A laboratory information management system (LIMS) is a significant investment and, as with most infrastructure costs, it can be hard to justify making the spend when your current laboratory data processes are working. In many cases, the choice boils down to not what’s working in your lab, but what could be working better.
When companies grow and the volume of laboratory work becomes increasingly complex, Excel spreadsheets and paper notebooks just aren’t practical any longer. Once the decision is made to invest in a LIMS, clients often want to know what they can do to make the cost less prohibitive. We’ve argued before for the ways that a LIMS actually saves costs for our clients, so in this blog post, we’re going to look at some concrete ways to reduce the price tag.
The first and most important thing that you can do to save costs in a LIMS implementation is to clean up your lab data before you import it to your new LIMS. Strategize with your labs to simplify all the data. For instance, having 12 analyses in your LIMS for a single type of laboratory assay can make your master data complicated. When the master data is in good shape and all nondigitized data are ready to be imported, you will save time and money in the pre-implementation phase by requiring less configuration and customization later in the implementation phase.
The next way to save costs prior to a LIMS implementation is to standardize lab processes and workflows. Work within your various labs to coordinate processes. For example, sample handling may happen differently in a microbiology lab vs chemistry lab but they could share the same processes. Make sure the standardized processes and workflows are then well documented, so the process flows in the LIMS can be easily understood by new users. Confirm that these documented processes are what actually occurs in the lab. More efficient processes outside the LIMS equal more efficient processes inside the LIMS. Standardizing and improving your laboratory processes before implementing a LIMS can greatly improve how the LIMS will work and can cut the amount of time spent by the vendor or a third-party consultant cleaning them up during the implementation.
Finally, review and improve your current standard operating procedures (SOPs). Optimizing SOPs before a LIMS implementation ensures that no time is wasted on configuring the LIMS for inefficient procedures.
Once the LIMS implementation is underway, make the investment to automate as much as possible. This may seem counterintuitive because it represents an upfront cost, but integrating instruments and automating certain processes will pay dividends in the future. Allocate specific subject matter experts (SMEs) who know the instruments and will have dedicated time during the implementation to execute the automation tasks. These SMEs should include people who actually perform laboratory work because often there is a disconnect between management and boots-on-the-ground processes.
Automating as much as possible is a smart investment, but focus first on areas that will have the biggest return on that investment—usually, interfacing the instruments that get the most use is a smart place to begin. Also, look for areas that cause the most amount of stress in the lab and that lead to errors, corrective actions, etc. This may not be strictly automation; it could be as simple as barcoded labels, preconfigured workflows guiding a complicated process, or folders or queries for finding samples that missed processing (among many other potential opportunities for efficiency).
Another way to save costs is to have your LIMS configured to implement result approval by exception. To do this, your LIMS can be configured with the allowable specifications for individual products or processes. When a lot or batch falls outside of the specification, the LIMS can trigger a notification. By doing this, instead of your lab analysts entering results manually as pass or fail with respect to the specifications, the system will automatically approve results that are within specification and only flag those that are not.
Post implementation, if your LIMS needs to be validated, you can reduce the cost of that work if you prepare some of the validation documentation in house. Guidance about what documents can be written by end-users and what should come from the vendor or a third-party consultant can be found in our white paper, Computer System Validation Documents and Their Authors.
Some of the post-implementation cost savings can be realized when you minimize customization so that the vendor IQ and OQ test scripts may be sufficient. The PQ testing is dependent on the intended use of your specific system and should be conducted carefully by someone familiar with your LIMS regardless of how much customization was done.
Configure your LIMS to automatically produce reports at scheduled intervals and notify stakeholders so the lab staff doesn’t have to spend time doing it manually. This frees up scientists’ time to actually do science.
After your LIMS Is implemented and your lab data is now in a central repository, it’s easier to perform data visualization. This gives you the ability to look at your data in new ways and uncover trends or patterns that can improve your resource planning and reduce costs.
The work you put in to organize your data, optimize and automate processes, interface instruments, and derive value from data visualization throughout your LIMS implementation (you DID do that work, right?) will continue to pay off in efficiency gains for the lifetime of your LIMS.
Share with us below what other successful ways have you found to save costs on your LIMS implementation?