How to Avoid the Top 5 Most Common Mistakes in LIMS Selection

Posted on LIMS Implementation. 26 February, 2017

LIMS Selection is no small task. A laboratory information management system (LIMS) represents a central hub for managing many of the operations in the modern laboratory. Originally, LIMS were designed to be a simple sample tracking tool, enabling systematic control of workflows in regulated environments. Recent years have seen the evolution of LIMS into more of an enterprise resource planning tool that can manage multiple aspects of laboratory informatics – resource management/scheduling, assay data management, data mining, data analysis, case-centric clinical data, and electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) integration.

IT projects are notorious for failure – a recent survey by cloud portfolio management provider Innotas revealed that over 50 percent of businesses surveyed had experienced an IT project failure within the previous 12 months. LIMS projects can be especially challenging, given the many different aspects of the enterprise that modern LIMS touch.

With the stakes being so high, how can you set your organization up for success from the beginning?  Let’s start by exploring the most common reasons why LIMS project fail in the first place.

LIMS Implementation Failures

LIMS projects require large investments of money, resources and time – costing anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, and requiring hundreds of hours to implement. And while a successful LIMS implementation can help your organization streamline workflows, cut costs, improve quality and compliance, a poorly planned and implemented LIMS can be devastating to an organization.

There are a number of different metrics that can apply in the case of a failed LIMS project:

  • Implemented without all of the required functionality
  • Project did not meet the targeted goals and objectives
  • Grossly missed timeline and budget
  • Project was cancelled

Some of the most common reasons why LIMS projects fail are:

  • Insufficient resources
  • “Bloated” or misaligned scope
  • Poor project management
  • The wrong LIMS was selected for the organization

The last reason in particular is unfortunately quite common in our experience. Let’s explore the top five LIMS selection mistakes that organizations make in more detail.

LIMS Selection Mistakes

Mistake #1: Buying solely on a recommendation. Lab or IT managers will often purchase a LIMS based on a colleague or a friend within the company saying they “liked” a particular system, or that it is a “good” LIMS. The outcome of following these kind of qualitative assessments is that you end up buying something that works for your friend, but will likely not meet your specific requirements.

In order to avoid this issue, it is important to establish a LIMS evaluation process that is focused on your organization and its specific requirements. Towards this end, you should:

  • Establish your goals and objective for the LIMS project
  • Evaluate current laboratory processes
  • Document your requirements
  • Develop a LIMS evaluation plan
  • Seek assistance from an outside contractor with LIMS expertise

Mistake #2: Beginning with insufficient budget. Companies often budget for their LIMS project before they have fully documented their requirements. This can lead to a situation where the project ends up being constrained by an arbitrary number that does not allow for goals and objectives to be met, with decisions centered around cost instead of requirements:

  • the lowest cost system is selected
  • the scope of the project is cut – testing and training are scaled back, for example
  • the implementation effort gets placed in the lap of the lab manager and shadow IT

In order to avoid this mistake, companies should perform a business case analysis to set the budget for the LIMS project:

  • Define goals and objectives
  • Describe the project’s benefits to the organization
  • Develop accurate costs – both external and internal
  • Describe how the LIMS will drive value
  • Utilize a Value Engineering approach – align with company KPI’s
  • Seek assistance from an outside contractor who has the ability to help you integrate your LIMS project into business processes

Mistake #3: Dictate timeline to the vendor. Telling the vendor when the project must be complete leads companies to work backwards when developing the project plan, placing “artificial” dates on project tasks. This creates the perception that the project is failing, as the project team ends up trying to manage a contrived timeline that was not well thought out. Inevitably, this approach necessitates a project re-boot somewhere down the road, as the project team is forced to create a more realistic timeline, or even choose a different LIMS.

In order to avoid this mistake, you need to establish a collaborative relationship with the vendor:

  • Provide a detailed project scope to vendor
  • Ask the vendor to provide the project timeline
  • Align scope with timeline
  • Seek assistance from an outside contractor who can help you determine the project scope and timeline

Mistake #4: Select a LIMS solely on the current state of the organization. Companies often make the mistake of choosing a LIMS based on a current “snapshot” of the organization, ignoring future technology enhancements or business needs. This kind of approach effectively negates the whole point of purchasing a new LIMS in the first place by trying to force the new LIMS into the mold of the legacy LIMS or a paper-based process. The result is that you end up purchasing and implementing a LIMS with limited lifespan, or worse – you end up simply repeating your previous LIMS selection and implementation project.

In order to avoid this mistake, you must create a strategic LIMS roadmap (AKA Phase “0”).

  • Document current state
  • Define future state
  • Get input from entire organization – IT, Management, Customers
  • Seek assistance from an outside contractor that can help you create a strategic LIMS roadmap

Mistake #5: Select a LIMS based on features rather than requirements. Companies will often base a LIMS decision based solely on the vendor demonstration, allowing “bells and whistles” to drive the decision, while ignoring the “boring” but important items. This leads to gaps between capabilities and requirements being discovered during implementation, and ultimately results in a highly compromised and unsatisfactory implementation.

In order to avoid this mistake, you must perform a proper LIMS requirements phase:

  • Establish stakeholder groups
  • Allow the establishment of requirements to be an iterative process
  • Evaluate all requirements – functional, technical, business, etc.
  • Seek assistance from an outside contractor who can help you properly identify your system requirements.

Case Study

As an example of what not to do, consider the case of a clinical diagnostic company that tried to implement a LIMS on their own. The company developed a budget for the project prior to doing a thorough evaluation of project requirements, goals and objectives (Mistake #2). With this budget in mind, the lab manager received a LIMS recommendation from a colleague (Mistake #1), and set up a demo from this vendor. After being impressed with the demonstration (Mistake #5), this vendor’s LIMS was selected and the project moved forward.

Given these mistakes, it was not surprising that the company struggled with the LIMS implementation. The system ended up being implemented in only 1 in 4 labs, and was replaced within 24 months with support from Astrix.

Conclusion

LIMS projects are a serious undertaking, requiring a large investment of money, time and resources. One of the most important aspects of a successful LIMS project is selecting the right LIMS to install. Unfortunately, this is an area where, for a variety of reasons, many companies fail to make the right decision. Given the complexity of modern LIMS projects, it is wise to enlist the support of a quality laboratory informatics consultant like Astrix in order to ensure that you select the right LIMS. With over 20 years’ experience in laboratory informatics, and scientific domain knowledge across hundreds of different platforms, Astrix will support the overall success of your project by helping you:

  • assess the current state of your informatics systems and define the future state
  • create the business case for your project
  • properly define your system requirement’s
  • use a methodology that will guarantee you select the propoer LIMS
  • develop the proper plan to implement and integrate your LIMS project across the enterprise

About the Author

Mr. Walla is responsible for the growth and strategic direction of the Professional Services Division.  He has over twenty years of experience in laboratory informatics including overseeing large global informatics projects.   Mr. Walla has a B.S. in Chemistry from Rutgers University.

A Selection of Current Customers