Whenever we speak to clients about the needs and pain points in their laboratories, there is one topic that always comes up: Laboratory Data Management. What is interesting is that not all of our clients have the same definition of laboratory data management. For some, it means managing the things they are currently tracking in notebooks, like instruments and their components, instrument calibrations and performance checks, or in which room, fridge, or box is a sample, standard, or reagent stored. A different set of clients understand it to mean how data is put into a system, such as interfacing their instruments with an informatics system to reduce manual data entry errors, better ways of tracking where an expired standard was used for sample testing, or keeping all results data in one place for easier reporting, instead of in multiple notebooks.
The thing is, they are all correct. Regardless of definition, proper lab data management is in the eye of the beholder. It depends on what kind of data is causing the most issues in any particular lab.
Now that we’ve got the definition out of the way, we get to the fun part. Which system should you use to manage your laboratory data—LIMS? ELN? SDMS? CDS? The answer is simple. YES!
Our clients want their lab informatics systems to manage and track calibration dates for instruments or to let them know that a reagent or media used for a batch of samples hasn’t expired, to support their testing processes. This kind of supporting information is too often tracked in lab notebooks. In some cases, it could be in multiple notebooks for just one sample.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could have all of that supporting data in one place, easily accessible for any sample in question? What if someone asked you to re-run a sample from last month? How long would it take to find that sample now to re-run the test? Some of the stories we hear have involved days or, at least, too many hours.
If all your storage locations were set up in a system and the relevant samples could be associated with those locations, that information could be found in minutes instead of hours.
Managing and tracking lab data in notebooks is a daunting task. Sure, it’s easy to write down the numbers or paste in a results printout, but how do you find them again, easily, six months down the road when it’s time to write up the report or show an auditor? Collecting and accessing all of the data involved in managing the lab, or tweaking lab processes to be more efficient, are not efficient practices in themselves. These types of activities require someone to transpose the results and dates from notebooks and put them into a spreadsheet or database and then build the control charts and turnaround time calculations to better visualize how a process is progressing.
A laboratory informatics system can do all of that for you. Better control of your data can be accomplished with interfaces to instruments or other systems like SAP, an MES, or your CDS. The system functionality that interfacing would deliver can provide the control you need by greatly reducing any manual data errors. It also allows your teams to collaborate with other departments by giving them access to manufacturing data for comparison to the lab data in a more convenient way than by having someone input it in a different system.
Most laboratory informatics systems provide base functionality that can be configured and expanded to easily manage your lab data in a way that makes sense to you.
Today’s LIMS and ELNs have very good data storage and search capabilities. An SDMS provides the ability to collect and store data from a LIMS, instruments, and/or an ELN and make it easier for folks outside the lab to collaborate and search the stored data. CSols has been very successful in configuring and expanding LIMS, ELN, and SDMS applications to help our clients manage their laboratory data in intuitive ways.
→ Additional Reading: The Value of an SDMS
LIMS and ELNs have built-in tools that allow them to be interfaced with most instruments or a CDS to help control how data is entered and stored. These laboratory informatics systems also provide platforms for interfacing with manufacturing and R&D systems to capture and update product specifications or log manufacturing lots and samples.
These kinds of expansions not only enable better lab data management, but also facilitate better management of your processes, from sampling to reporting final results. In most cases we have seen, these interfaces streamline our clients’ laboratory processes and help them become more efficient at the same time.
CSols has worked on a number of projects that help our clients manage their laboratory data in just the right way. The process always starts with writing or updating their current requirements to understand the path to expand their current system or implement a new one. Our experience in laboratory data management helps our clients see the different ways that they can better manage their laboratory data as well as streamline their existing processes.
How are you managing your lab data now? Do you need some advice on how to move forward?
It’s surprising how many labs don’t understand the importance of lab management systems and a lot of them tend to still rely on outdated methods of tracking such as software that’s 10 years out of date or excel spreadsheets, which makes it complicated for both workers and management alike