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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?