People have been asking, “What is a LIMS?,” practically since LIMS was invented. (We’ve asked it ourselves!) In 1998, Dr. Alan McLelland of the Institute of Biochemistry, Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, penned his famous—at least in informatics circles—essay offering four viewpoints on this question; those of the analytical staff, the laboratory manager, the IT group, and the finance team.
The essay, which is included in The Complete Guide to LIMS and Laboratory Informatics (2016 edition), brought to mind the ancient Indian fable of the blind men and the elephant. According to the fable, six old blind men approach an elephant, and each touches a different part—the side, the tusk, the trunk, the leg, the ear, and the tail. Each forms a different opinion of what an elephant is like—a wall, a spear, a snake, a tree, a fan, and a rope. They proceed to argue bitterly about what an elephant is, without understanding that they each had only a piece of the truth.
Every group of LIMS stakeholders, likewise, has its own opinion about the value of a LIMS. In this blog post, we’ll look at the opinions of those groups (substituting the business as a whole for McLelland’s finance team). The true value of a LIMS, much like the elephant in the fable, can only be understood by putting all the pieces together.
A LIMS allows repetitive laboratory data collection and calculations to be automated. The reports that a LIMS produces can include detailed statistical analyses, so your analytical staff may not need to understand R functions or Python. This alone could assure its value to many a laboratory analyst, but there are additional benefits. Some of these include the following:
Chief among the values of a LIMS to the laboratory manager is that it frees up laboratory staff to spend more of their time on science. Most commercial LIMS allow for workflow automation, with easy-to-use menus for configuration. This automation frees up analysts’ time. If your focus is on research and development, there’s more time for innovation. If your focus is quality control, there are fewer errors and more time for preventative work.
Beyond the gains in time efficiency, there are additional benefits to the laboratory manager, such as the following:
A commercial LIMS is reliable, robust, and secure. Most use industry-standard infrastructure and software tools, thereby reducing the support time needed from your IT staff. A LIMS may reduce the number of software programs required by a lab. A LIMS can interface more easily with existing programs, eliminating the need for customized and complicated data transfers. A LIMS is often easier to support than an existing data management system that may have been cobbled together by several different people over many years. Automatic back up and data archiving capabilities are standard, adding to data security. These reductions in complexity may make the LIMS pay for itself in the eyes of your IT people.
A LIMS feeds data to the corporate network and generates reports that make it much easier to manipulate and learn from that data. This, in turn, provides assurance that the correct product is manufactured and may identify areas for optimization.
A QC lab provides rapid assurance that the product has or has not been manufactured correctly. A LIMS helps do that effectively, as well as provides early-stage information from raw and in-process materials to prevent problems.
An R&D lab’s main value is to develop new products as quickly as possible, as time to market is a key success metric. A LIMS supports this by transforming analytical data into more useful research knowledge and by providing easy access to historical and complementary experimental data.
A LIMS provides financial benefits through improved efficiency, productivity, and quality. It’s also important to recognize the potential cost of not having a LIMS. The benefits to the bottom line are often significant and quickly apparent.
In reality, a LIMS transcends each of these specific values. It becomes a means for risk management, a safeguard of data integrity, a tool for increased productivity, and a driver of innovation. Its value to the organization as a whole is far more than the sum of its values to the various teams described. A state-of-the-art LIMS can enable you to do more with less. If you’d like to learn more about the full value of a LIMS for your organization, reach out to us.
How does your work group think about the value of a LIMS? Have we missed anything here? Comment below and let us know.