Informatics Systems: A Serving of Alphabet Soup

Lab Informatics Systems Blog

Depending on how long you have been working in the lab informatics industry, you may have noticed that the list of acronyms feels almost endless. Since this blog was first written more than 10 years ago, that list of acronyms has only grown. This blog post updates the original list to provide insight into an expanded list of the most common acronyms. 

Our original post provided overviews of LIMS, ELN, and LES. Now, we will look at the additional acronyms of CDS, ERP, LLM, MES, QMS, SaaS or PaaS, and SDMS—all of which are informatics systems that are just as important for informatics professionals to understand as the initial set were.

The Basic Informatics Systems: LIMS/ELN/LES

In the last ten years, pretty much every laboratory-focused organization has adopted some form of one of these standard informatics systems. Current figures are that somewhere around 50–70% of all labs globally are using a laboratory information management system (LIMS), and many of them also have an electronic lab notebook (ELN). The LIMS handles sample, lot, and test management and is used across numerous industries’ quality control and analytical spaces. The ELN is designed to eliminate the need for paper lab notebooks. The laboratory execution system (LES) is a specialized ELN for quality analysis or quality control. Today, it is commonly rolled into an ELN or LIMS and is no longer sold as a stand-alone product. 

In today’s interconnected and data-centric organizations, many more systems have become part of the informatics footprint. These systems are increasingly integrated with an organization’s LIMS or ELN to provide a central pool of data that can be accessed to make wise business decisions. 

Webinar: LIMS/ELN/CDS: Uses, Overlaps, & Benefits

What is a CDS?

A chromatography data system (CDS) has become almost as common in today’s labs as a LIMS or ELN. A CDS is designed so that data can flow freely from it to a LIMS, ELN, or SDMS (more on that later). It is possible to achieve a paperless lab when you have a CDS interfaced with your ELN and LIMS

What is an ERP system?

An enterprise resource planning system (ERP) is your organization’s central nervous system. One of the most common ERP systems is SAP, which has a long history of providing business process optimization to global customers. SAP also interfaces quite well with most LIMS products. Depending on your organization’s specific needs, you may have a LIMS and an ERP or just one of these two systems.

Webinar: SAP QM or LIMS: Which Is Right for Your Lab?

What Is an LLM?

Large language models (LLMs) are another term you may be hearing more about these days, especially if your organization wants to adopt machine learning and artificial intelligence for better data management. Large language models are trained on the sets of combined data that can be pulled from all informatics data sources within an organization. The LLM is then used to comb through reams of data very quickly to identify research targets and present those results in plain language.

What is an MES?

A manufacturing execution system (MES) doesn’t necessarily impact the everyday work of technicians in the lab. However, the MES does impact the quality of the finished product, and as such, data from the system may need to be consulted in the lab. Batch records and recipes are stored in the MES. 

An MES has been part of the life sciences industry’s best practices for the entirety of the 21st century. In the last 10 years, interfacing the MES with LIMS has become standard practice in any manufacturing setting. Building interconnections between the ERP, LIMS, QMS (more on that later), and MES has improved access to the organization’s true product, its data. Once decision-makers across an organization can access that data to get a holistic overview of workflows, it’s possible to optimize and streamline in new ways.

What Is a QMS?

White Paper: Preparing-for-Industry-4.0-with-QMS-and-MES-Validation

A quality management system (QMS) is another integral part of an organization’s informatics footprint. It ensures the best and most compliant product is delivered to the end user. Today’s QMS has evolved, much like the ELN, from a paper-based system to spreadsheets and now to purpose-built software. Using QMS software in a regulated industry requires validation, but validation can be beneficial in any industry because of the added data integrity it provides.

What Is SaaS or PaaS?

Another big change in the informatics landscape over the last 10 years is the rise of cloud-based systems. Any of the software that you implement in your organization can be hosted in the cloud, and much of it can be leased so that your organization no longer has the responsibility of maintaining infrastructure or updating the software. This model is called software as a service (SaaS). A new laboratory data management system has debuted in the last few years, called platform as a service (PaaS) or, sometimes integrated PaaS—iPaaS. This is a software choice that could integrate, optimize, and streamline all of your data sources through one interface. In theory, this promises to make it possible to derive better insights from current and historical data. In practice, organizations are finding the necessary data cleaning and FAIRification to be a significant undertaking.

What Is an SDMS?

White Paper: Dos and Don'ts of a SaaS LIMS implementation

Last but not least, a scientific data management system (SDMS) is another term you may hear. These systems are another type of software that is being supplanted slowly by PaaS. An SDMS is basically a document management system for instrument data, some of which is in graphical form. An SDMS interfaces with your ELN to automate documentation of results—you don’t have to print out your chromatogram or diffraction spectra and paste them into a paper notebook. 

Did we miss any laboratory acronyms that you want to learn about? Tell us about it in the comments! 

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