What Does a LIMS Do?

Layer of an OnionA fundamental question that many people new to the informatics world ask is “What does a LIMS do?”  Now you can go onto Wikipedia or a myriad of other resources and find a listing of the functions and features that a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) provides.  For many people this would suffice, but is it really that simple to read a list of features and functions to grasp whata LIMS is fully capable of? The real answer is the answer given by Shrek who when asked about the nature of ogres replied, “ogres are like onions, they have layers”.  You read correctly, LIMS are like onions; they too have layers.  So let’s start peeling back the layers.

LIMS Architecture:  The Core of the LIMS Onion

At the core of the “LIMS onion” is the underlying architecture of the system.  This varies depending on the LIMS.  LIMS architectures include:

  • Thick client – LIMS on the client (i.e. PC) and the database on the server. Data processing done on the client.
  • Thin client – LIMS access via a browser, no LIMS software installed on the client. LIMS and database on the server.
  • Web-enabled – thick client with a web browser component
  • Web-based –a hybrid between thick and thin client architectures, most of the client side work is done through the browser but some may be done on the desktop itself.

So why is this layer of the onion important?  Well, it mostly has to do with the use of computing power, speed, IT costs, and IT support effort.  Most organizations’ IT departments will have a large say in what architecture any LIMS selected and implemented will be.  Aside from that, from a usability point of view, scientists prefer that which is familiar, and today, that is utilizing an app through a browser.  This is why this architecture is widely popular today, as well as the fact that it supports the newer Software as a Service (SaaS) LIMS licensing schemas.

LIMS Functionality:  The Most Familiar Layers of the LIMS Onion

As we mentioned earlier, when asked what a LIMS does, most will go directly to the functionality and capabilities that LIMS provide and support.  These are the most familiar layers of the LIMS onion.  LIMS, however, continually evolve and the list of functions and features continually expand and morph.  It is very easy to get confused when comparing LIMS to mix up which one offers what capabilities.  It doesn’t help either that many LIMS vendors use their own terminology when discussing the features and capabilities of their solution.

A convenient way of grouping LIMS functionality is by laboratory process, which can be broken down as:

  • Sample login / registration
  • Assignment of tests, scheduling of work, tracking of sample
  • Quality control of the sample, instruments, solutions, etc.
  • Recording of data, storage of data
  • Review and approval of results and samples
  • Sample reporting

LIMS functionality that is generally available in most LIMS includes:

  • Sample management
  • Data entry and capture
  • Instrument & application integration
  • Workflows
  • Review and approval of results and samples
  • Trending and reporting
  • Barcode printing and handling
  • Compliance, electronic signatures and records, audit logs, etc.
  • Instrument calibration and maintenance
  • Inventory management
  • Study management, stability studies
  • Document management
  • Personnel and workload management

LIMS Benefits: The Outermost Layer of the LIMS Onion

Now we get to the most important layers of the LIMS onion, the outermost layers.  This is where it really shows what a LIMS can do.  This is the layer that highlights the benefits a LIMS can provide to an organization.  The benefits that you will realize are very dependent on what your current state was, what your goals were, and how you chose to implement your LIMS.  LIMS benefits include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased lab and organization efficiency
  • Increased scientist, researcher, and lab technician effectiveness
  • Increased compliance and reduction of risk
  • Increased information sharing and collaboration
  • Increased quality and reduction of error

Have you peeled back the layers of your LIMS onion?  What did you find on the outermost layers and then further in; is your LIMS a “sweet vidalia onion” or a “sharp red baron onion”?

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