5 Things to Document When Justifying a LIMS or ELN

As clients go through the process of getting approval for laboratory informatics purchases, CSols experts often field questions like, “How much does a LIMS cost?” or “Is an ELN worth the investment?” or “What is the ROI for LIMS?”

The answer to these questions will change for every client based on their business goals and starting point.  We know that “it depends” is the last thing you want to hear when you’re trying to get approval for a substantial software purchase, but the answers do, unfortunately, depend.

Fortunately, there are some things any lab or project team can document to build a strong case to support such a sizable capital investment. Start by capturing some metrics and documenting the current state. Complaints about pain points will already be well-known, but documenting costs and wasteful practices will bolster your argument for a LIMS or ELN that can address those pain points.

CSols’ proprietary methodology leverages workflow maps, but any methodology will be useful as long as you capture the following things to support your LIMS or ELN purchase justification.

1. Costs per test or costs per hour

Before or during the workflow documentation process, find out how much often-used methods cost to run or what the hourly cost is to a particular piece of equipment.  Having accurate cost information is crucial to proving the ROI once your LIMS or ELN goes live. 

  • For example, one client calculated that a chromatography method cost about $5 per run, including reagents, labor, electricity, and average instrument maintenance cost.  Reducing the overall run time was not as important as reducing the number of runs each day.  One justification for their LIMS was reducing the number of retests and repeats. 
  • Another client took a different approach and calculated that reagents, labor, electricity, and average instrument maintenance costs came to about $100/hour for each of five reactors.  This lab could not reduce the number of reactor loads, but reducing reactor run time was one justification for a LIMS purchase. 

2. Turnaround time

Analytical services labs and in-process testing labs are often less concerned about how much a test costs to execute and more concerned with how quickly they can produce results.  If this is the case for your lab, document the current state turnaround time (TAT) for your most-used analyses.  Knowing the overall TAT is a good start, but if you can capture how much time each sub-task takes to complete, it will be easier to identify a LIMS or ELN functionality that can bring relative time savings. 

3. Quality and compliance drivers

Often, clients “don’t know what they don’t know,” meaning they have no idea how many keystroke errors people are making or how often numbers get transposed.  Since it is difficult to capture these errors in manual processes, it can be challenging to quantify the value of the data integrity improvements that are inherent in LIMS or ELN.  Even if you can’t count the daily keystroke errors in the lab, you can document quality risks that are part of your current practices.  To put a dollar value on such items, expect to gather data from multiple departments.

  • For example, a client wanted to justify expanding their ELN from a single lab to all R&D labs.  The non-ELN locations were writing results on paper and then keying the results into an Excel file to report results for experimental processes.  The R&D technicians used this data to make process adjustments (i.e., add more raw materials or lower reactor temperature) to optimize finished goods production.  The human error risks inherent in this process were tough to quantify, but the costs of a process error were well understood.  The client was able to justify the ELN expansion based on what it could cost if decisions were made based on incorrectly recorded data.  Additional risks associated with accidentally over-writing cells in Excel provided further justification.

4. Wasteful processes

Once you create your current-state process maps, the first thing to identify and document is waste that a LIMS or ELN can eliminate.  Knowing where bottlenecks and other problems lie makes it easier to determine the best solution for removing them—sometimes that solution is not LIMS or ELN, but often LIMS or ELN functionality can significantly reduce costs per analysis and turnaround time and greatly improve data quality and integrity.   

  • To return to our $100/hour reactor example: LIMS e-signature functionality and alert automation could reduce reactor run time by ten minutes because technicians no longer had to walk to a manager’s office, wait for a review, and get a signature before turning off the reactor.  Saving $8.34 doesn’t seem like much, but if you extrapolate that savings to five reactors running three reactions each work day, that LIMS automation saves the lab $65,000 each year.   
  • Eliminating wasteful processes with LIMS or ELN automation can reduce TATs, thereby increasing resource utilization and customer satisfaction.

5. Data integrity risks

Next, use your process documentation to identify data integrity risks like those in the process R&D lab, above.  Be sure to capture the cascading risks associated with potential sources of error when documenting the impacts these risks have on your processes and, ultimately, your finished goods. 

It’s all about Data… Integrity that is!
  • For example, in the R&D lab, an ELN instrument interface could eliminate the need to handwrite instrument read-outs. This single interface eliminates the possibility of misreading the instrument, writing the value down incorrectly, typing in the wrong number, and accidentally overwriting a value in Excel.  Any single error could cascade through the R&D process, causing R&D technicians to add too much or too little of expensive raw material.  Using the wrong amount of raw material cascades into further costs
    because more time and resources are required to identify
    the problem and repeat the experiment.

If you’d like to learn more how CSols’ laboratory and strategic experience can help you document your current state, send us a message here


Did your team perform any process and data and information flow mapping as part of your LIMS or ELN implementation? Do you wish you had?  Please leave a comment and let us know!

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