Successfully selecting, implementing, enhancing, and integrating laboratory informatics systems such as LIMS, ELN, SDMS, CDS, etc. requires specialty knowledge, skill sets, and hands-on experience. With these requirements, it is not unusual that a laboratory organization will not have enough appropriate internal resources to staff laboratory informatics projects. Additionally, hiring permanent personnel for lab informatics projects of finite length is generally regarded as not cost effective. Therefore, it is common that a laboratory organization will supplement its internal resources with laboratory informatics subject matter experts (i.e. consultants) in order to fill their informatics project gaps while adhering to budgetary constraints.
Sourcing the right resources can also be challenging in this space. LIMS and/or ELN expert consultants are hard to come by, particularly those with demonstrable experience. Once located, informatics consultants can be quite costly to engage. In today’s global market, it is very tempting to utilize lower cost, offshore consulting resources as opposed to more costly, onshore consulting resources. While this may seem like a great idea, in reality, there are many factors that can affect the value you realize when engaging offshore consultants. Let’s explore some of these factors.
While it is possible that a consultant can gain “expertise” in a particular LIMS or ELN through training, book learning, and workshops, nothing can truly replace real-world, practical experience. Offshore laboratory informatics consultants rarely have the opportunity to gain practical lab informatics experience and therefore provide lower value to your LIMS/ELN project. Practical, hands-on LIMS/ELN experience in your geographical region will yield the best value because:
- The LIMS/ELN consultant will have experience implementing LIMS/ELN in such a manner as to satisfy the regulations and guidelines that pertain to your geography if you are in a regulated industry.
- The LIMS/ELN consultant will be familiar with regional best practices and how GLP is pursued and implemented in your geographic area.
- The LIMS/ELN consultant will be better aligned and aware of local cultural differences that will enable them to optimize their communications and interactions with your team.
Practical experience with LIMS/ELN in the same type of laboratory (i.e. QC, R&D, etc.) that your solution is operating within is also of high value.
If your laboratory organization is working on processes or products that are proprietary or provide a competitive advantage to your company, it is important to factor in the risk of sharing information with consultants from parts of the world (i.e. offshore) that do not strictly enforce Intellectual Property rights. You might believe that you are protected as you will require the individual consultant as well as the consulting organization to sign non-disclosures. However, if the culture and region where the consultant resides do not enforce IP laws stringently, you are taking the chance that your IP will be compromised. Your risk will be greatly reduced by engaging onshore LIMS and ELN consultants.
Location and Time Zone
Another factor that should be explored when engaging and utilizing LIMS and ELN consultants from offshore is the location/time factor. While this may not seem like a big issue in our global economy, there are definite challenges when trying to coordinate informatics teams across multiple locations and time zones. As it is, getting your internal USA teams from the west and east coasts, as well as your European team members, communicating efficiently is challenging. Adding in offshore lab informatics consultants from Eastern Europe, India, or South America will make it that much more difficult. As a result, it is not uncommon to run into task and meeting scheduling issues when offshore resources are utilized. This, of course, will adversely affect your project causing delays and increased cost.
If you elect to engage lab informatics consultants from offshore and are English speaking, it is likely that you will assume that if the resources you choose speak English that language would not be a factor affecting value. Unfortunately, this is not accurate. As it is, spoken English can be very different from region to region in the USA and this will only become more pronounced as you venture into different countries. There is the distinct possibility that misunderstandings will occur which will cause errors that will require extra effort and rework on your lab informatics project. This then will cause project delays and budget overages.
In addition to the issues that poor verbal communication may cause, differences in written English across regions and cultures can cause even more acute issues. This will manifest itself in a number of areas, but likely the most critically affected area is that of LIMS or ELN documentation. When implementing a LIMS or an ELN there are many aspects of the solution that will need to be configured or even customized. All of this work needs to be documented and when it comes to customizations, the amount and types of documentation can be varied and quite detailed. Without sound written English skills the documentation you receive will likely need to be redone; costing you time, resources, and money, thereby lowering the value that your offshore resources can provide.
While it may seem that engaging offshore laboratory informatics consulting resources is a cost effective way of getting the resources you need for your LIMS or ELN project, in reality, the value that these resources provide are much lower than their onshore counterparts. Multiple factors including location, language, practical experience, and IP risk, as well as many others, all play a part in diminishing the value of offshore lab informatics consultants compared to the value you will derive from utilizing onshore LIMS and ELN subject matter experts. This diminished value will manifest in longer project timelines, extra work, and the need to rework or supplement aspects of your project. Using offshore resources may also cause frustration among your LIMS/ELN team members and project stakeholders.
Have you used offshore LIMS or ELN consultants? Did the lower cost of the offshore resources truly provide the value you were expecting? If you could do it again would you opt for higher priced but higher value onshore lab informatics consultants?