Choosing a LIMS is a complex process. It would be wonderful if it only demanded a simple inspection followed by an: “Oh, this one is sexy!” But it doesn’t work that way – and it never should!
While it’s common to start with a checklist of features your LIMS will require, it’s also important to make sure you’re asking the right questions — and planning for sufficient growth in the future.
Even the ASTM E1578 Standard Guide for Laboratory Informatics mentions this complexity, while cautioning against the urge to make a “quick pick.” When introducing the topic of selecting a lab informatics solution, it states:
“Selection of an informatics solution requires a detailed analysis of the laboratory’s requirements and should not be a simple product category decision” (emphasis added).
To make sure your LIMS is the best fit for your current and future needs, you’ll need to “think outside the checklist.”
First, Start with the Obvious Requirements
This isn’t to say that satisfying your LIMS requirements checklist isn’t an important part of the process. When it comes to selecting software, confirming that it satisfies the required features and functions is a reasonable place to begin.
For example, a basic QA/QC LIMS might support the logging of samples, data entry, review, and approval. Behind these are the necessary master data needed to define samples by type, testing protocols, specifications, units of measure, and so forth.
Increasing the scope of a QA/QC LIMS would include the concept of batches, stages, sampling points, and probably a facility to perform selective testing based on supplier and manufacturer (skip lot testing, for example).
Whatever the scope of your requirements, whether for a standard QA/QC LIMS, an ELN, or LES, the probability is high that several vendors will support the features you need. Choosing a vendor based solely upon a feature checklist and price point might provide you with a very inexpensive system, but it also risks leaving you in the dark ages with a limited technology and a product scope that will constrain your lab’s future.
Next, Think About Your Lab’s Future
When selecting a lab informatics system, there are actually two futures you’ll need to consider:
- The future state of your own laboratory practices, and
- The future vision of prospective informatics vendors.
Hopefully you’ll go into this process with the vision for your own lab already clearly defined. (If not, you’ll need to get busy on that before you go any further!) Next, you’ll need to make sure your prospective LIMS vendors also have a clearly defined vision — and that it’s compatible with yours.
Here are some good questions to ask:
- Do you have a product roadmap?
- Aside from adding new features, how is your product roadmap aligned to future laboratory needs?
- How do you partner with customers to create mutually valuable products and services?
Make Sure Your Vendor is Ready for Digital Transformation
We’ve talked a lot about how important digital transformation (DT) has become, not only to laboratories but to many other types of businesses. While DT is already making significant contributions to research capabilities by enabling lab applications that were inconceivable even 20 years ago, this is only the beginning. Even if you don’t consider DT a priority today, we predict that you will very soon.
To make sure your LIMS will be ready to support DT, your potential vendors should have good answers to questions like these:
- How would you describe the digital transformation trends you see in today’s market?
- What features of your product enable digital transformation today?
- How does your product roadmap align with a vision for tomorrow’s digital transformation goals?
Once you move beyond the feature checklist, there are soft benefits and other advantages new software can bring to your organization. Consider questions like these:
- Can we reduce training time by using a more intuitive interface?
- Will the new solution enable laboratory personnel to spend less time managing the system and more time completing lab work?
- Will a modern mobile interface allow personnel to monitor the system more easily and correct potential problems faster?
- Can we reduce our on-hand stock of reagents and standards by tracking consumption more accurately?
As we stated at the beginning of this post, the requirements for a new LIMS system are quite complex, and not just “pretty” or “sexy.” And your requirements should be. But many of the potential benefits of your system — both now and in the future — can deliver significant value that isn’t easily measured by a price tag. Considering all the factors detailed above, not just your checklist of features, will help you find the best fit that promotes your lab’s efficiency, accountability, future growth and profit.