Find the best LIMS Software

A LIMS (laboratory information management system) is critical the life of any analytical testing laboratory. Therefor since labs retain a LIMS for five to ten years, selecting the best LIMS will be one of your most important decisions.

1. Think long-term

You will have this LIMS for at least five to ten years. That means functionality must be broad enough to address your current needs and flexible enough to meet future needs. Consider four categories:

  • Technology, Integration, Platform scalability, Feature flexibility, and ongoing costs.

2. Look for functionality that directly improves productivity and quality

At the heart of any new LIMS is the ability to improve laboratory productivity and quality management. The system should be an interactive intelligent application, rather than just a static repository for data. For example:

  • Are you notified when testing conditions exceed limits?
  • How well does the system perform data calculations?
  • Does the system flag hold time expiration?
  • Can you proactively track inventory levels?

The system must score highly in four critical areas in order to provide sustainable improvements for you lab. Failure to adequately meet any one of these criteria will create a hole in your information infrastructure. Ask the software company to provide specific examples of how their system addresses each item. The system must:

  • Streamline sample management and tracking
  • Automate instrument data upload
  • Facilitate compliance with industry standards and government regulation
  • Enhance reporting and access to information.

3. Search high and low

Consider a broad range of solutions when you are searching for a new LIMS. Even though you may find some systems out-of-reach financially, they will provide a good comparison of value for the other systems you consider. And remember, in the same way that a higher price does not necessarily mean the best value, a lower price point doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice quality or functionality. If your budget is $50,000 to $100,000, then look at several systems in that range and at least one or two that cost twice that much. Does the price of the more expensive systems reflect value, or do they offer the equivalent of fancy cup holders and features you won’t ever use? Do the less expensive systems provide all the key functionality you need or do they come up short in key areas?6. Don’t take their word for it

Plenty of companies will sing their own praises. That’s fine — you want them to be proud of their own success. But for the real insights, ask for references. Yes, it seems like a basic step, but many companies do not adequately follow up beyond a quick phone call. If possible, talk to the lab owner/CEO, an IT manager and a lab manager. No company has 100-percent customer satisfaction. However, after you have talked to three to five well-chosen references, you will start to see a trend. Here are the four main questions you should ask:

  • Did they generally get what they paid for?
  • Was the LIMS company helpful to deal with?
  • Did implementation go well?
  • How have things gone since the system went live in terms of follow-up support and productivity improvements?

4. Understand implementation and support resources

Any LIMS is a complex solution, and even the best systems require some expertise to implement properly and maintain. But, the more configurable and reliable the product, the less you’re going to rely on implementation project managers and technical support. Likewise, some training is inevitable, but the more intuitive the product features and user interface, the quicker your lab staff will come up to speed, with less disruption to your business.

Be careful to distinguish between set-up and customization. When you go beyond changes to business policies, screen names and report formatting, you are starting down the path of customizing your solution. Also, find out the size and quality of the customer support team. If your software is off-the-shelf, you can expect to have less need for 24/7 support. If you have a custom application, you should expect to have someone on-call during business hours — your business hours, not theirs.

A well-functioning LIMS will open up enormous productivity and quality improvement opportunities for your lab. However, you must first unlock the LIMS selection process. Make sure you consider these seven keys in your search for the right solution for your lab.

As IT organizations around the world continue to look for more efficient operating models, laboratories must decide where to apply their resources. There are commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS), custom solutions, hybrid solutions, out-of-the-box packages, and of course the nascent cloud-based (hosted) approaches. Ultimately a business decision has to be made based on the well-worn trade off of benefit vs. cost.

Why COTS is preferred

One question that seems to be resolved relates to the battle between a pure in-house custom development project and a commercially available software product. The conflict has largely been won, in terms of volume at least—in the favor of commercial solutions. That is to say, more labs buy commercial systems than develop their own. As laboratory information management systems (LIMS) have matured, functionality, reliability and flexibility have grown to the point where labs can focus on their core competencies—analytical testing—and let software companies leverage their large customer base and code writing skills. There are certainly still laboratories pursuing custom developed solutions but as with other products—ERP systems, CRM systems, sales force automation—a majority of labs have made the transition to commercial solutions. This outcome is based on four primary principles:

Software Development: Commercial solutions in general benefit from a dedicated software development focus and a formal institutionalized process. End products are vetted by multiple customers and if the solution is not robust enough, market pressures will force the company out of business. The internal laboratory IT staff, however well intentioned, does not typically have the same level of development skills. Acquiring and retaining those skills—hiring or contracting—is cost prohibitive for the lab and takes away resources that may be better utilized for increasing testing activity, capability, and quality.

Configurability: A COTS that is “configurable” essentially offers the best of both worlds. The system can be modified to fit the unique needs of a lab but still take advantage of automated and streamlined procedures that fit a more standardized model. The key is that configurability does not require the traditional hard coding that custom systems typically require. COTS systems instead rely on “switches” in the system that can be turned on and off, and on a pliable user interface (i.e. fields that can be easily modified).

Spreading Costs: COTS solutions have a lower total cost of ownership because development and support costs are spread out across a large customer base. This is true for core functionality as well as integration with third party software and hardware. Custom products are inherently one-of-a-kind works of art and all costs of development, upgrade and support are shouldered by one laboratory. Further, with a custom solution, there is no vendor to hold accountable or call center to contact for support.

Technology Advancement: COTS solutions are more likely to incorporate new and improving functionality because software companies are driven by competitive pressure to evolve. A custom solution is by definition created to a very narrow set of requirements and there are rarely funds for investment in developing significant new versions.