Using Third Party Applications to Enhance Your LIMS Data Visualization and Analytics Capabilities

Posted on Lab Informatics. 27 August, 2018

The digital revolution is rapidly changing the landscape for scientific laboratories. Digital technologies like the internet of things (IoT) and cloud storage are allowing companies to generate and store more data than ever before. Yet, with the arrival of big data, the volume and complexity of data in modern laboratories can make managing this critical asset extremely challenging. Towards this end, Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) have become an invaluable tool in modern scientific laboratories for effective data management.

Data management is certainly important, but scientists also need to comb through all this information in hopes of gaining the insights needed to keep the company competitive and help drive innovation. To accomplish this effectively, good data visualization and analytics capabilities are essential in modern scientific laboratories. Unfortunately, the data visualization and analytics functionality in many commercial LIMS is somewhat rudimentary.

Advanced LIMS data visualization capabilities helps scientists arrange data into innovative visualizations that create a framework for processing information more effectively, highlight the trends and outliers in the data, and make discovering new insights possible. As a result, industry leading companies are investing in a variety of third party data visualization/analytics tools that can be integrated with their LIMS to enable better insights, innovation and business decisions. In this blog, we will discuss how to select the right third-party visualization/analytics tool for your organization, along with some best practice tips for successfully integrating these tools with your LIMS.

Selecting Your LIMS Data Visualization/Analytics Tool

The first step in any successful technology selection process is a thorough Business Process Analysis (BPA) in order to determine the business requirements (i.e., requirements of the end-users and other stakeholders) for data visualization/analytics. This step is critical to ensuring that you select that data visualization/analytics tool that will maximize value for your organization.

Another important aspect of choosing a data visualization/analytics tool is determining how much of the data visualization/analytics requirements can be handled through LIMS functionality. Specifically, a determination will need to be made as to what, if any, data visualization requirements will be handled by LIMS out-of-the-box functionality and/or using the LIMS API in the development of visualizations. Towards this end, each one of the requirements will need to be analyzed and classified as to which are LIMS only vs. third-party application only vs. joint efforts.

Once you know which requirements the third-party tool will need to satisfy, an analysis should be done detailing the pros and cons of each third-party tool under consideration. Some of the areas that should be included in this analysis include:

  • Setup/Install
  • Architecture integration with the LIMS
  • Single Sign On (SSO) and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) Support
  • Licensing
  • Out-of-the-box functionality
  • Resource logistics
  • Data security while data is in motion
  • Performance once integrated with the LIMS
  • Upgrade path
  • User interface ease of use
  • Short term and long term: security requirements, compliance requirements, data security on the web.
  • Vendor Software Development Kit (SDK)

Depending on the requirements, other questions that may be useful to answer as you evaluate the different third-party tools include:

  • What level of onsite familiarity with the visualization/analytics is necessary in order to ensure a successful implementation/integration that is on time and within budget?
  • How will the tool be qualified/validated?
  • What types of visualizations are available in the tool (e.g., dot plots, data curves, box plots, control trends, calibration curves, etc.)?
  • Does the tool have analytics and statistical functionalities in addition to visualization (e.g., regression analysis, predictive Analysis, R-Scripting, R-Packing, etc.)?
  • What types of queries are available in the tool? For example,
    • Does the tool have the ability to identify and retrieve records of interest in the LIMS database for comments, reports, etc.?
    • Does the tool have the ability to select parameters within the data visualization interface (e.g., studies vs. analytes vs. assay labs, etc.)?
    • Does the tool have the ability to select multiple parameters over multiple levels of searches?

After reviewing the requirements for the third-party visualization/analytics tool, vendors are chosen for demos, and test scripts and score sheets are developed. Finally, after all vendor demos have been completed and score sheets evaluated, a selection can be made based on a determination of which tool will best meet your business needs.

Integrating Data Visualization/Analytics Tools with LIMS

Integrating a third-party data visualization/analytics tool with your LIMS can be a complex undertaking. Some of the many things that may need to be taken into consideration for this integration include:

  • Determining the scope of the LIMS user interface dashboard views based on dialog between stakeholders and the third-party vendor regarding setting up multiple data views.
  • The connections between the LIMS and the third-party application. For example –
    • LIMS database views vs data sources from the 3rd party visualization app
    • Configuration settings in the third-party software to produce the visualizations
    • Defining customer report formats that make database views in the third-party visualization software from the LIMS
    • Downstream data visualization connections: One database view from the LIMS to many views but filtered downstream in the data visualization application.
    • Will Ad Hoc views use the same connections for the standardized view?
  • Will the third-party application be deployed on-premise or in the cloud? Two questions if considering cloud:
    • What are the pros and cons for on-premise vs cloud?
    • What is the recommended architecture (and differences if any) for cloud-based solution as opposed to on-premise?
  • Determine if the 3rd party application will have to deploy a code to the LIMS and its server environment.
  • Determine if there is a need for both server and desktop licenses. If using the application on the desktop, is there a need for an “adapter”, which is a software development kit (SDK) of sorts (may need Validation)?
  • Consider IT department’s requirements for qualification and possibly validation and industry regulations (i.e. HIPAA) regarding data, especially if in the cloud. Determine the following:
    • Sending encrypted data that is in memory on the server that goes away after use
    • Considering whether the data is encrypted or not, what about data being dropped into a virtual private network (VPN) connection to the LIMS (i.e., AWS)
    • Data is stored temporarily and cleared, but when?
    • How is the data managed in the chain of custody?
  • Collaboration with the 3rd Party Application Vendor – a statement of work (SOW) will need to be established that defines items such as project phases, number of days for visualization development and additional information links, project engineering efforts, design, and parameterizing URLs, etc.

Finally, it is critical on an integration project such as this, for regulatory and future maintenance purposes, to create a detailed map of the system installed and/or the changes to the system in use (upgrades) that were made during the project – database fields created, code created or modified, integrations and interfaces, workflows configured, etc.

Conclusion

In today’s fast-moving and highly competitive business environment, scientific organizations depend on effective data visualization and analytics to extract insights from their data that will drive innovation. Given the fact that many commercial LIMS have rudimentary data visualization/analytics functionality, third-party applications that integrate with LIMS are a viable solution to obtain the necessary capabilities. There is much to consider on an integration project of this nature, however. A comprehensive methodology should be applied to select, architect, develop, implement, integrate and validate a third-party data visualization and analytics solution in order to ensure project success.

Astrix Technology Group has been helping scientific organizations select and implement laboratory informatics technology for over 20 years. Our professionals have the industry experience, technology expertise and domain knowledge to effectively support your data visualization and analytics initiatives. If you would like to discuss your data visualization/analytics strategy, feel free to contact us for a free, no obligations consultation.

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