Unrealized Expectations: A Realistic View on LIMS Implementations


Congratulations on your decision to purchase a new laboratory information management system (LIMS) or upgrade your current platform! Once the ink has dried on the contract you might start to wonder, what’s next? Too often, we see clients who expect to go back to their normal routines and wait for us to tell them when the LIMS is deployed and ready for them to sign in. Unfortunately, that’s not how the LIMS implementation process typically works. If we were to pick out the biggest unrealized expectation that shocks most of our clients, it would be the resources needed and their required level of involvement. 

An oft-cited proverb thought to have African origins is “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” If your LIMS implementation project is going to successfully take you far, you will need to work as a team. As with most system implementations, planning and configuration will be needed to develop the product. However, many companies fail to realize just how involved their teams must be to make the project a success. Implementations must be a team effort involving dedicated internal resources, vendors, and support from third-party consultancies. 

It’s wishful thinking to assume that the vendor or consultants can fully develop a system for a company or laboratory without any input from your internal team. Active participation from and communication with internal resources is critical for the success of any implementation and may even save costs. Company policies or management will set the tone for system standards, while laboratories and other departments provide critical process details, data, and testing requirements, and specific reporting needs. Read further to learn in what ways organizations should expect to be involved with their LIMS implementation.

Set Standards and Optimize

Before a LIMS implementation begins, it is critical for the internal resources to optimize processes and standardize as much as possible. How do you start optimizing? The simplest way is to put all processes down on paper; see what your current workflows are and determine where bottlenecks occur. 

This assessment and optimization activity typically takes 2–4 weeks and includes laboratory personnel, managers, technical leads, production, operations, and even quality. Every department that will use the LIMS should be represented and provide input on how their processes work. Optimizing processes before a LIMS implementation starts ensures that the processes developed in the new system will also be optimized and efficient. 

Standardization decisions must be made as well to set standards and formats across the system. This provides consistency that helps users navigate the system, understand system processes, and improve their familiarity with and buy-in to the new ways of working. Areas to standardize typically include:

  • Naming conventions (tests and methods, materials, containers, etc.)
  • Significant figures (for tests and what is reportable)
  • Sampling identification conventions
  • Statuses (samples, inventory, etc.)
  • Terminology

Map Processes

As part of optimization, current and future system and laboratory processes should be documented before any development starts. These process blueprints guide the implementation team with respect to how the new system processes should flow. But how are these processes properly documented? Two approaches are commonly used, as follows:

  • Internal approach: Each department, including the laboratory, operations, and quality, at minimum, generates their own workflows and an internal resource compiles them.  However, it’s not typical for internal resources to be familiar with generating detailed workflows.
  • External approach: A third-party consultancy conducts in-depth interviews with stakeholders in each department and documents processes thoroughly

Each of these approaches has pros and cons, as shown in the illustrations below.

Internal Approach Pros and Cons
External Approach Pros and Cons

In either of these two approaches, internal resources will need to be involved to provide process details, review documentation, and give examples. However, the time needed to document processes also varies between approaches. 

The internal approach requires more time from internal resources to generate and review workflows themselves while also balancing their daily responsibilities. 

Conversely, although using the external approach will still require time for interviews and discussions, workflow creation is handled by the consultant, reducing the time needed from internal resources.

Gather Requirements

In any LIMS implementation, communication with the laboratories or other stakeholders is critical and should be ongoing throughout the entire process. One of the most important elements of a system, around which communication is essential, is gathering measurable requirements. To be successful, lab resources and representatives must be dedicated and available to support the implementation, providing vital details that typically include:

  • What tests are performed and how?
  • What analytes are needed for each test?
  • What calculations are needed and how complex are they?
  • What instruments are used and are they interfaced with other systems?
  • Are there instrument output files available?
  • Are analyst certifications needed?
  • Does the LIMS need to be interfaced with other business applications, like an ERP or MES?

Reporting Needs

The last expectation of your internal resource team is defining reports and output requirements. This task requires communication between the lab, other departments, and even upper management across the business. As data are generated, the implementation team needs to understand who will be consuming the data and what their needs are with respect to the data. This assists report and dashboard creation by focusing on exactly what is required. Details that will need support from internal resources to include the following:

  • What reports are currently used?
  • What specific data is needed for each report?
  • How are metrics generated and what specific data points are needed?
  • Are dashboards needed to display live metrics?
  • Is there a specific format that needs to be applied?
  • Who should have access to these reports?
White Paper: Incorporate data visualization into organization

A Successful LIMS Implementation

Purchasing or upgrading an informatics system is a great way to manage data and improve laboratory processes. However, going into a LIMS implementation without proper knowledge of what’s expected of your internal team can cause delays. Moving forward without the involvement of appropriate stakeholders can cause increased project costs and longer project timelines. Implementations without the wholehearted involvement of a company or laboratory and its internal resources rarely see success. 

Implementations need a team of dedicated laboratory personnel, system vendors, and third-party consultants to properly develop the solution. Communication and participation from all parties is critical to reaching victory. 

Were you aware of all the ways an internal team is needed for a LIMS Implementation?

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  1. I have worked in a lab for a few years now. I can attest to the importance of having the lab work as close as possible to the LIMS vendor in order to really nail the naming conventions and significant figures. If the foundation of the information isn’t solid the data that comes after will be difficult to rely on.

    1. I have worked in a lab for a few years now. I can attest to the importance of having the lab work as close as possible to the LIMS vendor in order to really nail the naming conventions and significant figures. If the foundation of the information isn’t solid the data that comes after will be difficult to rely on.