The short answer to the question of how to choose the best laboratory information management system (LIMS) is the old standard, it depends. The longer answer is that the best LIMS is the one that most aligns with your business, your IT infrastructure, and the workflows of all stakeholders. When you know what you need your LIMS to do for your lab, you will be able to make a clear choice from the variety of options out there. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the various points to consider to help make that choice.
Fully understanding the current (As-Is) state of your lab is the first step in choosing the best LIMS. Many of our clients have derived unexpected value from a CSols strategic services engagement to help them map their As-Is lab processes. A thorough evaluation of lab processes can expose opportunities for efficiency that can have a positive impact on lab operations even before the new LIMS is in place.
Choosing the best LIMS is a complex process. There are many considerations that extend far beyond your lab. Our clients often find that there are more unknown unknowns than they expected when they begin to look at their current processes.
During the As-Is process of a strategic planning project, the CSols consultants provide value by mitigating the risk of selecting the wrong LIMS with a methodical process to ensure that the best LIMS for your lab is selected based on objective data. The impact on the end-users is the most important consideration because they have to embrace the new technology. Even the best LIMS will fail if it is not adopted by those for whom it is meant.
The importance of capturing requirements accurately can’t be overstated. Requirements are the keystone of the process forward. First-time LIMS purchasers don’t know what they don’t know, and choosing what may look like the best LIMS without making every effort to accurately define your requirements can lead to wasting money.
As part of developing the requirements, you should consider how the lab workflows will change or be harmonized. For example, if you have labs located around the world, some of the requirements will be based on your IT department’s approach to global software deployments. Will your IT department want to support multiple instances based on workflows, business rules, or local language needs? If so, will you need your LIMS to be customized to accommodate these requirements? The best LIMS is going to be the one that has the best fit with the desired operating (To-Be) state, right out of the box without having to do extensive customization. (Additional Reading: Customization vs Configuration)
Note—even after the LIMS has been selected, you may uncover additional requirements during the implementation phase. This is normal and expected. The additional requirements probably can be accommodated by your chosen LIMS; however, some may require configuration or customization, which will add time and expense. The difficulty of making such changes after the implementation has begun will depend on the chosen LIMS.
Your decision should not be based solely on the features of the LIMS solution. It’s important to evaluate the vendor behind the product. Below are a few LIMS vendor considerations to take during the selection process.
LIMS software solutions have become quite advanced in the last several years, offering more functionality and features than ever before. To some extent, each LIMS has the capacity to do what your lab needs, but what you may not know is how much customization is required. For instance, handling multiple workflows and business processes is possible within any LIMS, but some will require extensive customization to do this effectively. This is why finding a trusted and transparent vendor is a key part in the choice of the best LIMS, and one that often gets overlooked.
Opinions have been known to force their way into decisions about which vendor should be chosen, rather than making a thorough technical evaluation of the LIMS. The way to avoid the influence of opinion is to conduct vendor demonstrations. These meetings make use of the As-Is and To-Be documents to develop demo scripts that each vendor must respond to on an even playing field. The vendors’ responses to the demo scripts help clients compare various LIMS products based on actual lab workflows. This process considers the input of all LIMS vendors and relevant stakeholders to mitigate the risk of making the uninformed choice of a product that doesn’t meet your needs.
Knowing what the greatest gains that you want to achieve are is another key part of making the choice of the best LIMS vendor for you. Each LIMS vendor will have a slightly different approach to the common modules, instrument interfaces, and interfaces to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) tool or other lab informatics products like a chromatography data system (CDS). These differences will inform your choice if you know what efficiencies are your top priorities.
Another way to differentiate between vendors is by their experience in the marketplace and level of support provided. There are large LIMS vendors that provide modules within the LIMS to meet the needs of a variety of industries, and then there are niche LIMS vendors that offer a LIMS meant for one specific industry. Each LIMS offers slight differences in functionality.
For example, STARLIMS can be made to fit your industry but it may require a lot of configuration, making it difficult to upgrade to a new release. LabWare’s Pharma Template is available out of the box, but individual clients lack the ability to do additional configuration to the LIMS. A number of industry-specific LIMS products are available that work well in labs with narrow scopes of work. The demo scripts that CSols has developed will uncover many of the differences in functionality and potential configuration needs.
Be sure to ask the LIMS vendors to give examples of other similar projects in your industry where they performed a LIMS implementation. Other good questions when interviewing potential vendors are:
Even the best LIMS product can become problematic if the vendor is not responsive to your needs (or disappears at some point during or after your implementation project). Will you have dedicated resources or will the deployment team change each week? We’ve seen through experience that changing team members can delay the project and even throw off the project team’s cohesion.
Doing the due diligence to vet your potential vendors before making a selection can minimize the risks mentioned above.
The last key factor when choosing the best LIMS is the need to demonstrate that the LIMS is delivering a return on investment (ROI). Decide where it is that you want the LIMS to demonstrate its value as an investment in the future of the company. Every lab’s ROI will be different depending on their individual processes and workflows; just ensure that the selected LIMS can provide the value you’re seeking.
One of the most common ways to demonstrate ROI is in data integrity, by moving away from paper processes to a digital system. A LIMS will pull all your lab data together to provide efficiencies that demonstrate ROI. The data becomes searchable and relatable, and you don’t have to worry about paper storage. A LIMS can be linked to other informatics systems, providing traceability from the lab to manufacturing to quality control. As companies become more virtual, a LIMS lets you access data from anywhere. The best LIMS for your lab will interface easily with the other systems used in your organization and allow remote access to your data.
Another way to demonstrate ROI of your chosen LIMS is with better reporting, business analytics, and traceability. The importance of business analytics is growing and senior management want to see more from their data—trending, visualization, reporting, etc. The ability to report on your data in those forms provides opportunities to uncover hidden business insights. In research and development labs, there’s the potential for predictive modeling and high-throughput testing. Organizations are moving toward better understanding and more complete use of their data, and that can’t happen without a central data repository. Your selected LIMS can be a part of that data repository.
Last, measuring ROI of your chosen LIMS can be done through instrument integration. Interfacing instruments with your LIMS will provide an ROI of increased data integrity and regulatory compliance. Newly connected instruments will also improve sample processing turnaround times and reduce human errors, The best LIMS for your lab will improve workflows and increase your lab’s efficiency. Keep in mind that LIMS vendors are selling a product, not a service to your lab. Although you will see improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the lab through instrument integration, report generation, regulatory compliance, traceability, and sample processing turnaround times, direct evidence for the ROI of the LIMS is less obvious.
It can be a smart money decision to work with a third-party consultant throughout the vendor and LIMS selection process. You’ll want someone objective and vendor-neutral to coordinate unbiased research on your LIMS options. Consultants like those at CSols work for you, not the LIMS vendor, to ensure your lab chooses the best LIMS that will provide the most improvements and efficiencies for your lab’s workflows.
If you would like additional information about how to get started click here to learn more about planning for a LIMS or ELN implementation.
What additional criteria have you used to be sure you chose the best LIMS for your lab?