Following on from my last article on the importance of an ELN, we’re now going to be looking at the value of a LIMS. Whilst, on the face of it, a LIMS and an ELN share a lot of similar functionality, a LIMS is a much more comprehensive laboratory management system focused around binding all elements of the lab and beyond into one, easy to access, record and function system. Similar to an ELN, there is often a strong misunderstanding of a LIMS, that it is little more than an application that aggregates data and information; an expensive and unnecessary alternative to a paper lab. Those who made the conversion to a paperless system though understand that a comprehensive, functional LIMS is a game-changer for the lab.
Not Simply a Repository
Perhaps the most important misunderstanding about a LIMS is that it is little more than an information repository, an expensive application that could be handled much more simply by a combined IT and paper lab approach.
A LIMS however is so much more than that. A LIMS operates as a single platform for the management and operation of all lab activities through an easily accessible and usable array of modules and applications. Data is stored within a LIMS, often as part of a combined LIMS/ELN approach, but a LIMS is a tool that can augment or outright replace existing laboratory management practices, facilitating and automating them through a single protocol. Once a LIMS is implemented and used correctly, the operation and management of the lab will fall within it’s highly defined structural parameters and provide a shared, single point of access and entry, doing away with an unnecessary convoluted management, reporting and process structure that would be required for a paper lab.
Integration with laboratory instruments, one of the biggest advantages of a robust LIMS, provides a significant reduction in input time, by cutting out the middleman and ensuring accurate translation of information.
Whilst there is no ‘best LIMS’ there is certainly going to be a best LIMS for your lab. Part of the implementation process is gathering the necessary business requirements to determine which is the best LIMS for your lab and during that process I’m sure everyone who’s looked to make the change has been baffled by the amount of LIMS there are now.
The real benefit of this is that there is both figuratively and literally the perfect LIMS for every lab. With the sheer variety of off-the-shelf and SaaS LIMS there are, if you’re looking for a generic system it’s highly likely that you’ll be able to find something that covers your needs. For those more niche labs though there are a wide range of providers who will go as far as building completely bespoke systems, to taking their signature product and heavily customizing it to be suitable to the lab. This is the real benefit of these systems is that they aren’t rigid or fixed, but rather the industry providers and specialists know the needs and requirements of their customers. The highly adaptable nature of the industry means that the issue of not being able to find a product that matches the exact requirements of the lab is nigh on impossible.
A major section of my previous article on ELN’s (that’s the last plug, I promise) is around how ELN’s are able to support compliance. With LIMS the situation is much the same. With a good range of products and with industry know-how amongst these specialists being so high, LIMS these days aren’t just compliant with regulatory standards but actually support the lab in improving compliance. With the process and protocols in place with a LIMS, provided they are effectively followed of course, most LIMS are capable of guaranteeing regulatory compliance as their structure and internal limitations in managing the lab force the laboratory processes to be managed and operated within regulatory guidelines. The exact nature of this will of course vary laboratory by laboratory and industry by industry, but the use of a LIMS effectively automates this process and makes it second nature within the lab, rather than a constantly ongoing requirement. It does this through the effective auditing of data, providing complete traceability of all information, integration with other software and laboratories to merge and streamlines business processes and the setting of established policy and procedure through guaranteed protocols and operating practices. Documentation is required within a LIMS and because of the digitized platform, data won’t be missed when it’s done right. In a testing lab, a LIMS will provide clear searchable records and audit trails for all reports, documentation and tests. This drives process improvement and compliance all at once.
Frankly the amount of benefits of a LIMS significantly outweigh the costs as I haven’t even gone into half of the benefits such as external system integration, instrument integration, statistical quality control, remote access, workflow management, sample scheduling and tracking and inventory and stability management.
A LIMS is costly and it’s understandable why some companies are hesitant to put in place systems when they feel their current paper labs are operating fine. But there is a reason people don’t go back from a LIMS once they have one; it reforms the lab, streamlines processes and makes the lives of scientists, IT professionals and managers easier. A LIMS will justify its price tag over its lifetime, especially if the implementation process was done effectively and with the right expertise. But of course, how to do that will be in my next article…
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