Laboratory Information and Management Systems (LIMS) help to master the daily laboratory routine by automating work processes and limiting administrative effort. Due to the multitude of administrative and data-intensive tasks, in the ever faster moving laboratory world, the use of a LIMS is an essential milestone. However, due to the complexity of a LIMS implementation, a basic understanding of its structure and function is essential. But what does it all come down to?
Learning by doing
To understand the architecture and functional scope of a LIMS, a training course is essential. The mere presentation of background information or a click workshop in which participants are chased through a flood of information or input masks does not help and is already lost from memory after a short time. It makes more sense to systematically introduce the course participant to the topic step by step through a combination of basic knowledge and direct interaction with the user interface.
But how can the link between theory and practice be achieved? Of course, only if the LIMS is made available to course participants during and after the course. With most vendors, course participants are denied exactly this option. The solution is to use licensed demos such as LABDESK, which is available as download on the Internet. The subsequent commercial use in productive environments is also taken care of by simply upgrading to a commercial licence.
In addition to understanding how a LIMS works and how it is set up, project planning is also crucial for successful implementation. Whereas in the past detailed planning excesses with requirements and specifications were common, in today’s world we are moving to agile methods. Through direct exchange, in almost real time, between the customer and the software company, iterative further development and adaptation of the LIMS is possible.
In addition to the purely organizational stumbling blocks, the involvement of all employees and stakeholders is also a major challenge. The emotional component among employees and donors in particular should not be underestimated.
It is therefore worthwhile to obtain detailed information about LIMS projects in advance. In particular, the selection of a suitable partner is important in order to gain an advantage through practical knowledge, to be able to carry out LIMS projects faster and more cost-efficiently than other companies.
The LIMS in the service creation process
A LIMS can seldom be regarded as an isolated system; rather, it integrates itself into the service creation process of a company. To ensure barrier-free use, a connection to external systems must be guaranteed or at least interfaces must be made available. In addition to the connection of instruments in the laboratory, this also includes communication with ERP systems, production planning applications and BI tools, for example. Depending on the nature of the business, specific and typical requirements for processes must also be considered. For example, the interactions with customers of contract laboratories look different than those of an operating laboratory in a manufacturing company. Knowing the common pitfalls and challenges is not infrequently critical to implementing a LIMS in a targeted, efficient and cost-saving manner.
Basic structure of a LIMS
Even though companies and application scenarios of a LIMS can look very different, the basic structure is comparably similar. Especially the decisive core processes and necessary functions can be represented in a generally understandable way and are only logically consistent. After all, laboratories are testing facilities and do not deal with the sale of bread rolls. This is exactly the key to a fast and targeted familiarization and subsequent setup, operation and maintenance of a LIMS. Necessarily, the delineation of the purpose of use and its influence on a LIMS is crucial in order to best meet the information needs of interested parties.
Requirements for a LIMS in regulated environments
Many laboratories are bound by regulatory requirements and must regularly prove their conformity. The diverse documentation and verification obligations are constantly increasing and often account for a significant proportion of working time. A LIMS can provide useful support here. However, it is important to interpret the requirements formulated in standards in terms of software support. Not everything is profitably located in a LIMS and does not always have to be integrated there. The control of work and restriction of user rights, for example, should only be applied if this is necessary and makes sense. It is advantageous that regulatory requirements are mostly similar in meaning, even if they are often formulated differently. Consequently, many generally applicable requirements can be formulated.
Project steps of a LIMS implementation
The setup of a LIMS has to be planned carefully, because you usually have to work successfully with the installed system for decades. To ensure that initial enthusiasm does not quickly turn into frustration, it is advisable to invest enough time in user-friendly setup. In such IT projects, a variety of qualifications are demanded of the employees and managers. In addition to the technical knowledge of the processes and methodology in the laboratory, it will be necessary to question the existing and to search for new and better solutions. It is important to recognize potentials already during the installation of the LIMS and to communicate them. What sounds simple at first is not an easy exercise during the setup phase. This is exactly why it is important to test a LIMS extensively and to identify requirements before setting it up and using it. However, the successful implementation of a LIMS is by no means the end of a project, because changing requirements on the part of regulators and customers require continuous adaptation of the system. New technical requirements also repeatedly call proven systems into question and demand changes to the existing system.
Over the past decades, the world of project management in IT has changed significantly. In the past, detailed project plans with requirements and specifications were more common. The creation sometimes took numerous months. A reconciliation on the part of the LIMS provider was then also associated with considerable costs. Today, agile methods are increasingly being used, whereby a workshop is used to describe all the functions of a LIMS that have already been integrated, and adjustments are then processed and managed in the project during the year by means of a Kanban board. In this way, considerable costs can be avoided in the project initiation phase and, in most cases, can be better captured in the project through direct exchange. After all, it is not uncommon for things to turn out differently than planned in advance when implementing requirements.
Establishment of a LIMS
The setup begins with technical questions and basic decisions. Is an on-premise installation preferred or rather a cloud variant? If an on-premise installation is preferred, the requirements of the LIMS provider must be compared with the company’s IT. In the case of interfaces, the manufacturers of other software products must be contacted in advance. Once the technical requirements have been clarified and agreed, the configuration of the system can begin. To ensure that nothing can go wrong with the sensitive master data entry, all employees should already have been trained. Monitoring and continuous support from the provider are useful for rapid success and set-up. Once all the preliminary work has been completed, the next step is the test run, which is dedicated to validating all the processes set up in the lab and identifying any errors or limitations. In this way, all relevant processes in the laboratory are run through and tested in the LIMS on the basis of case studies. If everything functions smoothly, nothing more stands in the way of routine operation.
The introduction of a LIMS requires the basic preliminary education of all interested parties. In particular, project management must make the right decisions, identify the appropriate vendor and identify project obstacles early on. Advanced training with practical basic knowledge and the opportunity to experience the setup at LIMS combines valuable and deep insights to complete LIMS implementation quickly and efficiently.