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2018 Lab Informatics New Year’s Resolutions

2018 Lab Informatics Resolutions

Yes, it’s that time of year again; the time to do some deep reflection, then draw a line in the sand and make some New Year’s Resolutions (NYRs).  NYRs are generally positive changes that one wishes to make in themselves or in their lives.  And just like you make NYRs for yourself, it is important to make some for your lab and its informatics systems (LIMS, ELN, SDMS, CDS, etc.), too.  Coming up with viable and valuable lab informatics NYRs can be difficult.  So to help you out, we have compiled a list of the top 4 Lab Informatics New Year’s Resolutions for your review and edification.  Don’t be surprised if some of these sound familiar because just like all NYRs, Lab Informatics NYRs rarely get realized so they tend to appear on organizations’ lists multiple times.

“I will develop a Lab Informatics Plan and Roadmap”

Everyone knows that to be truly successful in any complex endeavor it is imperative to have a well thought out plan.  And when it comes to complex endeavors, lab automation and implementing lab informatics solutions can be some of the most complex.  This is not just due to the sophistication of the informatics systems involved, but really has to do with the complex nature of the science and processes that are automated within them and the strong personalities of the researchers, technicians, and lab information consumers.  It is for these reasons, amongst others, that developing a lab informatics plan and roadmap tends to get put off, although they are really essential for your success.

Lab Informatics Plan

Watch Now: "The Integrated Lab - Why Holistic Thinking is Critical to your Strategic Planning"

Developing your lab informatics plan will take a considerable amount of effort but the rewards you reap will be significant.  It’s best to start with defining and/or revisiting your business needs and requirements and your lab processes/workflows and data/information flows.  It is important at this stage to think in a holistic fashion such that you focus on the overall lab informatics solution and not each point solution.  In fact, it is a good practice to not really concern yourself with what system will perform which function at this stage of your planning process.  Once your flows are defined, you will start the process of optimizing your flows to gain efficiency and increase the effectiveness of your scientists.  Remember, doing it “the way that it has always been done” and then automating this in your informatics solution without optimizing the workflows is not going to give you the efficiency and effectiveness gains you are looking for.

Lab Informatics Roadmap

You will also need to perform an extensive analysis of your current lab informatics systems and other lab data management, analysis, and visualization systems (i.e. the landscape).  You will also need to determine and document what other business or enterprise systems either require data from your lab informatics systems or feed data into these systems.

Once you have the systems and their interactions and interdependencies mapped out and documented, you can start determining where functional and informational overlaps occur and you can start making decisions as to where data and information will be sourced and stored.  This will help you decide if you have the right systems to support your needs, as well as which systems will be kept, which will be expanded and/or integrated, and which will be retired, over time.  At the end of these processes you will have a 3-5 year Lab Informatics Plan and Roadmap to help guide your future lab informatics endeavors.

“I will revisit my data and workflows, optimize them, and then automate them”

Watch Now: "What Happened to Phase II?"

If you don’t want to take on a full blown Lab Informatics Plan and Roadmap exercise as your Lab NYR, focusing on optimizing and automating your data flows and workflows is the next best thing.  You might be surprised by how many lab organizations have not taken the step to automate their workflows and lab processes within their LIMS or ELN.  This may be due to resource or monetary constraints but is often simply because the value in automating the lab’s processes and workflows were not perceived or understood.

Automating your lab processes and workflows might have been relegated to the second phase of your LIMS or ELN project, and as we have pointed out many times in the past, Phase 2 Never Happens!

“I will integrate our lab instruments and other lab data systems to our LIMS”

Here’s another lab informatics NYR that we hear quite a lot, “This year I will integrate my instruments to my LIMS!”  Yes, just like the automation of a lab’s workflows, it seems that integrating laboratory instruments to an organization’s LIMS is one of those things that quite often gets relegated to a later phase of the LIMS project and then it never happens.  The oddest thing about this is that it is not unusual that the time and cost savings, not to mention the increase in quality, associated with integrating instruments to a LIMS or ELN can represent a large portion of the justification for your LIMS project.  Yet we still find that the lion share of labs have not taken this step.

“I will move our LIMS to the cloud”

Watch Now: "Laboratory Information Management, the Cloud, & You"

A new Lab Informatics NYR that we are starting to hear is the stated intention of moving their LIMS to the cloud.  This is generally driven by the personnel and infrastructure cost savings that moving your solution to the cloud represents.  No need for the application or data servers when you move to the cloud and we all know that the amount of data being generated by labs continues to increase.  The reason that this NYR is not as common as the previous ones listed is due to a couple of facts.  Firstly, “the cloud” is relatively new in the lab informatics world (i.e. ~10 years) and secondly, the technology is just now becoming accepted in the more conservative, regulated industries that tend to be the largest users of LIMS.

Have you made any New Year’s Resolutions for yourself this year?  Did you make any Lab Informatics New Year’s Resolutions?  If so, what were they?  If you made some last year, did you keep to your resolution?

Reducing the Unknowns: The Value of Lab Informatics Project Managers

Value of Project ManagersOn every project there are things that we know and things that we don’t know. It is the project manager’s responsibility to plan for and manage both the knowns and the unknowns in order to deliver the project on-time, within budget, and meeting specifications.  But there is another unknown out there that must also be managed, the “unknown unknown”.  Donald Rumsfeld, the former secretary of defense, famously put it as follows:

“….as we know, there are known knowns; these are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld’s statement, which at first glance seems nonsensical, actually contains great insight and wisdom for both battlefield commanders and project managers.  Not heeding these wise words can lead to a battlefield defeat or a failed project.  How so?  Let’s examine each of the (un)knowns in turn.

Known Knowns

The more we know before we start a project, the better our initial planning will be and the lower the risk of project failure. That is, the more known knowns we know, the greater the chance of project success. This is, of course, intuitively obvious.

In a previous blog, “How to Choose a LIMS Consultantwe explained that demonstrable experience and expertise in your specific industry, laboratory environment, and informatics solution(s) is required in your lab informatics project manager.  To summarize that blog, in addition to foundational knowledge (e.g., PMI), experience (managed similar projects before), and possibly certification (e.g., PMP) in project management, the following domain knowledge is also required:

  1. Industry (e.g., Mining, Petrochemical, Pharmaceutical, Biotech, Food and Beverage, Medical Devices, etc.)
  2. Lab Type (e.g., R&D, QA/QC, Clinical, Contract, Analytical Services, etc.)
  3. Lab Informatics Solution (e.g., LIMS, ELN, CDS, SDMS, Vendor Specific)
  4. Regulatory (e.g., FDA, 21CFRPart 11, GxP, etc.)

The Lab Informatics Project Manager, equipped with the aforementioned knowledge and experience, brings these additional domain specific known knowns to the planning phase of the project.  This increase in known knowns results in a more realistic initial project plan and reduces the pool of unknowns that must be managed.

Known Unknowns

There are some things that we can reasonably expect to occur but the impact to the informatics project is currently unknown. These are the known unknowns.  The role of the project manager is to transform these known unknowns into known knowns as early in the project as possible.  Some of these known unknowns are already known to the lab informatics project manager prior to the start of the project through their domain knowledge and past experience, as shown above.  Others can be identified during a project risk assessment. Both can be mitigated against through the development and potential execution of risk mitigation plans.

The extent to which these risks (known unknowns) are identified is determined by the knowledge and experience (the known knowns) of the lab informatics project manager and the planning team.  But, to a generic project manager, without the specific domain knowledge, many of these known unknowns are likely to be unknown unknowns.

Unknown Unknowns

Finally there are unknown unknowns.  As Rumsfeld put it “But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know”.  These can wreak havoc on a lab informatics project and can be catastrophic. By their very nature, they cannot be foreseen but have an annoying habit of appearing during the most critical phase of a project.  Unknown unknowns also have a magical quality about them. As soon as they appear they instantly transform into known unknowns that must be rapidly managed in order to prevent project slippage or overrun.

The lab informatics project manager will have already encountered some of these unknown unknowns through the performance of similar projects.  To them, these unknown unknowns will be known unknowns if not already further transformed into known knowns.  Thus through the involvement of a lab informatics project manager, the pool of unknown unknowns is also reduced.

The Value

To summarize, experienced lab informatics project managers will bring deep and broad domain knowledge and experience to your project team from working on similar projects.  They will have experienced a number of the typical challenges particular to lab informatics projects and will plan accordingly.  In short, by reducing the unknowns (both known and unknown) and by increasing the number of known knowns, the lab informatics project manager will increase the likelihood that the project will be completed on time, within budget, satisfying all the business requirements, and that the new system will be adopted by all.

What unknown unknowns have you experienced on your lab informatics projects?  What was their impact?  Was your project manager an experienced lab informatics project manager?

The Best ELN – Revealed!

And the Best ELN is... - CSols, Inc.

The adoption of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) in both academic and commercial labs continues to grow in the market.  In fact, the ELN market growth rate has been clearly outpacing that of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) in many market segments.  Informatics systems vendors have noticed this for some time and have moved to take advantage of this buying trend by developing and bringing to market new ELN offerings at a record pace.

A quick, informal count of the ELN vendors shows greater than 50 commercial vendors with an additional half dozen or so Open Source solutions being offered.  Of these, many are designed to be generic systems that can be configured to satisfy the needs of many lab environments while others are purpose built to provide a narrow and deep solution for a particular environment.  And let’s not forget about Laboratory Execution System (LES) solutions which are designed to automate and implement bench level control in labs.  With such a broad choice in ELNs the question of “Which is the best ELN?” is continually being raised.  We would love to answer this question for you once and for all but unfortunately the answer is “It Depends!”

5 Tips for Choosing the Right Informatics Solution

Not the answer you were necessarily looking for, but the only truthful answer despite what various ELN companies would tell you.  What the Best ELN for you depends on a multitude of factors, or what most in the industry would term, your business needs and system requirements.  Some examples of these include:

  • What type of lab are you running? QA/QC?  R&D?
  • What type of science are you performing? Small Molecule?  Biologics?
  • Do you need to interface to other systems? ERP? MES?
  • Will you be integrating to instruments or instrument systems?
  • Are you in a regulated environment or not? Pharma?  Academia?
  • Do you have an IT infrastructure to support the ELN?
  • Do you have staff to support the ELN?

When you answer all these questions and many, many more then you can determine what the Best ELN is for your organization.

I know that this appears very intimidating, if not downright impossible, but do not despair.  There are informatics consulting organizations that can help.  When selecting a consulting organization to assist you in selecting the best ELN for your laboratory, you should ensure that they are:

  • Experts in ELN and ELN selection (get references)
  • Domain experts (i.e. your industry and your type of lab)
  • IT experts
  • Regulatory experts (if your lab is in a regulated environment)
  • ELN vendor neutral

They should also have:

So tell us how you selected your ELN and if you were happy with your eventual choice.  Did you follow a structured process?  Did you gather and document your needs and requirements?  If you had to do it over again would you do anything differently?

CSR in Context

Original Article posted on The Analytical Scientist, July 20, 2015
Article #304  |  Issue # 0715


corporate social responsibility in LabsStaying Ahead of the Curve: How Corporate Social Responsibility Can Help your Lab and your Bottom Line.

How much value do you put on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in your laboratory? Read this and you may change your mind…

While I was studying for my master’s degree, I became fixated on the intricacies of Corporate Social Responsibility. In an attempt to merge my Master’s degree study with my employment domain, I often searched for the terms “Corporate Social Responsibility in Laboratories” and regardless of whether I was searching in scholarly databases or Google, I always came up empty handed. The lack of awareness of this important concept bothered me to my core.

I have seen countless labs during my career and observed their CSR practices. But I found it troublesome that the term was not more frequently discussed; the fact that it was not a topic of conversation suggested to me that many labs were not, in fact, following good CSR practices.

CSR is an ethics policy that is most often associated with large corporations and perhaps less within research and academic analytical laboratories. For the former, it encompasses core business practices focused on sustainability for the larger community and environment as well as transparency between the company and its stakeholders. It also plays its part in calculating the total cost of a product from its origin as raw materials to disposal (the product life cycle). Lastly, the triple bottom line concept comes into play – or balancing profit, people, and the planet.

The key to making CSR policies work is finding the sustainable sweet spot. Savitz and Weber suggest that, “Sustainable companies find areas of mutual interest and ways to make doing good and ‘doing well’ synonymous, thus avoiding the implied conflict between society and stakeholders” (1). And they define the sustainability sweet spot as “the place where the pursuit of profit blends seamlessly with the pursuit of the common good”.

Can this concept work for you in your laboratory? Some people will argue that CSR is only valid if you want nothing in return for it. But I disagree; it can be a strong part of the culture even when each business decision that you have to make in your laboratory must be justified numerically. Ethics must be woven into the framework of what you do; it needs to become a demanded practice (2).

One effective way is to have a written code of ethics, sometimes referred to as an ethics statement, which is further supported by a sustainability report. If you’re a small business that’s actively working on sustainable initiatives, there is value in publishing this publicly – a little good press can go a long way in attracting new customers.

Now that we’ve got a clearer picture of CSR, let’s consider the factors that are unique to laboratories. With the growing use of laboratory automation software and instrument integration “fudging” results is becoming less of a concern, but it is still worth considering when implementing a CSR policy. Moreover, hazardous or potentially hazardous materials must be disposed of properly to mitigate health risks and reduce environmental impact. Then there is the affect the laboratory has on the external environment, so testing outputs is a good way to monitor and reduce impact.

Finally, I think things are beginning to change – slowly. I am pleased to say that when I do the same “Corporate Social Responsibility in Laboratories” search today, I find that several companies appear in my query results. Although the number of organizations that have CSR policies is growing, it has not yet come to the forefront of consciousness. Even a small step towards greater CSR could begin to reinvent ethical standards for laboratory practices worldwide.


Elyssa Litchfield
Laboratory Informatics Consultant
CSols, Inc.



  1. A. Savitz and K. Weber K, “The Sustainability sweet spot: Where profit meets the common goal”, Business Leadership (2008).
  2. G. Becker, “Moral leadership in business”, Journal of International Ethics 2.1 (2009).

Top 10 Benefits for taking a Pittcon 2015 Short Course

pittcon-short-course-benefitsVisiting Pittcon in New Orleans during the month of March sounds like a great idea, right! – especially if you’re located in a chilly winter location that time of year! And did you know that signing up for a laboratory informatics Short Course is one of the best ways to get approval from your boss to attend? Pittcon offers a variety of short courses, many that address topics about LIMS, ELN, and the laboratory in general. How can they say “no” to formal training from professionals in the field who have firsthand experience?

CSols, Inc. has been teaching short courses at Pittcon for almost 10 years.  We’ve collected feedback from the attendees and we would like to share them with you.

10 Benefits for taking a Pittcon 2015 Short Course

  1. Receive classroom style training by field experts in a professional setting
  2. The format allows attendees to engage in dialog with the teacher and other registrants
  3. Get real time answers, face-to-face with the instructor, with the opportunity to follow-up
  4. Hands-On participation with breakout sessions, exercises, and demos
  5. You’re not just hearing how to do something, you’re acting out real life scenarios and making the decisions
  6. Hear ‘lessons learned’ of what works and doesn’t work, from people in the same position as you
  7. The short course committee selects top notch topics – you’ll receive only the highest caliber of information
  8. Take home notes and materials are provided for reference after the conference is over
  9. You can register for as many short courses that you’d like!
  10. Where else will you have 4-8 hours of time to pick the brain of your instructor

These are great talking points to present to your manager to support your participation at a Pittcon short course.

While you’re at Pittcon in between Short Courses, make sure to stop into a Conferee Networking Session or Oral Presentation. They are free to all and don’t require any reservations. A few that we recommend are:

Pittcon Conferee Networking Sessions

  1. Cracking the Code: What it takes to be a LIMS Consultant
  2. Choosing the Best Laboratory Improvement Project
  3. Does your ERP solution replace LIMS?

Pittcon Technical Presentations

  1. Computer System Validation – Lessons Learned
  2. Ensuring that your Informatics Solution is Embraced by your Organization
  3. Do we still need ELNs?

Is there a Pittcon Short Course you’ve taken in prior years that you would recommend to others? If so, please share it in the comments section of this blog.

The Key to Interfacing Lab Instruments to LIMS or ELN

Instrument Interfacing to LIMS and ELNIs there a space-time anomaly in the instrument interfacing world?  If you were to do a Google search on Interfacing Lab Instruments to LIMS or ELN you would find fascinating, inspiring, and thoughtful articles and several product advertisements. The issues and challenges in interfacing lab instruments to LIMS (and now ELNs), however, appear to be repeating themselves. Topics debating the time, cost, and benefits of interfacing lab instruments, unidirectional vs. bidirectional interfaces, horror stories about proprietary instrument data formats, etc. are virtually unchanged except for the players and standards being discussed.

For example, the software products available to interface lab instruments to LIMS or ELN have changed names, mechanisms, technologies but the base functionality offered has stayed virtually identical.  Likewise, the “standard data format” has morphed from ASCII to CSV to GAML to AnIML but vendor support is still iffy.  Lastly, the APIs to support interfacing have never satisfied everyone but “if the instrument vendors would just support “ABC”, then instrument interfacing would be a breeze.”  Recently “ABC” was SOAP but now RESTful is the new “ABC”.  Yep, definitely some kind of space-time anomaly exists in the instrument interfacing world.

But the tool, style or data format standard used to create or facilitate instrument interfacing is not the true critical success factor for interfacing instruments.  The real key to successful interfacing of lab instruments to LIMS or ELN will always be the same.

Successfully Interfacing Instruments to LIMS or ELN

Time loop or time ripple, it really doesn’t matter.  What really matters is that it will always be a challenge to effectively and efficiently interface lab instruments to a LIMS or ELN system.  It is unlikely that there will ever be a “magic” system or driver or data format that will make instrument interfacing a simple plug-n-play endeavor.  In fact, what has been seen is that even when all things align, there is still the need to customize or tweak the instrument interface.  This is generally because how the organization or scientist wants to use the instrument, instrument system, and the data will invariably be different.

So the key to being successful in interfacing instruments to a LIMS or ELN is developing and documenting the business, lab, and scientist requirements for the interface and the laboratory data being generated from the instrument.   Further, before selecting the interfacing system or style, a business justification should be developed.  Remember to consider both quantitative and qualitative measures when developing your justification.

One of the issues surrounding the interfacing of instruments to a LIMS or ELN is the perceived cost.  It is not unusual to hear that the instruments in the lab were not interfaced to the LIMS or ELN because it “cost too much”.  However, we have found that typical ROI periods for instrument interfaces are less than one year!  Additionally, the quality, user (scientist) satisfaction, and system adoption rates always greatly improve when instrument interfaces are implemented.  Once the business justification is completed, the instrument interfacing system and style can be selected and the interface itself can be developed and implemented.

Watch Webinar: "Smart Instrument Interfacing"

What has been your experience in interfacing your instruments to your LIMS or ELN?  Were you able to use an out of the box solution or did you need to custom develop the interface.  Did you fully develop your requirements and cost justifications before proceeding?  What was your ROI period.   Did you just see a Delorean go by?

What Happened to Phase 2 of your LIMS Implementation?

What Happened to Phase 2It’s a funny thing but if you ask anyone who has been involved in the LIMS industry for any length of time, they will uniformly agree that Phase 2 of LIMS implementation projects rarely, if ever, come to fruition.

Is this because breaking a LIMS implementation into multiple phases is wrong? Not really. There are perfectly good reasons to do so like: lack of time, money or resources to do the full implementation in one go. Nor can you say that laboratories do not truly intend on fully completing all of the phases of their LIMS projects because they do. It’s just that it is very common that Phase 2 quietly never gets kicked off and over time it simply fades away.

I guess not getting to those Phase 2 requirements might not be all that terrible. Think about it. If the laboratory requirements that have been relegated to Phase 2 were all that important, then wouldn’t the lab scientist be up in arms when he noticed they weren’t there? Wouldn’t the lab supervisors complain about all the manual results and calculation checking they still had to perform? Wouldn’t the managers exclaim about their lack of information and lab KPIs? But that does not happen. The truth of the matter is too often the scientists, supervisors, and managers either put up with it or come up with less efficient work-arounds.

Capabilities and Features You’re Missing

This is bad enough, but when you further look into what often is put off to Phase 2, the situation really becomes ugly. What you will find is that some of the greatest efficiency and productivity enhancing capabilities of the LIMS get pushed to the ghost Phase 2. Things like automated reporting, instrument interfacing, automated training records, instrument calibration and maintenance, LIMS integration to business and manufacturing systems, and management dashboards. The implementation of these capabilities is often the backbone of the business justification for the LIMS in the first place. And even more important, implementing these types of capabilities really shows the value of the LIMS to the scientists, supervisors and managers.

webinar_What Happened to Phase II of My LIMS Implementation

Getting to Phase 2

So dust off your requirements document, review your LIMS Justification, pull out your LIMS Implementation Plan and bring those Phase 2 capabilities to life! You will greatly improve your laboratory organization’s productivity and efficiency. You could even improve your whole operation. And your LIMS user satisfaction will soar.

If it seems like too much for you to do on your own, never fear. There are informatics consulting organizations that can help you complete your LIMS implementation and make your Phase 2 ghosts corporeal. When selecting a consulting organization to assist you is completing your LIMS you should ensure that they are:

  • Experts in your particular LIMS
  • Experts in laboratory work processes, laboratory data and information flow, and instrument and systems integration (get references!)
  • Domain experts (i.e. your industry and your type of lab)
  • IT experts
  • Regulatory experts (if your lab is in a regulated environment)

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Tell us about your experience with getting to Phase 2. Did you break your LIMS implementation into multiple phases? Did you ever get to Phase 2? If so, how did you keep the momentum going? If not, do you wish you had?

First-to-File Patents: Do we still need an ELN?

First to File PatentsPresident Obama signed the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) into law in September of 2011. This affected many sections of the existing U.S. patent statutes, the most talked about being the shift from a first-to-invent patent system to a first-to-file system. The first-to-file patent system went into effect in March of 2013.

In the “old days” our patent system granted the patent to an invention based on who could prove they came up with the idea first. This is the “first-to-invent” patent world. To prove who was first you needed “business records” which are court admissible records that are dated, signed, witnessed records that you could prove have not been changed or tampered with. Business records could be electronic and an Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) was the perfect system to capture and store them. ELNs provided date/time stamping, electronic signatures, and audit trails. Intellectual property preserved! ELN justified and paid for!

Now our patent laws have changed. Now, the first person to file the patent or disclosure is the one granted the patent. This is the “first-to-file” patent world. So the need for business records goes away! Uh oh! Do you still need ELNs? The quick answer to this question is yes! Here’s why.

Business Records

Business records are still needed for the patent filings. ELNs still provide a great framework and the features to capture and ensure that your electronic records are properly documented and authenticable. This includes; electronic signatures, digital time stamps, and proof that the record has not changed (i.e. audit trail).

Speed is the key

The new mantra when it comes to patents is “File early! File often!”. The speed at which one is able to file a patent is now critical. ELNs greatly enhance an organization’s ability to search for, find and aggregate data and records in support of both pre-filing disclosures and patent filings.

Derivation Proceedings – prior art

Derivation proceedings have replaced interference proceedings in the new “first-to-file” patent world. During a derivation proceeding, a first inventor with a later filing date challenges an earlier filer for patent ownership. The goal of the later filer is to prove that the first filer derived their invention from their prior art. This prior art may very well be an electronic record within an ELN and the ELN would have tracked who else worked on the project and had access to the experiments, data, and any project notes. If you prove that the earlier filer had access to the prior art then your case for derivation would be won and the later file will get the patent rights.

In conclusion, it is clear that there are a number of reasons that use of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks in the new First-to-File patent world is not only viable but is recommended. ELNs offer the framework and technology to assist an organization in establishing and maintaining authentic electronic records and the ability to track who had access to them and when. ELNs also facilitate your organization’s ability to quickly find and aggregate critical data and information in support of your disclosures and fillings since speed of filing is more critical than ever.

Watch Webinar - "LIMS/ELN/LES: Uses, Overlaps, & Benefits"

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Do you like the change they made from interference proceedings to derivation proceedings? Have you been affected in a positive or negative way by this change? Share your story below.

Acquiring an Informatics System: Where do Consultants Fit In?

Why Projects Fail: Human Shortcomings

Figure 1. Some of the common human factor failure points that knowledgeable consultants can help correct.

For the modern laboratory, an informatics system to manage samples and data has become almost a necessity.  Whether a Laboratory Information Management System1 (LIMS) or an Electronic Laboratory Notebook2 (ELN), very few laboratories can effectively operate without them.  This is especially true in highly regulated industries.  However, the process involved in planning and selecting an informatics system can be very involved and fraught with risk.  The degree of risk is significant, with The Standish Group3 estimating that 61% of all IT projects fail.  Though some disagree with The Standish Group’s methodology4, by their estimate only 39% of projects are fully successful.  These failures are frequently due to human factor issues rather than technical ones5.  The good news is this failure risk can be minimized by a conscientious risk management process6 and the counsel of an Informatics Consultancy.

The process for planning and acquiring an informatics system is summarized in the graphic below.  It is easy to get the impression from this graphic that this is a very straightforward and simple process, but in reality it can be a very complex time and personnel intensive process7.  Hiding behind this diagram are many concurrent processes and contingent steps that must be performed while simultaneously managing project time and cost.

General steps in selecting a laboratory informatics system.

A consultancy will help your organization avoid the cost of false starts by helping structure and plan your project.  This can include helping to develop realistic goals for the project.  Additionally, members of a consultancy have widely diverse backgrounds and expertise and will have worked in all types of laboratories, making them ideally suited to thinking outside of the box when applying best practices.  Specific project aspects where a consultant’s assistance can prove invaluable include:

  • Analyzing current laboratory processes and identifying ways to optimize workflows by leveraging informatics solutions, eliminating unnecessary steps
  • Identifying system needs, i.e. LIMS or ELN
  • Generating list of potential system vendors
  • Writing the Request For Proposal (RFP)
  • Reviewing returned proposals and vendor selection.
  • Acting as interpreter between the laboratory and their IT group and vendor, as they speak a different language than the laboratory
  • Defusing political issues within the laboratory and any supervisory organizations
  • Training laboratory personnel to use their new laboratory informatics system in the context of their actual processes

With today’s lean organizations, a frequently overlooked detail impacting project success is who will be performing all of this work?  It is usually the most computer savvy analyst within the laboratory who is ‘elected’ to herd this process along.  While bringing someone over from the IT group is another option, it too is generally challenging as laboratory processes are not their specialty. In most cases the person selected will have no experience in laboratory informatics and automation.  Additionally, this person may still be expected to perform their usual job as well, quickly leading to burnout.  The minimal experience and scarcity of personnel resources makes it difficult to generate a complete requirements list, let alone to write a RFP or evaluate the submitted proposals.  Concurrently, they may be tasked with the political problem of acquiring buy-in and cooperation for the project, lack of which can kill an implementation project before it starts.  Even when you are lucky enough to have an informatics specialist on staff, they do not have sufficient time to do it all and the resources of a consultancy can help fill the gap.

The diverse background of people working within a consultancy means that it is less likely that anything will be missed during the requirements gathering phase of the project.  Having generated multiple RFPs, a consultancy is also in an excellent position to help you convert your list of requirements into a meaningful RFP, as they would have the expertise to know what needs to be included and what can be left out.  An effective approach to this would be to leverage a Risk Based Requirements (RBR)8 methodology.  This methodology focuses approximately 80% of your overall effort on the 20% of the functionality that is unique to your operation. This is important, as it is these requirements which are most likely to be missing from an off-the-shelf system, therefore, requiring customization. When it comes time to evaluate all of the submitted proposals and vendor demonstrations, a consultancy can assist you to separate what some vendors might imply from what they will actually do. Their expertise helps you avoid demonstration “magic tricks” that can easily fool you with your own assumptions. This will prevent the surprise of having to buy additional modules or contract custom coding to obtain the functionality you thought you’d already purchased!

In the final balance, the selection of the system to acquire will be yours, but consultants can help take some of the mystery and frustration out of the process.  For added value, make this process a learning experience by having your people work closely with the consultants.  It is not uncommon for organizations to be reluctant to add the additional expense of a consultancy to what is usually already a tight budget. However, in this case the investment can actually reduce the overall cost of the project, minimize delays, and, in many instances, make the difference between a successful and a failed implementation.

Whatever your situation, the challenge of a laboratory informatics project is not to be undertaken lightly; it’s something you’ll want to get right, the first time. The guidance from a consultancy will dramatically increase your chances of arriving in the 39% group of fully successful IT projects.


  1. Laboratory information management system. LIMSWiki (2013). at <>
  2. Electronic laboratory notebook. LIMSWiki (2013). at <>
  3. The Standish Group International. CHAOS Manifesto 2013: Think Big, Act Small. (2013). at <>
  4. Eveleens, J. L. & Verhoef, C. The rise and fall of the Chaos report figures. IEEE Softw. 27, 30–36 (2010).
  5. Collier, C. LIMS comes of age – information management for every laboratory. Lab. News (2007). at <>
  6. McDowall, R. D. Risk Management for Laboratory Automation Projects. J. Assoc. Lab. Autom. 9, 72–86 (2004).
  7. Devorick, W. Batteries Not Included; Looking Beyond the Informatics Quote. at <>
  8. Turnbull, G. Apples to Apples – Selecting the Right Informatics Solution. (2013). at <>

10/18/2012 – LIMS or ELN: Which is Right for My Lab?

Congratulation to Ned Haubein, a LIMS Consultant at CSols, Inc., for the acceptance of his technical abstract: “LIMS or ELN: Which is Right for my Lab”. He will be presenting at the PITTCON 2013 conference in Philadelphia. Be sure to swing by Room 120B on Thursday 3/21/13 at 9:55am to listen in.

CSols Seminar: Leveraging Informatics to support Lean Labs

Newark, DE, October 9, 2012 CSols, Inc. is hosting a free seminar on “Leveraging Informatics to support Lean Labs” on October 17, 2012 from 8am – 10am at the Delaware Technical Community College in Newark, DE. Registration is required and a light breakfast will be provided.

The seminar will discuss the use of laboratory informatics solutions and how they can be leveraged to support Lean Concepts and further automate laboratory processes. Additional benefits to be gained from Laboratory Informatics are:

  • Optimizing workflows
  • Reducing data transcription errors
  • Decrease turnaround times
  • Improving quality and productivity
  • Minimizing the use of paper
  • Providing procedural enforcement

Who Should Attend:

QC Managers, QC Technicians, Lab Managers, Lean Manufacturers, Lab Directors, Chemists & Technicians, and IT Personnel

Registration & Additional Information:

To reserve a seat at the Seminar, click here.

About CSols, Inc.

CSols is a leading Laboratory Informatics Services Provider. They combine the expertise, services, and products required to make the laboratory and business perform optimally. Their involvement ranges from the strategic – ensuring that the right mix of laboratory/enterprise systems are chosen and implemented, through to the tactical – making those systems, intersystem processes, and personnel operate as a rational whole. For more information about CSols, its services and solution, visit


CSols, Inc.
Megan Norton, (302) 731-5290

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