An award-winning county water laboratory with a service population north of 300,000. The laboratory collects thousands of samples and performs tens of thousands of tests annually with a staff of 10.
The lab’s legacy LIMS was failing to provide the needed functional support to maintain certification. In addition, there were numerous manual activities that degraded productivity. The laboratory implemented Element LIMS and was able to immediately improve productivity and strengthen quality management.
The laboratory faced two competing challenges. First, their legacy laboratory information management system was becoming outdated and unsupported. Meeting regular certification for the laboratory was taking more and more effort. And second, the functional limitations of the system meant that the laboratory had to rely on a collection of fill-in applications to address capabilities not in the LIMS, and the team constantly battled inefficiencies and manual activities.
The legacy LIMS system was seen as incapable of doing everything they needed it to do so they had to use other software. They had labeling software and quality assurance software. The reporting was always a real problem too, and for a lot of the reports they spent hours entering data by hand into Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Word, and they used an separate statistical software package, all of which needed to be integrated and work together.
An initiative to find a new information management system was organized by the Quality Manager. The team started with extensive benchmarking of other similar labs in the area to see what they used for a LIMS. The LIMS selection process looked at several leading applications and they considered three key factors for selection, 1) the system had to be more integrated, 2) workflow had to eliminate manual activities, and 3) the system had to be easy to use and manage. That led the team to Element LIMS.
Element LIMS functionality is presented in one integrated system, whereas many of the other LIMS solutions were offered as modular, with separate charges for each piece of functionality. This was an important aspect of the application for the laboratory from a cost and IT perspective. In addition, the lab team was wary of needing other software applications outside the LIMS. The team wanted a LIMS that was going to be inclusive and not require additional peripheral software. A scenario that Element LIMS met.
With the legacy system, there were several areas of the lab that required manual activities. This was particularly true for reporting, and especially as it related to compliance reporting for laboratory management and certifications. Element LIMS provided a more automated and streamlined workflow.
The lab saw benefits almost immediately by being able to eliminate several hand-written logs that were used every day in the lab to keep them in compliance with certification. Element LIMS took the place of those handwritten logs which were also a constant source of transcription errors. That issue went away with Element LIMS and saved the team time while eliminating the source of errors and increasing accuracy.
The laboratory has taken advantage of the high level of Element LIMS configurability, using the tables and settings to address operational and analytical requirements. The intuitive Element LIMS user workflow is modeled on common laboratory functions and has made it easy for the team to interact with the system and analysts and technicians to manage the day-to-day operations.
Previously, the laboratory team suffered through the experience of trying to use and maintain a system that was unmanageable and didn’t want a repeat of that situation. They saw themselves as a lab staff and not an IT staff. They wanted a LIMS that not only provided scientific capabilities, but also one that was user friendly enough that they could administer and train without relying on IT resources. They didn’t want to get a LIMS that required them to hire someone to run it for them. They didn’t want to be a prisoner of the LIMS as one person put it.
The implementation of a new LIMS has also had a significant impact on increasing access to information. The centralized collection and distribution of data has replaced a process that relied on multiple unintegrated sources of information. This has made it more efficient for the laboratory staff to report information and for the management team to assess that information.
The lab used to physically lay out all their test logs on a large table and run through the data to compile information for their management reports. It was an extremely manual and tedious process. Now the management team gets that information directly from Element LIMS. A process that used to take a week to do can now be done in a few minutes.
The embedded quality control functionality within Element LIMS has fundamentally changed the way quality is managed in the laboratory. The analysts, the quality team, and management can more quickly identify potential issues before they become critical. With all the data being integrated and traceable, quality and compliance are enhanced. Reference materials are associated to the batches, the bench sheet, the standards table, the data entry table, and the audit trail. That allows the team to catch a potential problem before it happens or spreads.
Hold times represent another example of improving quality and eliminating manual activities. In their legacy LIMS, the team had to mentally calculate the hold times which often took hours to calculate. Now, Element LIMS does it. And if one of the system flags is activated, everybody sees that there is an issue.
Like many laboratories, the drinking water laboratory found that sample login with their legacy system was extremely labor intensive. It required a serious amount of time each day to collect the information and then enter it into the system. And as with any paper-based workflow, there was frequent opportunity for errors and omissions. The lab implemented the Element ClientConnect web portal that includes online sample submission to manage field-based sample data collection.
Field staff from the laboratory take computer tablets out into the field and log samples at the sampling location, eliminating the manual login process previously in place. With Element ClientConnect, samples are essentially logged in online in near-real time at the sampling site, so the date and time and the field measurements are all captured. So, when the samplers come back to the lab, the field measurements are already entered, and finishing the login is done in literally minutes.
The elimination of manual login, use of scheduling, and pre-entered project-related information, as well as the online chain of custody, decreases several points of potential error. The new process reduced overtime, reduced errors, created better working conditions, and increased accuracy.