGE has OOB functionality to store documents, data and other files as “attachments” either in the actual database or externally linked via hyperlink. For some this may be the solution but for others tools like Sharepoint and NuGenesis are mentioned.
SharePoint is a massive framework which in itself requires extensive configuration especially in the area of setting up a Data Governance Policy. This policy controls who has access to what data and when. It also controls what data is transfer and how collaboration should occur between internal users, colleagues, outside agencies and partners. In my experience, SharePoint is a perfect example of a very good tool that requires proper configuration (remember the above question “what problem am I trying to solve?”) to ensure that true collaboration occurs. If it is too difficult to connect to those you need access to, the information solution falls apart.
Other tools like NuGenesis seem to be preferred because they appear to be more intuitive to the lab user. It should be noted that LABVANTAGE is a Waters business partner and is actively working on a native integration with NuGenesis and their CDMS Empower.
Other SDMS products mentioned were OpenLab, to which LABVANTAGE has previously been integrated for a specific client project, and an open source tool called KnowledgeTree.
In my opinion, the bottom line is that you must pick the right products to build your solution. It may be LABVANTAGE LIMS and ELN integrated with another best of breed 3rd party solution or any of the other host of lab informatics acronyms. I expect no immediate end to the convergence of the LIMS and the rest of the laboratory informatics marketplace, and suspect that things will only get more blurred if terms aren’t universally defined and vendors behave more conscientiously.
I would be interested in your thoughts as it pertains to these two subjects. Please also check out the LIMS Wiki (http://www.LIMSwiki.org) and contribute. I think I am going to like this way of communicating much more than I would have ever believed!