Posted on Lab Informatics. 12 September, 2019
Data has become ubiquitous in modern scientific laboratories. In order to turn this data into the insights that drive innovation, industry-leading enterprises are investing heavily in laboratory informatics technologies (e.g., LIMS, ELN, SDMS, CDS, advanced analytics, reporting tools, etc.). Given the many different informatics vendors to choose from, however, along with increasing vendor specialization and demands for cloud-based applications, choosing the best system for your unique laboratory is more difficult than ever.
An important part of the technology selection process is the development of a request for proposal (RFP). This document is used to solicit business proposals from a list of potential software vendors via a bidding process. In our experience, many companies make the mistake of developing an RFP without doing the strategic planning necessary to ensure that it asks the right questions.
The Astrix Team has been called upon to fix many an implementation project gone wrong where the problems can be traced back to a poorly designed RFP. In this blog, we will discuss critical best practice recommendations for creating an RFP that will help to establish a solid foundation for a successful implementation project providing maximum business value for your organization.
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 technology solutions that can help meet both present and future business goals while remaining competitive in the face of rapidly-advancing innovations.
Many companies make the mistake of trying to choose the “best system” when selecting technology for their laboratory. The focus instead should be on selecting the system that is the best fit for your unique laboratory and organization. Companies looking for the “best system” often end up simply implementing their current state workflows, or even modifying their current workflows to fit the technology. This is a missed opportunity – why not take the opportunity to optimize your organization’s workflows and select the vendor based on those optimized workflows? “Electrifying” an inefficient work process, after all, simply yields a faster-moving inefficient process.
A proper technology selection process is focused on selecting the technology that will best address business needs for your unique organization. As such, prior to developing the RFP, the best practice is to have business analysts develop a strategic plan that aligns business processes, business goals, and technology to ensure that the laboratory informatics system selected and implemented will maximize business value. The first step in effective RFP development is thus a thorough workflow and business analysis, otherwise known as Business Process Analysis (BPA).
In the context of a modern scientific laboratory, business analysts engaged in BPA will work to document and analyze current state laboratory (AS-IS) workflows and their integration with technology 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 current state systems and workflows have been documented, 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 workflows. These prioritized future state requirements reflect an optimized future state and will be used to guide laboratory IT architecture, RFP development, technology selection, project planning task prioritization, and system development and implementation.
The future state requirements allow the project team to have a clear picture of what the software solution must do, which is essential to know before creating the RFP. The purpose of the RFP document is not to identify the “best system,” but to determine if the vendor can meet your optimized and prioritized set of future state requirements. As such, best practice is for business analysts to develop the technical part of the RFP using the finalized TO-BE models, requirements, and information gathered during the interviews and discussions.
Companies often get distracted and end up choosing a system based on the flashiest demo or which system has the most bells and whistles. Targeted RFPs that have been properly prepared with a foundation of BPA help avoid this scenario by asking questions that are laser focused on evaluating whether or not the system in question can meet your requirements. Targeted RFPs lead to targeted demo scripts keeping vendor demos focused on meeting requirements instead of devolving into general vendor marketing sessions. The bottom line is that the ability to accurately capture optimized system requirements is the only metric by which software applications and/or platforms should be judged, and your RFP should reflect this.
Effective BPA requires specialized skills and experience. In order to create a successful strategic plan for your organization’s laboratory informatics project, requirements gathering should be done by a business analyst (BA) with appropriate domain knowledge (e.g., scientific background, industry knowledge, an understanding of the laboratory environment, IT knowledge, as well as expertise in the informatics system being implemented). This experience and knowledge are critical to be able to develop an optimized future state model for the laboratory. Using generic 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.
A quality third-party informatics consultant will have skilled and experienced business analysts on staff who can provide the necessary services to ensure that you develop an effective laboratory informatics RFP. Some of the ways which good BAs can assist your RFP development and overall technology selection and implementation project include:
Capture Workflows and Requirements at the Right Level. One common mistake that companies make when trying to conduct their own BPA is to capture the current state workflows at too high a level, lacking the depth and detail necessary for identifying process improvements and/or delineating meaningful system requirements. A high level of granularity is required for the AS-IS workflow diagrams in order to utilize this information effectively in the next step of the BPA process. AS-IS workflow diagrams that are documented at the wrong level lead to system requirements that are too high-level to effectively identify meaningful differentiation of systems in the vendor selection process.
Develop the Vendor List. Good laboratory informatics BAs will have a broad knowledge of many different laboratory informatics platforms, technologies and tools in order to help your organization determine which vendors should receive the RFP.
Provides an Accurate Assessment of the Vendor Responses and Demos. Experienced BA resources have reviewed a great number of vendor RFP responses and are knowledgeable about the operation of vendor systems. As such, they can provide perspective on what is stated in the RFP, as well as help evaluate responses for accuracy and completeness. Experienced BA resources have also witnessed many vendor demos and are particularly adept at ensuring vendors answer any and all questions posed and stay focused on the demo scripts.
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.
Provides 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.
Optimal Future State Design. A good laboratory informatics BA has extensive industry knowledge, an understanding of laboratory environments, IT knowledge, as well as expertise in the candidate informatics systems being evaluated. As such, they will have an enhanced understanding of what might be possible for your unique laboratory environment when designing an optimized future state environment.
Shorten Deployment Timelines and Reduce Costs. An experienced laboratory informatics BA will produce optimized 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.
Laboratory informatics projects typically require a significant financial commitment and resource engagement over the lifetime of the project. As such, project failures have wide-ranging negative consequences for scientific organizations. One of the critical elements to ensuring that your project delivers significant business value is a targeted RFP facilitating effective vendor selection. An effective Business Process Analysis conducted by a qualified BA is essential to ensuring you develop an effective RFP and select the best system for your unique organization.
One of the most significant mistakes companies make during a laboratory informatics project is to skip Business Process Analysis (BPA) altogether and simply connect developers with users to configure current workflows into the new system. This approach eliminates any ability to address ineffective processes.
The first step in any laboratory informatics project should always be a thorough workflow and business analysis. 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 business analysts specialize in laboratory informatics, have expertise with many different systems, and have had exposure to hundreds of customer initiatives. If you have any questions about Astrix Technology Group service offerings, or if you would like an initial consultation with an Astrix informatics expert to explore how to optimize your informatics project or strategy, do not hesitate to contact us.
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