Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) were first developed in the early 1980s. These were clunky minicomputers primarily used for reporting. Thankfully, technology has come a long way, and there are now LIMS for nearly every type of lab and purpose. Further, most LIMS have evolved beyond manual sample tracking and management. Many integrate with instruments and robotics or a myriad of other lab-based systems to automate data entry and routine lab tasks. Whatever the application of a LIMS, one thing is clear: labs clearly understand the key role that informatics plays in their success.
To provide laboratory informatics, many vendors are now dotting the landscape. If your lab needs a LIMS, how do you go about choosing one?
Lester Poon, GenoLogics
There are a lot of great resources to help you decide. We have some on our website, here. LIMSWiki provides a comprehensive guide as well. There are no doubt others. At GenoLogics, we don’t dispute any of the great resources available. Rather, we like to provide our take on the situation, which is much like how we build our software: straightforward and easy to understand. As such, we’ve come up with an insider’s guide to choosing a LIMS. The guide isn’t long, nor is it fancy — it’s simply a list of ten fundamental suggestions. These originate from conversations with hundreds of labs each year and what we know from being a LIMS vendor ourselves. Most importantly, we would use these to guide the conversation with a LIMS vendor if we were in the market for a LIMS.
Here they are – all ten of them—along with a bonus suggestion that I’m throwing in for good measure:
- Make sure you have a deep understanding of the problems you want to solve in your lab. For instance, if you want to analyze your data to call variants, then you probably need a tertiary analysis tool. Likewise, if you have issues with billing and need to generate invoices, you likely need a billing system. Using the right tools to tackle specific problems yields the best results.
- Choose a vendor that supports labs that do something similar to what your lab does. If you have heart problems, you go to a cardiologist, not an orthopedist. Taking the same approach for LIMS selection ensures you partner with a vendor who understands what you do and what problems you are trying to solve in your lab.
- Be wary of vendors who claim to develop a LIMS that does it all. Reporting, billing, sample tracking, and data analysis are all highly complex. It is unrealistic to think that one vendor will have the resources to do them all well. Your best bet is to find a LIMS that has most of what you need, can be configured or integrated with other in-lab systems, and is attached to a vendor who is honest and earnest.
- Choose a vendor who has established industry partnerships. Why is this so important? There is perpetual change in science technology, so you want to choose a vendor that knows the technology and can evolve with the field. In addition, strong partnerships allow the vendor to support new technologies more quickly.
- Get the specifics on implementation. LIMS installs should no longer take a year, but instead months or even weeks. When you find a vendor who already supports labs like yours, they understand what you do and already have an out-of-the-box solution that fits the majority of your needs. When there is no need for massive builds or multiple development iterations, the implementation process becomes easier and quicker. It really is that simple.
- Understand prior to LIMS investment that you can’t rely on the vendor alone to make the implementation go smoothly. The vendor can only go as fast as your team is ready. The right vendor will know what to do and have the structure to do it, but you need to provide the time, input, and resources on your end as well.
- In addition to IT, get feedback from people who will actually use the LIMS. The rationale for this is simple: if people don’t like to use the LIMS, it won’t be used, and you’ll be back where you started.
- Solve the immediate needs but look to the future as well. If one thing is constant, it’s change. Technology will improve, so make sure the LIMS can be modified to adapt to changes. One way you can put this suggestion to test is to ask possible vendors to build something for you on the fly during a demonstration. Ultimately, understand how the system can be modified.
- Don’t underestimate the need for support. LIMS have come a long way, but they are still complex. Assimilating a LIMS into even a simple lab ecosystem requires domain knowledge, guidance, and support. Make sure you find a vendor who not only provides the support you need but can help you exploit the LIMS to its full potential.
- Check vendor references. This goes without saying, but be sure to ask how the reference actually likes the LIMS. Do they use it? Is it easy to use and modify? Does it bring benefit to their lab? Is it the same solution that you are evaluating? Is the reference using the LIMS for the same purpose as you?
Consider a cloud deployment strategy. Although not for every lab, cloud implementations of LIMS are economical, quicker to implement, and can ease the burden of busy IT staff.
Buying a LIMS is a long-term commitment. That’s why it’s important to get it right. You are choosing a LIMS but you are ultimately choosing a LIMS vendor who will hopefully become a supportive partner and your biggest champion.
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