We hear it almost every day. Sequencing labs are currently using Microsoft® Excel® or Google Spreadsheets for sample and lab operations with a certain amount of success. We often hear statements such as “It’s not broken, so we don’t need to fix it!” or “We may need one but we will never upgrade because it will be too difficult!” Although it may sound counterintuitive given our company’s mission to produce the best LIMS, specifically designed for –omics labs, we will be the first to admit that some labs will never need a LIMS. These are labs that always run the same type of workflow and that process a small number of samples. In fact, you can stop reading if your lab fits into this category. But what if you aren’t one of these labs? How do you know if you are using the best tools to manage your samples and keep your lab running like a well-oiled machine?
We think about these questions a lot, especially since we get the opportunity to work with research and clinical labs at varying stages of maturity. In our experience, we have identified a clear tipping point – a point at which it makes sense to upgrade to an actual Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Our arrival at this tipping point considers both the investment in time and money of selecting and implementing a system as well as potential benefits gleaned from a system. We tend to think of this tipping point as the point at which lost opportunity becomes greater than the cost of making a change.
Are you at this tipping point? Do you need a LIMS? One clear sign can be found in your environment. Are you currently or about to move to a clinical or translational environment? If so, you wouldn’t be alone. Using next generation sequencing data in a clinical environment is on the rise. Labs that make this transition can tell you firsthand how challenging it can be: there are challenges in terms of sample processing, quality control, management, and reporting, not to mention that the whole process is unchartered territory.
One lab we know addressed these challenges by moving to a LIMS. The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) is a perfect example of a lab that upgraded to a LIMS to keep pace with their challenging clinical environment. While they were already making quick work of processing patient samples, upgrading to a LIMS has enabled them to integrate patient data, track samples with absolute confidence, and eliminate the burden of so much paperwork. The LIMS system has actually given them the opportunity to get rid of many of their file cabinets and also amply prepares them for the audits required to keep their compliance status. No more hunting through multiple spreadsheets to find what they need. They can quickly locate any sample, find out what date it was processed, what was done to it, who did it, and so forth—all requirements for operating in a clinical environment.