Cloud computing is the 21st century’s version of the industrial revolution. In the last decade, cloud computing and associated software as a service (SaaS) products have experienced massive growth and adoption. The enormous increase in computing power accessibility that cloud technologies provide are helping to fuel a revolution in innovation and worldwide economic growth. Entire industries are being transformed as the cloud spawns new apps, products and services that are changing the way we live, work and play.
In the laboratory environment, cloud adoption has been slower than in other parts of the enterprise. Several informatics systems are now available on cloud-based platforms, and moving to the cloud does offer a more streamlined path to system upgrade and maintenance. Yet, many companies are finding it difficult to migrate legacy, on-premise systems, and those that have managed to move some of their applications to the cloud are finding their IT personnel still bogged down with maintaining legacy infrastructure instead of being able to devote more time to innovative projects. For modern research laboratories, making the transition to the cloud goes well beyond a data migration project – it involves dealing with outdated vendor point solutions, integration between on-premise and cloud systems, and other associated challenges which too often result in latency and performance issues. It is becoming clear to many in the scientific community that there is a significant amount of complexity and IT work associated with moving to the cloud while integrating with the enterprise ecosystem.
Fortunately, qualified laboratory informatics consultants have stepped in to provide a management layer between the enterprise and the public cloud in ways that allow laboratories to gain all the benefits of cloud-based applications without having to deal with the complexities of cloud integration, data migration, and system customization and management. In this blog, we will discuss how you can utilize a third-party informatics consultant to maximize the benefits from your cloud strategy.
Laboratory Science Business Problems
Modern research and analytical laboratories are experiencing a number of challenges at this time that can be addressed by a consultant specializing in laboratory informatics systems:
- Inefficiency – Laboratories are under increasing pressure to reduce both capital and operational expenses through process optimization and automation, but often times the legacy informatics systems make it very difficult to migrate to the cloud. Many organizations do not have the IT skills necessary to shift from an on-premise informatics system to a cloud-based SaaS environment.
- Complex Silos – Modern laboratories typically utilize many different applications to manage their workflows and data. Usually, there is very little to no integration between these systems.
- CapEx for Lab Systems – Laboratory capital investments for system upgrades and patches are not always supported by business stakeholders. Laboratories are increasingly feeling the pressure to move to a SaaS model where software upgrades are performed as part of predictable operational costs.
- Time-to-Market – In today’s challenging economic environment, businesses are under enormous pressure to speed time-to-market for new products. Research laboratory informatics infrastructures must allow scientists and research IT to focus on innovation and pursue new insights without getting bogged down in infrastructure maintenance, support and upgrades.
A recent SmartLab Exchange survey of over 100 laboratory informatics professionals from around the world provides some additional insight into key issues and trends affecting modern laboratories. The top priorities for these professionals listed in order of response, were:
- Increasing data usability in and out of the laboratory
- Implementing a laboratory informatics system (LIMS or ELNs)
- Investing in practical hardware/software solutions to increase efficiency of the workflow
- Data access and data mining
- Migrating data to a new system
- Integrating legacy systems
- Integration of other non-informatics software systems
- Data security
- Mobility integration
These items highlight the complexity of the IT work required to support and optimize operations in a modern research laboratory. To get the most from your partnership, you will want a consultant that is a technology expert in the areas of laboratory informatics, cloud infrastructure, data warehousing, security, compliance and business continuity. Utilizing a technically capable and experienced informatics services provider will allow your business to take the day to day informatics operational and maintenance component out of the hands of scientists and research IT so they can focus on your core business of discovering new therapies or materials, depending on your domain. The goal is not necessarily to replace traditional IT, as a fully managed solution is not ideal or practical for every laboratory. Instead, the idea is to find the right balance between in-house IT and your third-party informatics consultant that serves your business best.
Laboratory Informatics as a Service (LIaaS)
The first level of support that organizations typically consider for their cloud-based informatics systems is user support via a help desk. Laboratory Informatics vendors, offering systems such as electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs), Laboratory Informatics Management Systems (LIMS), SDMS (Scientific Data Management Systems), may not be poised to deliver the level of support that you need over time. As a result, third-party consultants with expertise in laboratory informatics systems have begun offering L0-L3 user support services, effectively providing Laboratory Informatics as a Service (LIaaS).
It’s important to note that laboratory informatics systems are highly specialized software, and it is therefore critical that your consultant have highly specialized informatics expertise. You’ll want a consultant that has both a solid understanding of the application being supported as well as the domain in which that application is being used – a laboratory and industry-focused consultant can place the public cloud services in the proper context to better serve industry-specific processes and compliance. This requirement is especially important for companies with a very complex IT environment and extensively customized informatics systems.
In addition to a help desk, consultants specializing in laboratory informatics systems can also provide a number of other services that can help optimize your cloud strategy and overall operational efficiency:
- On-site laboratory equipment management – equipment repair, maintenance and calibration; inventory management; integration with data-collection systems.
- Informatics System Lifecycle Support – system management, maintenance and security; data archival and migration; deployment of application updates and patches; creation and maintenance of system validation documentation.
- Application Organizational Change Management – user training; creating company SoPs, best practices and work templates.
A consultant specializing in laboratory informatics systems will leverage their technical expertise, deep industry experience and domain knowledge to facilitate the deployment, integration and management of multiple cloud-based applications, effectively delivering a fully managed enterprise application solution that will provide enormous benefits to your organization.
Benefits of Laboratory Informatics as a Service (LIaaS)
A qualified third-party informatics consultant can dramatically increase the value of your cloud services by providing a subscription and metered-based service for laboratory platforms which can be integrated with other enterprise systems (such as ERP) into a total laboratory solution. Some of the benefits an organization can expect from partnering with a consultant specializing in laboratory informatics include:
- Peace of mind – You can relax, knowing 24×7 proactive monitoring and management is being taken care of by a trusted MSP who guarantees functionality with an SLA.
- Lowers total cost of ownership (TCO) – On-demand services where you only pay for what you use. The MSP takes care of hiring and training necessary staff to manage your application, and you end up with a manageable OpEx that reflects the services you actually used.
- Stay focused on your core business – Leave the complex IT work to the MSP.
- Simplified business and billing – Allows reduction of your multiple software vendor management and communications to a single point of contact that has highly skilled technical resources.
- Reduced Maintenance – Depending on the level of support you choose from your MSP, your system and equipment maintenance can be dramatically reduced.
- Reduced System Down Time – Down time for your applications due to technical issues, upgrades, patches, etc. is dramatically reduced.
- Reduced risk – The MSP takes care of security and compliance issues so you can stay focused on your core business.
- Improves business flexibility and agility – Services are easily changeable to meet changing business needs.
- Consistency – Your informatics applications are monitored and managed against pre-determined SLAs/KPIs.
- Faster Time-to-Market – Increased focus on core business activities and reduced compliance risk enables a shorter timeline to bring your products to market.
When leveraged effectively, cloud technologies are secure and economical and serve to deliver more value to your organization. Migrating applications to the cloud can be extremely complex for laboratories utilizing customized legacy systems, however. In addition, as companies deploy more applications in the cloud, the complexity of system integration and management increases.
To optimize your cloud strategy, it is wise to partner with a cloud-savvy informatics consultant who has experience in your industry. A good services partner will truly understand your business workflow and know how to enhance it. Such a partnership will reduce risk during data migration and give you the lowest TCO possible. Leveraging the right third-party informatics consultant for the right applications as a component of your cloud strategy enables your organization to maximize the return on your scientific application investment, while staying focused on the innovation that drives business success.