Having been in the Laboratory Informatics and LIMS Consulting business for quite some time, we at CSols, Inc. have been exposed to many myths and misconceptions. While there may be a small kernel of truth to some of these, for the most part these statements do not hold water. In fact, some of them malign both LIMS and LIMS consultants so we thought it would be a good idea to list out the top five myths and truly “Bust” them.
#1 – All LIMS are the same
While at the highest level this may appear to be true, the reality is that LIMS systems are very different. Firstly, let’s look at “purpose-built” LIMS. LIMS that are designed to support different types of labs will differ in feature sets, workflow, and data flow. For example, a LIMS that is purpose-built to support a contract environmental testing lab will be dramatically different than one that was purpose-built to support a forensics lab. Another major difference can be seen in LIMS that are designed to support research organizations versus those that are designed to support QA/QC. This will be most evident in the architecture of the system, namely the ability to easily and cleanly support projects as opposed to samples.
Looking at “general” LIMS, functionality differences may not be pronounced but the differences are there, below the surface. In these systems, it is not what the LIMS provides but how the LIMS is architected and how the functionality is implemented. This generally comes down to the degree of configurability versus customization (aka programming) needed to implement the LIMS.
At the extremes are the “toolkit” LIMS where virtually all functionality is implemented by programming and the “configuration only” LIMS where all functionality is implemented via drop downs, radio buttons, filling in forms, etc. all without any programming.
#2 – The LIMS Consultant knows which LIMS is “The Best LIMS” but they just won’t tell us
One of the things we get asked all the time is “Which LIMS is the Best LIMS?” This is usually followed by waggling eyebrows, winks, and nudges by the questioner as they assume that we really know but just won’t tell them. We have even had some people try the Barbara Walters “off the record” approach to get an answer. Believe me, if we knew the answer to this question we would tell you and we would also make sure that we know how to implement, customize, integrate and validate that LIMS and only that LIMS. This would save us a ton of training time and allow us to laser focus our informatics consultants’ skill sets.
The real answer to this question is that it really depends on the needs of your lab and organization, your infrastructure, your internal resource availability and much more! All LIMS have strengths and weaknesses, so based on your particular situation there will be a LIMS that best suits your lab and organization now and into the future. So it is not that we are trying to squeeze money out of you by providing you with LIMS Planning and Selection Services just to eventually tell you the answer. It’s truly necessary to go through these exercises to determine the LIMS that is the best fit for you.
#3 – LIMS implementation is quick and easy
This is a myth that many in the informatics industry and their customers really wished were true. We have seen time and again, promises of rapid, simple implementation of a LIMS by vendors or consulting organizations. We have even seen some LIMS that claim to require no implementation at all, just login and you are good to go. Unfortunately, these promises and claims are not true.
Implementing a LIMS successfully is hard and it generally takes a considerable amount of time, effort, resources and money to accomplish. The amount of time required will be dependent on many factors including:
- Size of the implementation – number and types of labs, locations, etc.
- Resource availability – lab, IT, SMEs, etc.
- Integration requirements – systems, instruments, etc.
- Culture – languages, change tolerance, etc.
It is important to point out that the key word in the previous paragraph is successfully because while it is possible to implement a LIMS quickly and easily, that implementation will most likely be a failure. Success, in this context, is defined as implementing the LIMS on-time, within budget, while meeting all requirements, and being fully adopted and utilized by the users and organization. Some of the time angst can be addressed by utilizing a Phased Approach to your LIMS implementation, although this will not necessarily affect your overall timeline. (See “Big Bang” vs. “Phased Approach”)
Interestingly, the ancillary myth to this is “Planning your LIMS implementation project is a waste of time.” In fact, one of the keys to success in LIMS implementation is taking the time to fully understand and document your requirements, workflows and processes, data and information flows, infrastructure, resources, etc. Using this information to plan your LIMS implementation and then managing to that plan has been shown to greatly enhance LIMS project success rates while greatly enhancing adoption and utilization rates.
#4 – If the lab implements a LIMS and gets automated, I will lose my job
This myth was started in the early days of LIMS when systems were being justified based on how many Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) of time could be saved through the automation of the lab and the lab operation. The fear was that the time saved by automating reports, calculations, results reviews, work processes, etc. would enable management to cut the manpower levels in the lab, thereby, saving money.
In reality, by automating the laboratory and its processes, workflows, and data acquisition and analysis, the efficiency gains allowed the laboratory staff to devote more time to doing more and better science, increasing innovation and sample throughput. Cutting staff was rarely, if ever, the end result.
#5 – LIMS consultants just want to stretch out the LIMS project to make more money
Any consultant or consulting organization hears this myth over and over again. However, this is actually completely opposite to the goals of any good consultant or consulting organization. What we really want to do is finish the LIMS project early while exceeding the expectations of our clients and delivering the highest quality work. In this way we delight our customers and they will come back to us with more and more projects. It is important to remember that the LIMS and laboratory informatics world is a pretty small universe and a consultant’s or consulting organization’s reputation is of paramount importance to maintaining a successful and growing business. People and organizations that have, or are contemplating, putting in place laboratory informatics strategies and solutions will invariably know each other and if a consultant or consulting organization tries to play this game, they will quickly be found out and panned.
Have you heard these myths before? Did you believe them then and do you believe them now? What other myths with regards to LIMS and/or LIMS Consulting have you heard?