Does your environmental lab use a 30-year-old laboratory information management system (LIMS) that is slow and not user friendly, but still works? Have you ever considered the real cost of maintaining that system or the limitations it has? How do you figure that out and make the case to upgrade?
Modernizing your LIMS could be a big investment of time and resources and can add a layer of complexity when managing legacy data, but modernizing may also significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of your environmental lab. At CSols, we’ve walked many clients through the modernization process successfully and helped them realize those efficiencies, improve data integrity, and retain access to their legacy data. This blog post will explain why you should modernize the LIMS in your environmental lab, and how you can minimize disruptions to business processes or data losses during the process.
After the initial investment in a new system, upgrading your LIMS can bring substantial cost savings and higher returns on investment for your environmental lab. Some of these financial benefits are realized through reduced labor costs and improved resource utilization. If your old LIMS is an on-premises product and you modernize to a cloud-based LIMS, there are also savings on infrastructure maintenance to take into account.
With a modern LIMS, you can minimize and even eliminate the need for manual data entry and paperwork through automation. Many environmental labs are still printing data from instruments to be hand-keyed into LIMS or other data management systems, using as much as 20% of the lab technician’s working hours to complete administrative tasks. These activities complicate the sample chain of custody and can increase the risk of human error.
Interfacing all of your laboratory instruments allows data to be uploaded straight into LIMS. This saves the laboratory technicians time and allows them to focus on lab work, while also greatly reducing paper waste and purchase costs. Streamlining and automating the result entry process improves data integrity and removes the opportunity for human error. This also decreases stressful and time-consuming tasks for your team members, which reduces the need for extended training, enhances retention rates, and provides a more positive work environment. The system controls in a modern LIMS prevent deviations caused by human error, improve tracking and reporting, and reduce costs of archival data storage.
A major concern of environmental laboratories is turnaround time, from sample receipt to the final report data reaching the client’s hands. Reducing manual data entry positively impacts overall deadlines as there are fewer tasks that need to be performed by the busy laboratory technician.
Turnaround time can sometimes be critical to the entire project. For instance, if the project is part of a remediation, the client will send samples to be tested and determine whether to keep digging based on the results. A delay could mean that cleanup crews are on hold until the results are received. Worse, any contamination could continue to spread while samples are processed.
From sample receipt through the testing process and beyond to reporting, each step of the testing process can be tracked and monitored to both inform departments ahead of time and allow preparations to be made. Tracking all processes grants the management team visibility as to where bottlenecks are occurring, enables resolution or mitigation of the bottleneck through better workflows and more efficient equipment usage, and provides time to evaluate any ripple effects across the laboratory. Efficiencies are also gained in two additional ways:
Staying compliant with the various regulations and specifications is crucial for any environmental lab. A modern LIMS can manage and apply those specifications automatically to help you meet regulatory requirements.
A few of the ways that modernization supports environmental lab compliance include accurate data tracking with more inputs, robust reporting, and quality control. A modern LIMS easily creates, stores, and maintains client data, securely.
A modern LIMS also works with a quality management system or learning management system to track training and certification, so that only trained technicians can complete specific steps in the process. This feature provides an opportunity to centralize occupational safety accreditation and standardize training records.
Collaboration and communication are vital for the success of any environmental lab. Upgrading your LIMS can enhance these activities through centralization and improved data sharing as well as remote access and mobile compatibility.
For most environmental companies, sample processing requires teamwork from several departments as samples travel through the lab, and various details are needed by each team. As a result, sample tracking and process visibility become increasingly important.
With a modern LIMS, the sample custody features provide visibility to where each sample is in the overall process and even its specific storage location. This level of detail improves communication within the environmental lab and provides an opportunity to make more appropriate decisions on what levels of staffing are needed to ensure deadlines are met.
Environmental labs may hesitate to modernize their LIMS if the current system still functions (however poorly) or holds many years of legacy data sets that need to be preserved. When undertaking any LIMS implementation, CSols consultants take special care with the following aspects:
Investing in a modern LIMS ensures your lab is prepared for future challenges and advancements in technology and scalability. Continuous safety and security updates and support are important in today’s world of scams and phishing attempts. It is much easier and more efficient to stay up to date with the latest features and improvements with a modern environmental LIMS because small incremental updates are easier to install than massive overhauls after waiting too long. Switching to a cloud-hosted LIMS can also provide benefits in terms of data security and reduced infrastructure costs.
A modern LIMS keeps up to date with current technology, allowing for integration with mobile devices, more real-time updates for waiting clients, convenient dashboards and data visualization, and autonomy to tailor what each user sees. Today’s LIMS will have built-in capabilities that may include data visualization tools, an integrated electronic lab notebook (ELN), or a scientific data management system (SDMS).
We’re looking for the oldest functioning LIMS in an environmental lab. If you think yours is it, comment below and let us know!