Are You in the Market for a LIMS?

A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) serves as the interface to a laboratory’s data, instruments, analyses and reports. Read on to find out the results of our LIMS survey.

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A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) serves as the interface to a laboratory’s data, instruments, analyses and reports. For many analytical laboratories, a LIMS is an important investment that assists management in evaluating the efficiency of the laboratory’s operations and reducing costs. LIMS products vary from processor workflow-oriented software for small laboratories to systems for enterpriseclass distribution, where large implementations can cost millions of dollars and encompass licensing, training, validation and all the other services required. As with other software products, there are many ways to implement and purchase a LIMS, from boxed software to commercial licenses for COTS (Commercial Off-the-Shelf) to open source to SaaS (Software as a Service). Possibilities vary greatly regarding the choices appropriate and available for the specific type of laboratory where the LIMS will be implemented. It is important to note that a LIMS and an ELN (Electronic Laboratory Notebook) are not the same thing. An ELN is a literal replacement for your paper laboratory notebook. As such, it is a place to enter and keep your laboratory notes and get signoff; you use it just as you would use a paper notebook.

The confusion between LIMS and ELN occurs partly because there is some overlap between them. Additional confusion arises now that some LIMS include ELN features, some ELNs contain LIMS features, and some products combine LIMS and ELN. Beyond the LIMS/ ELN question, there are yet other products that sound like they might be a LIMS but have different names.

A LIMS is used primarily in industrial labs that process and analyze samples where reliably tracking samples throughout the scientific process is difficult yet absolutely necessary. Transcription errors, wrong versions of files or other mistakes are all too common and can lead to delayed product rollouts—or may even result in a product never making it to market. Hence, for labs having hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of samples stored in a variety of containers in numerous locations, LIMS is found to be the best method for sample management.

Sample management

48%

User reporting

15%

Workflow automation

9%

Instrument connection

8%

QA/QC

7%

Regulatory management

5%

All of the above

2%

Other

4%

Until about a decade ago, most LIMS were offered as software packages that resided within the individual user’s computers. “Thick client” and “thin client” products followed where software packages resided on the organization client-server.

One of the most significant developments in LIMS has been the emergence of Web-based LIMS developed on the “software as a service” model. These systems resemble common office and e-mail applications offered online. Web-based LIMS are targeted toward small to mid-sized companies for which LIMS are essential, but which cannot afford the high costs associated with a full-blown deployment.

LIMS installed on customer computers and Web-based products have their strengths and weaknesses. The former are faster, provide connectivity to instruments and printers, may be more secure, and work when Internet connections don’t. Their major drawbacks are high upfront and upgrade costs, ongoing maintenance expenses and limited connectivity to the outside world.

Web-based LIMS are subscription-based products that limit capital investment while providing a nearly complete LIMS experience within a familiar browser environment. IT requirements are minimal and data may be shared with any computer connected to the Internet. The limitations are dependence on an Internet connection and lack of instrument connectivity. Close to 80 percent of the labs surveyed have an internal information technology (IT) department that supports laboratory systems.

Types of LIMS installation selected by respondents:

Client/server

46%

Web-based

29%

Standalone

17%

Thin client/server

7%

Other

1%

More than 60 percent of the labs surveyed have 1 to 10 instruments integrated with the LIMS.

1 to 10

64%

11 to 25

16%

26 to 50

12%

51 to 100

2%

100+

6%

Number of users having access to the LIMS:

1 to 10

27%

11 to 25

23%

26 to 50

16%

50+

35%

Nearly half of the labs surveyed have a LIMS in their labs and another 17 percent are planning a purchase and implementation of LIMS. Fifty-five percent of the labs reported that this will be a first-time LIMS purchase.

Yes

48%

No, but planning to purchase

17%

No, and no plans to purchase

35%

Respondents’ primary reasons for purchasing a LIMS for the lab:

Upgrading existing LIMS

25%

Sample management

21%

QA/QC

11%

Setting up a new lab

9%

Regulatory management

7%

User reporting

7%

Workflow automation

7%

Addition to existing systems; increase capacity

4%

Web-based access

4%

Other

4%

Selecting and buying a LIMS takes effort and time in advance of the actual purchase for several reasons. First you have to make clear what it is that you need; LIMS products often include features that do not fall into this simple model, but that seem to be natural extensions of the work being done.

A LIMS is usually not implemented for just one laboratory, but spread within and across different departments. So you have to find out about the workflow within and between departments. This user requirement specification has to be written down in a clear and structured way so that potential vendors can read and understand it. The vendors can then demonstrate how their system best fits your needs.

The biggest challenge for respondents in installing a new LIMS is staff adoption and training, since all respondents agree (100%) that service and support from the vendor is the most important factor in making their decision, followed closely by price, ease of use and versatility.

Another challenge identified by respondents was system selection— the types of LIMS available are somewhat overwhelming. There are environmental LIMS, general-purpose LIMS, Web-only LIMS, PC-only LIMS, R&D-focused LIMS, QC-focused LIMS and forensic LIMS, to name just a few. Products have been developed for specific industries, company sizes and specific technical solutions as well.

What all this means is more choices for labs to consider. But even though more choices may make the selection process lengthier, the best solution for your laboratory is out there and readily available.

Most important factors in the decision-making process:

Service and support

100%

Price

99%

Ease of use

99%

Versatility

99%

Privacy/security

96%

Uptime

95%

Customization

95%

Ease of installation

94%

Scalability

93%

Upgrade pricing

91%

Web-based access

91%

Multi-platform

86%

Remote access

83%

Completed Surveys: 521

Categories: Surveys

Published In

Laboratory Etiquette Magazine Issue Cover
Laboratory Etiquette

Published: May 9, 2011

Cover Story

Laboratory Etiquette

Many lab managers still remember them from their student days—a handful of hastily stapled printouts sternly titled “Laboratory etiquette—Acceptable standards of conduct.” Those were rules to live by, and the smallest violation landed a budding laboratory scientist in front of the ticked-off chief instructor.