Selecting the right Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) for your current and future needs is a nontrivial endeavor. Learning about LIMS and what particular LIMS solutions provide and support, as well as the capabilities and culture of the prospective LIMS supplier can be done in a myriad of ways. Personal experience, internet research, advice from peers, information attained at conferences and trade shows, are all legitimate sources of information that should be pursued. However, by far the best way that pertinent, critical information will be attained in any LIMS selection process is through the development, dissemination, and analysis of a LIMS Request for Proposal (RFP).
There are many places you can search to learn what should be included in a LIMS RFP such as: document sharing sites, Wikipedia pages, non-profit LIMS sites, and even LIMS vendors’ sites. The sections that are generally included in any LIMS RFP include, but are not limited to:
- General overview and project information
- Vendor/Proposer viability questions (size, financial stability, installed base, etc.)
- IT/Technology requirements
- Lab requirements and workflows
- Systems/Instruments to be interfaced
- Reporting requirement
- Compliance and regulatory requirements
- Implementation requirements
- Training requirements
- Support requirements
The information provided in these resources can be a great starting point for your LIMS RFP, however, care must be taken to ensure that the requirements used in your LIMS RFP truly reflect your needs, processes, and priorities. How this is accomplished will be reviewed in an upcoming CSols video, so stay tuned for that.
These publications, guides, and example RFPs, however, leave out the ways to make your LIMS RFP truly effective. A truly effective LIMS RFP will garner responses which include the right level of details and information so you can choose the right LIMS solution that not only satisfies your needs, but does so in a manner that is acceptable and supportable by your organization.
Creating Effective LIMS RFPs: “The devil is in the details”
Have you ever sent out an RFP for a software system to a series of potential vendors and received back “Yes” for each requirement from every vendor? You might have thought at the time that this was good. Every system would satisfy your needs. Now you can just choose the least expensive solution and you’re in business. What you have failed to determine, however, is what function or module in the LIMS will satisfy the requirement and how exactly the proposed solution is implemented. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail”.
“What” is as critical as “Yes”
As the LIMS industry has grown and matured, the LIMS solutions available, as well as the functionality and capabilities of LIMS, has greatly expanded. Today, you have a broad spectrum of LIMS solutions available. At one end of the spectrum, there are “purpose-built” LIMS that are designed to satisfy virtually every need of a particular industry and lab type (i.e. water testing lab, forensic lab) using standard out-of-the-box (OOTB) functionality with no or minimal configuration required. At the other end of the spectrum, there are “generic” LIMS that are designed to satisfy a broad range of industries and lab types through OOTB functions and capabilities, configuration, add-on modules, and customization. While a variety of template oriented LIMS solutions and mixtures of the extremes described, reside in-between these extremes.
To make your LIMS RFP more effective, it is critical to require the vendors to detail what aspect of their LIMS will satisfy the requirement. You will want to ask them, is the requirement satisfied by…
- A standard function or capability – no configuration needed
- A standard function or capability – configuration needed
- An add-on module – no configuration need
- An add-on module – configuration needed
- Combination of the above.
Getting this detail of information in your LIMS RFP responses will help you to make the best LIMS solution choice. You will also be able to use this information to perform a sanity check on the LIMS implementation effort estimate and time line proposed by the vendor. This information is also great for cross checking the price proposal to ensure that add-on modules that have costs associated with them, if part of the proposed solution, are included.
“How” is as critical as “Yes”
In the LIMS world, how a requirement is met by the LIMS is just as critical to understand as whether or not it can be met. Now, you may believe that you have this covered because you specifically required that responders include whether the requirement is met by “configuration” or “customization”. However, it is important to go one step further. You need to define exactly what you mean by these terms since LIMS vendors often have their own definitions. We recommend that you define them as follows:
Configuration is defined as tailoring the LIMS solution utilizing the COTS vendor’s tools and templates. This does not require any programming. Examples of configuration tasks include the definition of user profiles and users, data elements such as sample types, tests, templates, spreadsheet, workflows, business rules, and event triggers.
Customization is defined as the modifying of the COTS LIMS through programming. Examples of customization include the development of new functionality, extension of system functions, and programmatic interfaces to instruments and other systems.
You will find that by using these definitions and requiring the vendors to explain exactly how a requirement is met, you will gain a better understanding of the solution and the complexity of the LIMS implementation. Additionally, depending on how the customizations are developed and your internal LIMS and IT resource levels, extensive customization my affect your long term support and future upgrade costs. Requiring that responders provide this information in their LIMS RFP response will help you to make the best LIMS choice.
Have you ever sent out a RFP and gotten back vendor responses of “Yes” to every requirement? If so, did you feel that your RFP was really effective? Are you seeking to develop an effective LIMS RFP?