Evaluating Legacy LIMS Part 1: Re-engineering Your System

Posted on Lab Informatics. 9 April, 2018

The first laboratory information management systems (LIMS) were designed as simple tracking tools that enabled systematic control of workflows in regulated laboratories. More recently, LIMS have evolved into something more akin to an enterprise resource planning tool for the lab that has the ability to manage many different aspects of operations across the full data lifecycle – resource management/scheduling, assay data management, data mining, data analysis, case-centric clinical data, and electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) integration.

Because of today’s rapidly changing business environment, many companies find themselves in a situation where their legacy LIMS struggles to meet business needs. Whether due to increases in data volume, regulatory constraints, M&As, globalization, outsourcing, or a myriad of other reasons, the reality is that many legacy systems are becoming extremely costly to manage and are not able to adequately address changing business requirements. The improved functionality and flexibility inherent in modern COTS systems creates a powerful incentive for these companies to explore the possibility of replacing a legacy system with a new commercial LIMS.

Replacing a legacy LIMS is no small matter, however. Oftentimes, companies have years of historical data and knowledge stored in their existing LIMS that must be migrated over to the new system. Such a project requires large investments of money, resources and time – costing anywhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars and requiring hundreds of person-days to implement.

The important question to answer before embarking on a LIMS migration project is: Do you really need to do it? Is a LIMS migration your best option, or would simply reworking your current system provide the best risk/reward ratio? Before initiating a LIMS migration, it is important to conduct a thorough analysis of the options. In this blog (part 1 of a 2-part series), we’ll explore some of the steps involved in re-architecting/re-engineering your current system, and the benefits that may be captured from doing so.

Re-engineering/Re-architecting Your Current System

The reward of migrating to a new LIMS is not always worth the risks, especially when the legacy system is complex and highly-customized. If your organization contains skilled IT professionals who have created a highly customized system to meet your unique business needs, for example, the benefits of switching to a new system may not be worth the cost and time required to accomplish the migration. In this case, the best approach is to re-engineer your current system to improve its ability to meet your business needs. The steps involved in this re-engineering process should include the following:

Modify and enhance workflow. Before starting in on re-engineering your system, it’s best to perform a workflow analysis to help optimize your workflow. The future-state requirements that come out of this analysis will then be used to guide the re-engineering process of the legacy system.

Implement new features. Sometimes, the reason the legacy system is not meeting business needs is because it was not properly implemented in the first place. The project team should include specialists who understand all the configurable functionality of the legacy system, and are able to use this knowledge to configure as much of the future-state workflows into the system as possible.

Eliminate and/or Reduce Customization. Extensive customization to satisfy requirements can make a project significantly more expensive and time-consuming, as well as dramatically increase the complexity of future maintenance/migration/validation activities. Customization can also increase system errors. The goal for your re-engineering project should be to implement as much out-of-the-box functionality and eliminate as much customization as possible.

Integrate other systems & instruments. A system re-engineering project provides the perfect opportunity to design an IT architecture that provides for a more integrated laboratory environment to meet business needs. What instruments can be integrated with your system that currently require manual data transcription processes? What other systems can be integrated with your legacy LIMS to provide for better digital continuity to drive innovation?

Leverage new technology. The secure storage of data files in a wide variety of formats with associated metadata is paramount for an organization. Newer cloud-based options for data storage (e.g., AWS) can be set up with relative ease, and provide for a level of organizational agility not possible with proprietary databases stored on the company servers. A legacy LIMS re-engineering project provides a perfect opportunity to reduce costs and improve scalability by leveraging cloud-technology for data storage.

Benefits of Reworking Your Current System

A number of important benefits can be realized when you rework your current system as opposed to migrating to a new system:

Cost Savings. The scope of a project involving re-engineering/re-architecting your current system will typically be less than the cost of migrating to a new system. In addition, this option allows you to avoid the purchase of another software license and the loss of your original dollar investment.

Easier data migration. Data migration from a legacy system, and validating the migrated data, can be a challenging and time-consuming effort. Reworking your current system allows you to avoid this process entirely, or at most migrate the data to the cloud, which is typically much less involved than migrating to another LIMS system.

Minimal impact on business continuity. Transitioning from one LIMS to another inevitably affects other systems and can result in downtime and delays in data flow across systems. This issue is significantly reduced when you are simply re-architecting/re-engineering your current system.

Reduction in resources, training and validation. Since company personnel are already familiar with the system, a LIMS re-engineering project will typically require less personnel and person-days to accomplish, ultimately saving costs. Additionally, personnel will require less training on the new system, and system validation will be less involved, when reworking your current system as opposed to a full LIMS migration project.

Happy lab! Users are generally happy when they don’t have to learn a new system, and the system they have been using is dramatically improved in terms of its ability to facilitate efficient, optimized and upgraded workflows.

Conclusion

When a legacy LIMS is no longer meeting business needs, re-architecting/re-configuring your current system is sometimes the best way to solve the problem. In order to determine when it is best to go this route over migrating your legacy LIMS to a new system, it is wise to enlist the support of a quality informatics consultant like Astrix.

Our professionals can perform a LIMS Migration Assessment™ that will analyze the risk/reward ratio on all the different possibilities available (version upgrade, LIMS migration or legacy system rework) to improve your legacy LIMS. Once you have determined which option maximizes business value for your organization, Astrix can help. Our professionals have the skills and expertise necessary to architect, implement, integrate, validate and support best in class solutions for your organization’s laboratory environment.

If you would like to learn more about our LIMS Migration Assessment™, or if you would like to have an initial, no obligations consultation with an Astrix informatics expert to explore how to optimize your laboratory informatics strategy, please feel free to contact us.

In part 2 of this blog series, we will cover some of the benefits and challenges involved with migrating your legacy LIMS to a new system.

About The Author

Jeff Policastro is Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at Astrix, and he is responsible for the commercial growth and market strategy of the Professional Services Division.  He has more than two decades of experience in Quality informatics throughout the global life sciences, chemical, and consumer goods industries. He has an extensive track record driving success and delivering value to his client’s projects.

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