Is there a space-time anomaly in the instrument interfacing world? If you were to do a Google search on Interfacing Lab Instruments to LIMS or ELN you would find fascinating, inspiring, and thoughtful articles and several product advertisements. The issues and challenges in interfacing lab instruments to LIMS (and now ELNs), however, appear to be repeating themselves. Topics debating the time, cost, and benefits of interfacing lab instruments, unidirectional vs. bidirectional interfaces, horror stories about proprietary instrument data formats, etc. are virtually unchanged except for the players and standards being discussed.
For example, the software products available to interface lab instruments to LIMS or ELN have changed names, mechanisms, technologies but the base functionality offered has stayed virtually identical. Likewise, the “standard data format” has morphed from ASCII to CSV to GAML to AnIML but vendor support is still iffy. Lastly, the APIs to support interfacing have never satisfied everyone but “if the instrument vendors would just support “ABC”, then instrument interfacing would be a breeze.” Recently “ABC” was SOAP but now RESTful is the new “ABC”. Yep, definitely some kind of space-time anomaly exists in the instrument interfacing world.
But the tool, style or data format standard used to create or facilitate instrument interfacing is not the true critical success factor for interfacing instruments. The real key to successful interfacing of lab instruments to LIMS or ELN will always be the same.
Time loop or time ripple, it really doesn’t matter. What really matters is that it will always be a challenge to effectively and efficiently interface lab instruments to a LIMS or ELN system. It is unlikely that there will ever be a “magic” system or driver or data format that will make instrument interfacing a simple plug-n-play endeavor. In fact, what has been seen is that even when all things align, there is still the need to customize or tweak the instrument interface. This is generally because how the organization or scientist wants to use the instrument, instrument system, and the data will invariably be different.
So the key to being successful in interfacing instruments to a LIMS or ELN is developing and documenting the business, lab, and scientist requirements for the interface and the laboratory data being generated from the instrument. Further, before selecting the interfacing system or style, a business justification should be developed. Remember to consider both quantitative and qualitative measures when developing your justification.
One of the issues surrounding the interfacing of instruments to a LIMS or ELN is the perceived cost. It is not unusual to hear that the instruments in the lab were not interfaced to the LIMS or ELN because it “cost too much”. However, we have found that typical ROI periods for instrument interfaces are less than one year! Additionally, the quality, user (scientist) satisfaction, and system adoption rates always greatly improve when instrument interfaces are implemented. Once the business justification is completed, the instrument interfacing system and style can be selected and the interface itself can be developed and implemented.
What has been your experience in interfacing your instruments to your LIMS or ELN? Were you able to use an out of the box solution or did you need to custom develop the interface. Did you fully develop your requirements and cost justifications before proceeding? What was your ROI period. Did you just see a Delorean go by?