Laboratory organizations are constantly under pressure to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. This can generally be driven by shrinking budgets and the need to “do more with less”, weak pipelines and the need to facilitate innovation and discovery, or the changing paradigm of research wherein collaborating with partners has become the norm and the need for information access and sharing has become essential. In order to accomplish these goals, laboratory organizations will often turn to laboratory informatics (LIMS, ELN, SDMS, etc.) solutions.
Laboratory informatics systems, however, come in many flavors, shapes, and sizes. Trying to determine the best solution for your laboratory organization can be a confusing, frustrating, and daunting task. It is highly recommended that you define and document all of your business and laboratory needs that the informatics solution needs to address. Below are five (5) questions that you should consider when going through your selection process.
1. What resources do we have available?
Having the right amount of resources with the necessary skill sets is critical to the success of your informatics project. Knowing what your internal resources are and their skills will help you determine not only if you need some supplementary resources but also may guide you as to what type of informatics solution would be most viable for your environment.
If, for example, you have a very strong IT department, an informatics solution that is architected such that customization of the system (in a supported way, of course) is integral to its implementation may be a solution that will be attractive to you. On the other hand, if you organization lacks IT resources, an informatics solution that is architected such that configuration of the system is its primary implementation orientation may be a better choice.
2. How flexible does my informatics solution need to be?
Your laboratory and business needs will change over time so any informatics solution you choose will need to be flexible to accommodate and support new needs, analyses, instruments, and processes. But how flexible does it need to be? If your culture is oriented towards adjusting your processes to accommodate the informatics solution’s way of doing things as opposed to the informatics solution adapting to your processes, then a solution with less flexibility might be a good choice for you.
Additionally, if your laboratory organization is very stable and mature, then you may not need the system to be that flexible beyond the initial implementation. These factors will help you select an informatics solution that will fit your current and future needs.
3. When do I need to have my informatics solution in place and active?
In many laboratory organizations by the time the decision to look for an informatics solution to address the issues in the lab is made, the need may be acute. If this is your situation then your answer to this question will likely be “yesterday”. Unfortunately, even implementing a system using only out of box capabilities will take some time.
The intensity of your need may, however, be a factor in selecting your informatics solution. A system that has 90% of what you need right out of the box would be a better choice than a system that requires extensive customization before it is useful for your organization. Additionally, the urgency of when you need your system up and running can affect how you elect to implement the solution. If you need something as quickly as possible, a phased approach to your implementation will likely be your path forward.
4. What are my regulatory requirements?
If your laboratory organization does not operate in a regulated environment, rejoice! In these cases your main concern is going to be implementing the system such that Good Laboratory Practices and any internal SOPs are satisfied. If you are in a regulated environment and your informatics solution will need to go through a formal Computer Systems Validation process, the intensity of which will depend on the regulations that apply to your situation.
When selecting an informatics solution that will run in a regulated environment you can shorten your validation effort by leveraging the documentation, testing, and test scripts that can be gotten from the vendor of the system. What the vendor has, by the way of validation supporting documentation and their ability and willingness to undergo a vendor audit by you, are factors you should take into account when making your selection.
5. How can I ensure the informatics solution is adopted and used?
You can have the best informatics solution in the world but if no one in the laboratory organization will use it, then your project is a failure. Managing the change that the implementation of an informatics solution will bring to your organization is critical to your success. Involving all the stakeholders throughout the selection and implementation process will go a long way in increasing your adoption and utilization rates. Moreover, effective and timely training combined with on-site go-live support will also increase your user satisfaction and the use of the system.
What is offered by the vendor with respect to change management, training, and go-live support are very important factors that you will need to take into consideration when making your informatics solution selection.
While by no means an exhaustive list of questions to consider when making your laboratory informatics solution selection, your answers to these five questions will certainly influence your selection. A formal and well documented solution selection process is highly recommended so the informatics solution chosen is the best for your current and future needs.
Did you ask yourself these questions before you made your informatics solution selection? If not, do you wish that you did? What questions or critical selection criteria did you use when making your informatics solution selection?