As laboratory environments continue to evolve, embracing the benefits of automation and efficient data management is becoming more critical, write Charles Hindbaugh and Christine Paszko
Any laboratory that generates data, especially from an instrument run, that is stored and later used in some form of reporting or analysis will benefit from the use of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Using a LIMS system reduces the time it takes to turnaround sample results, improves internal communications, sample tracking, data retrieval, quality assurance and control, and secure archiving of data. Most importantly, laboratories find that their relationships with customers are also improved.
Today’s trend is to leave the process of data gathering, decision making, calculations and review and release to those who are closest to the actual analysis in the laboratory. The goal is to gain seamless integration with the laboratory, with results sent from the instrument with electronic data validation and approval. Reports and notifications are automatically sent, secure web access to sample status is available, and there is integration with electronic laboratory notebooks as well as enterprise systems such as accounting packages and chemical inventory systems.
Today, most commercial LIMS have exceeded the key requirements of the analytical laboratory and become more of a laboratory ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) tool, taking into consideration such items as workload, chemical inventory, quoting, invoicing, asset management, time tracking, and customer relationship management functionality, in addition to the core LIMS functions.
Before selecting a LIMS, the laboratory will need to perform a ‘needs assessment’ or ‘gap analysis’ to determine the functions and features required. This can be done internally by the laboratory staff or via a hired consultant (Table 1). Secondly, the LIMS vendors and their product offerings will need to be examined to see which will best fit the lab’s needs.
What should one look for in a LIMS product and vendor? Some of the criteria are obvious, such as a flexible product that will conform to the requirements of the laboratory, one that is based on standard technology, and a vendor that provides excellent support. It is important to make sure that customisations are preserved when the vendor updates the software, thus future-proofing the system. Also each vendor will excel in a specific market area; it is important that the vendor’s product matches your industry.
Vendor stability is also critical as multiple LIMS firms have been bought and sold over the last decade, some multiple times. Certifications for LIMS vendors are also important, as many laboratories are ISO 17025 certified and will only purchase from other vendors that are also ISO Certified. Small LIMS firms often do not have the resources or capital to invest in the implementation of a quality management system or regular auditing by an ISO auditor.