Seven Keys that Unlock the LIMS Selection Process

Important considerations in your search for the right LIMS solution

There are plenty of technical requirements to consider when researching and selecting a LIMS for your laboratory, but sometimes tunnel vision on those technical details can make you miss the forest for the trees. Many laboratories continue to overlook critical elements in the selection process. The following seven keys provide a unique non-technical framework to give you a broader view for evaluating LIMS alternatives.

1. Choose expertise AND experience

Of course you want both but don’t confuse the two. It isn’t enough that a company has been around for a long time and has lots of experience. You also need to look for evidence of deep roots in the laboratory. There are lots of software companies that claim to know what you need, but few who actually have staff that have lived and breathed laboratory operations in the specific scientific discipline you need. For example:

  • Do they know how a bench sheet is used?
  • Can they explain how calculations are validated?
  • When demonstrations are provided, are they relevant to your business or just generic?

The higher the level of expertise, the better the chances that features and functions will more closely meet your needs — without customization. Also, the company must demonstrate a strong understanding of software application development in order to deliver the most effective and reliable products. The development team should be able to explain their technology vision to you and rationalize their choices for platforms, interfaces, integration and functionality.

2. Think long-term

You will have this LIMS for at least five to 10 years. It will become part of your extended family. That means functionality must be broad enough to address your current needs and flexible enough to meet future needs. Consider four categories:

  • Integration: How easy will it be to integrate new instruments? How about future integration with accounting or other business applications?
  • Platform scalability: Where will the lab be in three, five or 10 years in terms of staff size and sample testing volume?
  • Feature flexibility: Are there features you may want down the road, and how easy will it be to get those features? Will you be entering other markets and need different functionality?
  • Ongoing costs: Consider total cost of ownership — not just the software and maintenance. What are initial and ongoing training costs? What upgrade expense is required over time? Will there be additional hardware, network or other third-party software costs? Are there additional modules you will have to purchase, or is all the key functionality bundled into one package?

3. 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.

4. 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?

5. Configurable really does beat custom

Many LIMS providers describe their solutions as “out-of-the-box” and “off-the-shelf” while others emphasize the custom nature of their offering. From a cost and management point of view, generally, the closer you can get to off-the-shelf the better off you are — assuming that software is well established and is configurable. Core LIMS functionality is pretty well understood today, and that means you should expect that a provider will be spreading the costs of standard features out across a large customer base. True configurability enables you to then cost-effectively tailor that system to your unique needs. With a customized system, you are paying a steep price for what is essentially a one-of-a-kind solution, one that requires constant attention and investment. Unless you have unlimited funding and an open-ended deadline, custom software becomes one more operational burden you have to manage. Unfortunately the definition of “configurable” is in the eye of the beholder, so look for these three things:

  • How well does the system meet your workflow requirements or offer flexibility to change?
  • Is reporting adequately addressed, either through standard reports or a user-friendly report writer?
  • Does the system speak your language — is the nomenclature the same as your lab or easily configurable?

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?

7. 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.