August 8, 2021
Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) have become an essential workhorse in modern scientific laboratories. While LIMS were originally designed to simply track and control workflows in regulated environments, recent years have seen a dramatic expansion of LIMS capabilities outside of the traditional manufacturing Quality Management environment. These days, LIMS readily integrate with many different types of instruments, applications, databases and enterprise systems, and have features that can manage multiple aspects of operations in many different kinds of laboratories (e.g., R&D, analytical, QA/QC, etc.).
With dozens of LIMS vendors now available to choose from, and in increase in specialization in terms of targeted laboratories and increasing demands for cloud-based applications, selecting the best LIMS has become more difficult than ever. In fact, these days there really is no such thing as “the best LIMS.” The focus instead should be on selecting the LIMS that is best for your unique laboratory and organization. In this blog, we will discuss some of the important variables you will need to consider in determining which LIMS will provide the most business value for your organization.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a LIMS
Selecting the best LIMS for your laboratory and overall organization depends on a wide variety of factors that define your business needs. Some of these factors include:
Your Industry. The industry that your lab is operating in is an important factor to consider when choosing the best LIMS for your organization. There are now wide varieties of specialized LIMS on the market that have been designed to support particular industries. LIMS designed to support pharmaceutical industry QC labs, for example, will have a myriad of features to support regulatory compliance – e-signature support, chain of custody, standards and reagents tracking, audit trails, instrument calibration/maintenance, etc. On the other hand, LIMS that are designed for unregulated industries, while having some of the above features, will also have features designed for workflows specific to that industry.
There are also a variety of general purpose LIMS on the market that can be configured to support just about any workflow and/or business need. An organization with a rapidly evolving business environment, and/or a well-established and experienced IT department, may be better served by evaluating a general purpose LIMS rather than a specialized system, due to the ability to make frequent changes to the system via configuration/customization.
Your Lab Type. Are you running a QA/QC lab that supports manufacturing, an analytical lab that supports research, or an early stage R&D lab? The answer to this question may determine the kind of LIMS that will best support your laboratory environment. In addition to targeted LIMS supporting specific industries, there are specialty LIMS that cater to different types of labs within a particular industry. These LIMS have functionality that is tailored to a specific type of laboratory. For example, LIMS that are designed for an analytical lab may be configured to provide a portal allowing researchers at various sites to easily submit samples to your lab for testing.
Your Need for Flexibility in the Platform. While most LIMS have similar functions and capabilities available, different solutions can vary widely as to how the functionality and capabilities are provided and configured. Some LIMS present a wide array of out-of-the-box (OOB) functions and features already incorporated into the product (i.e., standard) and ready to use upon installation, while others have those features available through configuration via the tools provided by the system.
Most organizations will find an OOB, feature-rich LIMS to be the most appealing option, as it may be easier to implement with a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Yet, for some organizations with unique needs, a strong IT department and/or a rapidly evolving business environment, may find the flexibility and control inherent in the more customizable/programmable LIMS as a more appropriate choice.
Your IT Architecture. A key factor to consider when choosing a LIMS are the standards your organization’s IT group have established for IT architecture. There are a variety of architectures supported by commercial LIMS today (thin client, thick client, cloud-based), each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
If, for example, your organization has a strong IT department and has made the decision to keep applications within its firewall for security purposes, selecting a SaaS cloud-based LIMS would probably not make sense. On the other hand, if your organization has chosen to reduce IT expenditures by primarily supporting cloud-based lab applications, a LIMS that can only function as a thick and/or thin client would be out of the question.
In order to achieve an integrated laboratory environment providing a high level of business value for your organization, it is important to design a laboratory informatics architecture aligned with business goals, along with a roadmap to deployment, before engaging in a technology selection process for your organization.
Your IT Resources. The LIMS resources your organization has available to implement and support your chosen system will be an important factor in determining which LIMS to select. The resources required to successfully implement and support a thick client LIMS, for example, are extensive. Organizations lacking a strong IT department will likely want to select one of the following:
- A cloud-based system that requires minimal resources to install and maintain.
- A Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) system with extensive functionality already configured.
- A specialty LIMS tailor-made to your industry and lab type, thereby requiring less configuration.
Your Cost Limitations. The TCO of the LIMS solution is invariably an important factor to contemplate when making your LIMS selection. A comprehensive analysis should be conducted, looking at as many factors affecting TCO as possible (e.g., LIMS licenses, standard functionality, extra costs of modules, customization required, annuity maintenance, etc.) for each system being considered. The TCO of a solution is part of what determines “the best” LIMS for your organization.
An effective technology selection process is a critical part of developing an efficient and well-integrated laboratory environment. Care must be taken to avoid purchasing systems not addressing specific business needs, or with features or add-ons that do not yield significant business value.
In this blog, we reviewed just a few of the important factors to consider when choosing the best LIMS for your organization. In our experience, successful laboratory informatics technology selection requires a comprehensive methodology in order to ensure that user adoption of the new system is high, and business value is maximized for your organization. This methodology should include a thorough workflow analysis to develop optimized functional requirements before the technology selection process is engaged.
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