In a previous blog, we briefly explored the SAP QM vs LIMS conundrum, its origins and history, its veracity, and its resolution, sort of. What was not fully explored were the root causes of the debate. Why is there still such a debate raging between the use and benefits of SAP QM vs. LIMS? Is it a technical issue? A political/control issue? Or is it purely a cost issue? Let’s discuss these points and attempt to determine the true root cause of this debate.
SAP QM vs. LIMS: Technical Issue?
Standard dogma states that if you are seeking to manage your laboratory operation as well as support manufacturing and quality assurance/control, a LIMS will most likely be a better fit for you compared to SAP QM. This belief is based on the broad and deep functionality and capabilities geared toward not just data management and information storage but also functionalities that facilitate the management of the lab, its operations, and its personnel that a Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) LIMS offers.
Some of these lab functions that a COTS LIMS will support include:
- Reagents & Standards Management
- Inventory Management
- Instrument Calibration & Maintenance
- Analyst Training Records
- Workflow Management & Automation
- Drug Stability Testing
SAP does, however, support many of these same capabilities using the features of SAP and several of the SAP modules such as:
- Quality Management (QM)
- Material Management (MM)
- Production Planning (PP)
- Plant Maintenance (PM)
So from a technical point of view, it appears that LIMS and SAP can equally support a lab. However, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the detail” and one needs to be concerned with not only “if” SAP supports these capabilities but “how” they are supported within SAP. When you delve deeper, you may well find that how SAP implements these capabilities can come across as convoluted and not in the most user-friendly way.
So from a technical point of view, the root cause of the debate between LIMS and SAP QM may no longer be one of technical capability but rather one of how the technical capability is implemented and then utilized by your stakeholders.
SAP QM vs. LIMS: Political/Control Issue?
The debate between SAP QM and LIMS is most often seen in lab organizations that support manufacturing and quality control/assurance. As such, the lab organization may report to a different branch of the company than the manufacturing area which it supports does. This can cause a political issue when the company is trying to decide between SAP QM and LIMS. This issue stems from each organization seeking to maintain its control and ownership of the data and information which can reside in either system.
A good example of the political nature of the debate can be seen when addressing your product specifications. Who will own the product specifications, the lab or manufacturing? Who will have the technical privileges to update or change product specifications? Will the product specifications reside and be managed in the LIMS or SAP?
Another example would be which organization will establish, control, and maintain sampling and sample registration/test assignment. Both organizations will want to have and maintain control, believing that the other entity will not understand, nor honor their needs.
From the company’s point of view, which group manages and maintains the data, information, and workflow is immaterial, as long as it is done accurately and in a timely fashion. But from the two organization’s points of view, the choice is very important and hugely political because the organization not in control will often feel like they have been relegated to a subordinate role.
So from a political point of view, the root cause of the debate between LIMS and SAP QM is really a human issue. Which organization will be the “master” and which will be the “slave”. In our experience, this struggle matters enough to sometimes outweigh clear preferences for a LIMS vs SAP.
SAP QM vs. LIMS: Cost Issue?
At the end of the day, the LIMS vs. SAP QM debate can be driven primarily from a cost point of view. The reality is that if your operations can be fully supported and run via SAP QM, then you can avoid the cost associated with LIMS licensing and additional hardware. However, it is feasible that you will need additional SAP licenses to support the lab personnel, so this must be taken into account as well. The cost of implementing SAP QM and the other modules of SAP that you may need to utilize is often more than, the cost of implementing a LIMS. Likewise, the cost of long term technical support and IT support for each solution will be similar.
What will your cost savings be if you elect to implement SAP QM vs. a LIMS? This is difficult to truly ascertain, as the license costs for LIMS vary widely based on a number of factors. One of these factors is that LIMS solutions are offered in a variety of architectures that can have very different pricing structures. For example, SAAS LIMS licenses are relatively inexpensive but are oriented towards named users and monthly licenses, while a more traditional client/server or web-based LIMS license can be quite costly but may be oriented toward named or concurrent users and be perpetual licenses.
So from a cost point of view, the root cause of the debate between LIMS and SAP QM can be a purely monetary one. However, with the variety of COTS LIMS and licensing schemas available today this argument can be minimized. Yes, something costs more than nothing but care must be taken to analyze your true costs and the benefits that each solution will yield before making any decisions.
Are you trying to decide between SAP QM and LIMS? If so, what factors are you examining to help make your choice?