A 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.
At the core of the “LIMS onion” is the underlying architecture of the system. This varies depending on the LIMS. LIMS architectures include:
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.
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:
LIMS functionality that is generally available in most LIMS includes:
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:
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”?