How Business Process Analysis Can Benefit Your Lab Informatics Project

Posted on Lab Informatics. 25 October, 2018

In a recent survey, over 50% of IT professionals revealed they had a project fail over the last year. Laboratory informatics projects can be especially challenging, considering the many different aspects of the enterprise that laboratory operations touch. Given this high failure rate, it is imperative that organizations adopt a proven methodology that guarantees success for their lab informatics projects.

Strategic planning is critical for any organization, but even more so for businesses involved in science and technology, as the dynamic nature of these industries requires companies to implement flexible, integrated solutions that can help meet both present and future business goals while remaining competitive in the face of rapidly-advancing innovations.

One of the major reasons laboratory informatics projects fail can be attributed to functional and strategic business needs not in alignment. Many organizations attempt to select and implement a system without first performing the due diligence required to align laboratory functional needs with the strategic needs of the business—an error that is magnified if more than one site is involved. There is also the phenomenon of large scientific enterprises embarking on a possibly multimillion-dollar initiative without capturing a baseline of laboratory productivity and efficiency.

Consequently, the first step in any laboratory informatics project should always be a thorough workflow and business analysis. In this blog, we will explore some best practice recommendations for Business Process Analysis (BPA) in the laboratory environment, along with some of the ways in which BPA can benefit your informatics project.

Business Process Analysis in the Laboratory

Selection, implementation and rollout of an enterprise-class laboratory technology is a high-risk endeavor for many companies, because success or failure in the lab often translates into success or failure of the product being brought to market in terms of data quality and manufacturing productivity, both of which play a major role in establishing consumer credibility while enhancing margins. Without a clear strategic plan, companies often implement solutions in ways that do not support the business’s future goals. To rectify this problem, Business Analysts (BA) can work to create this strategic plan by serving as a bridge between all stakeholders – IT, the project team, corporate management, software suppliers, scientists and users.

In the context of a modern scientific laboratory, business analysts work to document and analyze laboratory workflows and their integration with technology. The process begins with a capture of the current state (AS-IS) workflows through a series of facilitated interviews with key stakeholders. When completed, these workflows fully document the current state of laboratory operations including sample and data flow, work assignment, reporting and review.

Once systems and workflows have been documented, the business analysts develop a strategic plan to align business processes, business goals, and technology to ensure that the laboratory informatics project will maximize business value. In this stage, analysts create a model of the future state (TO-BE) workflows based on their experience and the company’s strategic needs as expressed by the management team. These TO-BE workflows are designed to alleviate wait states, redundant processes, and any other identified inefficiencies.

Finally, a detailed Requirements Matrix with prioritized opportunities is developed directly from the TO-BE workflow. The final result of an effective BPA is a set of optimized and prioritized future state requirements that reflect an optimized future state that will be used to guide laboratory IT architecture, technology selection, project planning task prioritization, and system development and implementation. Effective BPA requires specialized skills and experience. Often, workflows developed internally by many organizations lack the depth and detail required to effectively differentiate one informatics solution from another, or may be focused on functionality bringing no measurable business benefit to the company.

In order to create a successful strategic plan for your organization’s laboratory informatics project, business analysts should have a scientific background, extensive industry knowledge, an understanding of a number of disparate laboratory environments, IT knowledge, as well as expertise in the candidate informatics system being evaluated.  Experience and knowledge are critical to be able to develop an optimized future state model for the laboratory. Using inexperienced or general-purpose business analysts for a laboratory informatics project will inevitably result in missed opportunities for workflow optimization, ultimately reducing the value of the system implementation to your business.

Business Process Analysis Benefits

An effective BPA conducted by an analyst with appropriate domain knowledge can lead to significant benefits for your organization and informatics projects. Some of these include:

Cost Savings. While adding a BA to the project team for your informatics project will add some costs in terms of resource hours, the cost savings will far outweigh the initial investment. When your project starts off with BPA, future state requirements are designed to include functional and operational improvements that serve to eliminate bottlenecks, streamline enterprise workflow, and provide agreed-upon business benefits for your company.   This all translates into a more effective and efficient technology selection process and overall laboratory efficiency gains, ultimately reducing expenses for your organization. Requirements focused on agreed-upon business needs also reduced the scope and cost of the deployment as unnecessary bells and whistles are trimmed from the project plan.

An experienced laboratory informatics BA will produce system requirements that are fully vetted through open communication with company stakeholders to reflect a viable design that targets problems identified during the AS-IS workflow process. This will serve to minimize unnecessary changes to requirements as the project proceeds, and ultimately shorten deployment timelines and reduce project costs. Finally, experienced BAs can dynamically identify and resolve any issues materializing during the implementation phase.

Facilitates Good Communication Between Stakeholders. The combination of laboratory, IT and informatics software expertise of an experienced BA enables them to formulate and communicate the future state requirements in a way that is understood by all stakeholders. The BA effectively serves as a bridge between all stakeholders (management, project team, IT, users, etc.) and helps the project proceed smoothly and effectively.

Effective Technology Selection. Without the optimized set of future state requirements that BPA produces, the project team has no effective basis to choose the best system for your organization. Companies often choose a system based on the flashiest demo or which system has the most bells and whistles. The ability to accurately capture optimized system requirements is the only metric by which software applications and/or platforms should be judged.

User Adoption. A good BA facilitates user adoption through effective communication and engagement with users. Users buy-in to the future state being implemented because they are consulted throughout the process and help to shape the TO-BE workflows. This collaborative approach ensures the implementation will address user needs and thereby facilitates user adoption.

Requirements Development and Prioritization. A good BA will interview your management team to discuss the project at a high level and understand the goals, aspirations and objectives of the desired future state before designing future state requirements. Business objectives and goals must be clear and measurable in order to be able to validate project ROI and develop accurately-targeted requirements. These business objectives will also be used to prioritize the requirements into must-haves, should-haves and wish list items in a collaborative fashion, ensuring the most important requirements are implemented first.

Facilitate Management Buy-In. By interviewing the management team to discuss the desired future state goals, BAs facilitate management understanding, resulting in greater buy-in to the project.

Provide an Accurate Measurement of ROI. A good BA will establish a baseline by precisely capturing the current state in terms of process time, sample turnaround, completed tests, released results, etc. This allows an accurate measurement of ROI for a project. From these captured metrics, the success of the future state can be properly measured.

Conclusion

An effective Business Process Analysis conducted by a qualified BA is absolutely essential to ensuring your informatics project delivers the maximum business value for your company. Given the level of financial commitment, resource engagement and overall risk that a laboratory informatics project represents to your organization, projects that fail have wide-ranging ramifications to the scientific enterprise.  As such, it is highly recommended that you conduct BPA at the beginning of your project to ensure that your laboratory workflows are optimized and that the technology that is ultimately implemented will bring business value to your organization.

Since 1995, Astrix professionals have successfully applied best practices in the evaluation of work processes, functional and technical requirements, laboratory processes and informatics solution options for hundreds of clients and tens of thousands of scientists in a wide range of industries. Our professionals stay current on a vast array of informatics platforms and applications through vendor conferences and training, and by working on a multitude of client projects. Our exposure to hundreds of customer initiatives and expertise with many different systems allows for an enhanced understanding of what might be possible to optimize your laboratory environment.

If you would like to have an initial, no obligations consultation with an Astrix informatics expert to discuss your laboratory informatics project or overall laboratory informatics strategy, please contact us.

About the Author

Randy Hice is recognized worldwide as a leading authority in laboratory informatics, specifically focused on complex, large-scale customers implementing Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), Laboratory Information Systems (LIS), ELN, and sophisticated Cloud architectures.

Randy has developed global laboratory automation and harmonization strategies for leading pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and Contract Research Organization companies, identifying opportunities to share and utilize critical laboratory data across corporate locations in Europe, Asia, and the US.

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