Element LIMS Case Study BSK

BSK Laboratory Services Division stays competitive with LIMS implementation.

The Challenge

After years of modifying their laboratory information management system, BSK Labs reached a point where that system became an impediment to growth. Producing reports, keeping current with analytical processes, and relying on internal software programming became overwhelming challenges.

The Solution

BSK Labs revamped and updated their information infrastructure by implementing Element LIMS from Promium. Streamlining sample management and automating reporting and quality control activities have increased the lab’s competitiveness and operational productivity.

Removing an Impediment to Success

Established in 1966, BSK Associates is a California-based engineering and lab services firm. BSK serves a broad array of industries including agriculture, commercial & retail, education, energy, healthcare, transportation, aggregate & mining, manufacturing, water, telecommunications, and local, state and federal agencies.

The BSK Laboratory Services Division (BSK Labs) of BSK Associates, has a team of over 65 technical professionals at facilities in Fresno and Sacramento, California. The lab specializes in potable water quality chemistry, wastewater compliance and solid waste characterization. BSK Labs also offers fuel characterization services to the biomass energy industry and has provided specialty analytical services on a variety of complex, forensic investigations where standardized methodologies may not apply. On average, the lab performs 300,000 analyses on over 90,000 samples each year.

As BSK Labs faced competitive pressures, they had to overcome an information management system that became an obstruction to success. The existing LIMS was sold as a commercial off-the-shelf system (COTS) and was highly customizable. But the system lacked the functionality necessary to improve reporting capabilities and to efficiently provide delivery of results. Quite simply, the LIMS was holding BSK Labs back. “The industry had moved on from doing things on paper and sending things out through the mail. We needed to keep up in terms of producing reports electronically and distributing them over the web,” said Brad Meadows, Vice President, Laboratory Services.

For example, with the prior system, electronic data deliverables (EDDs) were difficult to produce. They were all programed internally and the more complex ones were nearly impossible to generate. According to Meadows, there were cases where it just took more effort than it was worth. The lab even lost out on opportunities due to their inability to provide certain EDDs, or to provide them in a way that met the requirements deliverable. “The LIMS just didn’t capture, and didn’t contain, the information necessary to provide the EDDs needed for growth,” said Meadows.

Finding a New Direction

The fact that their existing system was customizable ultimately meant that BSK Labs would have to maintain dedicated internal programming resources or pay significant amounts to the LIMS vendor for development and upgrades. In addition, a fair amount of operational and analytical work was actually done outside the system. Either way, the existing laboratory software wasn’t getting the job done. “We needed a system that could more comprehensively accommodate our processes in the laboratory,” Meadows said.

The first step was to take a hard look at the existing system and determine what upgrades would be necessary to fully meet the lab’s needs. Even the latest version of the software essentially required BSK Labs to take responsibility for managing the business level of the software code. The system basically had its own scripting language that required a certain level of coding expertise to add functionality that was not in the canned release. Meadows felt that the cost was simply too high and the technology platform made the company extremely reliant on maintaining that internal development capability.

“It wasn’t like one silver bullet, it was like silver buckshot.”

Brad Meadows, [former] Vice President, Laboratory Services

After considering the cost of upgrading from the existing system, BSK Labs considered Element LIMS from Promium. Element LIMS is a commercial off-the-shelf system that offers a significant level of configurability rather than requiring a lot of customization. Developed specifically for analytical testing laboratories, Element LIMS has a purpose-built feature set that is highly relevant for environmental testing compared to the features offered by other systems that have a more generic focus.

With Meadows in charge of the project justification, the team explored the benefits that Element LIMS could deliver. They looked at the potential to reduce paper, postage, and data entry due to automated workflow. Manual data capture and transcription from multiple spreadsheets or from paper would be eliminated. The benefits would be derived from a number of features that streamlined sample management from login to final results delivery. “It wasn’t like one silver bullet, it was like silver buckshot,” said Meadows.

Several features ultimately played a key role in the selection of Element LIMS.

  • Element Datatool. Element DataTool, an application that is part of the system, includes interfaces—called interpreters—for all the major lab instruments, and in particular the instruments that BSK Labs uses. Instrument results are directly downloaded to Element LIMS. “In our metals section, one of the busier areas of the lab, there were immediate improvements using Element DataTool to automatically capture instrument data,” said Meadows. In addition, Promium provides the interpreters for any new instruments at no additional charge as part of the maintenance agreement.
  • EDD Library: Element LIMS came with a built-in library of EDDs. “I knew that there was a full EDD library with every EDD that we had ever produced already in place,” said Meadows. This would have cost a significant amount for the upgraded legacy system to match.
  • ClientConnect Web Access: Element LIMS includes web-based client access with the ability to deliver reports directly to clients over the Internet. “Our customers are seeing the results, they’re seeing the reports, and the EDDs with the Element LIMS ClientConnect application.”
  • Bench Sheets: Electronic bench sheets store sample preparation information and replace spreadsheets and paper-based log books. “We definitely made progress in terms of electronic bench sheets. We’ve been able to eliminate a whole host of spreadsheets from the lab,” said Meadows.
  • Management Dashboard: The Element LIMS dashboard provides an at-a-glance view of key business metrics and drivers. Meadows uses the dashboard to keep track of incoming work. “I wrote some queries that give me workload summaries of the last 24 hours, the last week and the last month. I like to know what’s going on with the business in a real-time fashion.”

Configurability was also a factor in the decision to implement Element LIMS. “I think for a fairly typical environmental laboratory such as ours, Element LIMS is a pretty good turnkey solution, particularly if you don’t want to be reliant on a programmer,” said Meadows. “If you have an in-house system and you lose your programmer, you’re beholden to that programmer. It really slows you down. If you lose that person with all that tribal knowledge you can be at a disadvantage really fast.”

Improving Productivity and Quality

According to Meadows, implementation of Element LIMS had a direct and positive impact on productivity and quality. The laboratory software is used for everything across the lab from sample receiving to sample disposal, to operations management. “Our productivity as a whole is up a solid 20% from where we were. That might not all be attributable to Element LIMS, but I know that we couldn’t do the amount of work that we do now, with the same number of people, still using the old system.”

And with the previous LIMS, the lab team did not automatically put all QC into the system. It was only available when it was going to be reported out to a client. Consequently, some of the information resided in the LIMS but other information was outside the LIMS in spreadsheets. “With Element LIMS, the bulk of the quality control data goes in automatically so it makes it easier to track and monitor quality in the lab,” said Meadows.

Meadows sums up his view of the value of implementing Element LIMS and the business case for making the investment in laboratory software that improves efficiency. “Element LIMS has definitely put us in a position to be able to accommodate substantially more work than we could otherwise have done with the old system. We can do more work with fewer resources than we used to, and we don’t have to keep someone on staff to write source code. Element LIMS has taken that pressure off the business so we can focus on what we’re really good at.”