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A Q&A with Select Laboratory Data Management System Expert End Users

In this Q&A, three expert end-users from three different fields discuss the data systems they use in their facilities, how easy those systems were to learn to use, and how the systems changed things in their labs.

Angelo DePalma, PhD

Angelo DePalma is a freelance writer living in Newton, New Jersey. You can reach him at

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Our Experts:

Q: What kind of information systems do you use? What is your general impression of these products?

A: Gijsbert Woudenberg: We work with many toxic compounds, including chemical warfare agents and toxic industrial chemicals. Our company inherited a Thermo LIMS and a chromatography data system (CDS) for logging commercial industry orders and processing chromatography data. The LIMS was introduced 10+ years ago and has been upgraded periodically.

Our LIMS was functionally rich, but we used only parts of it. We were also interested in using web- and cloud-based applications that interfaced through tablets. Integration of the LIMS and CDS was only possible by “in between” steps that created another data island.

In late 2011, we discussed the possibility of a paperless lab, and improving our current workflows, with iVention, a provider of laboratory information software. We introduced the iVention Scheduling Web and Forms application, which succeeded in streamlining our operations by integrating data islands from LIMS, CDS, and other data entry points.

The added value of the operational procedures and tracking the orders, tests, and results have been achieved with the unique and innovative Laboratory Execution System (LES) solution from iVention. iVention is a leader of innovation in Laboratory Informatics Solutions and enables laboratories to work via the Web, cloud, and tablets for the paperless lab. iForms provides bridges between the islands of data generated in the lab and transforms that data into information that can be used across the organization.

C.H. Rakesh Kumar: We have been using systems such as the LIMS, LimsLink, and Empower for the past 10+ years. I have been working in this area for the last six years. These systems are critical to our business as they create great value, add in storing all the information related to the laboratory, and can be retrieved at any time during inspections at a single point source. Overall, these systems meet all stakeholders’ expectations.

Greg Mendizabal: We have been using a LabWare LIMS since 2007. I’ve been working with LabWare since 2006. In the past, I’ve used and managed a Beckman LIMS and SQL*LIMS. Beckman was quirky and old but very flexible. We were not happy with the SQL*LIMS. By comparison, LabWare is flexible, which is great for molding it to your business processes, but this feature extends implementation time.

Q: Describe your company’s experience in terms of learning curve and acceptance of the product by lab workers.

A: Gijsbert Woudenberg: ProQares has a track record, with respect to lab informatics, of involving the entire organization early on. Providing awareness of the business motivators for introducing new and innovative software is crucial. Being prepared for the future, while introducing new solutions and having the whole organization supporting this, is key for end-user acceptance.

C.H. Rakesh Kumar: Learning to use these information products is an incremental process—a journey—as new challenges arise daily. It requires the presence of an informatics subject matter expert with knowledge of the product’s technical features. We measure our enduser acceptance of the product based on feedback, and based on that we implement corrective and preventive actions to improve the user experience. Key factors we examine are system changes, technical performance, ease of use, supporting business processes, system stability, and system availability.

Greg Mendizabal: Getting acceptance isn’t usually difficult. Scientists and technical people are interested in LIMS. The keys are showing them a benefit and assuring that management supports the project. Indifference or negativity by management will dampen user enthusiasm. If lab resources aren’t committed to the configuration process (as subject matter experts) and time is not provided for working on the configuration, the system will be ineffective. It may capture all the data, but not in a way that makes sense to users.

Maintaining the LIMS configuration as business needs change is critical to maintaining user acceptance. As the LIMS configuration gets stale, “underground” LIMS supplements appear, such as spreadsheets, access databases, and paperwork.

From a technical perspective, the LabWare LIMS interface is straightforward for data entry. The key to easing acceptance is appropriately configuring the system to facilitate the lab workflow. Right out of the box, LabWare could overwhelm users, particularly in high-volume laboratories. But if the configuration is done well, the “folder metaphor” for this product makes sense to users.

Q: Do you notice an improvement in your workflows or data acquisition?

A: Gijsbert Woudenberg: We noticed a higher level of integration of data islands. In the past, each of our process stations generated paper input forms that needed to be taken to the next lab environment. The system was entirely manual and extremely intensive in human input. The iVention Laboratory Execution Software allowed us to transform the paper flow into a paperless flow, and integrated the CDS directly into our process. We reduced documentation efforts, enjoy real-time access to information, improve compliance and data integrity, automate processes and reduce manual data handling, and automate and completely integrate the lab with the enterprise —at the same time providing immediate access in a centralized view of all raw, intermediate, and final data.

C.H. Rakesh Kumar: We have observed great improvements in our business workflows, although we can do even better. Ultimately, we must consider our budgets and time to consider the value added to workflows. The instrument integration to the LIMS using LimsLink is an additional add-on advantage that saves time and reduces manual errors by directly transferring the results from instruments to the LIMS.

Greg Mendizabal: Improving workflows is a two-way street. Just putting in a LIMS will not improve anything by itself. The key is getting user buy-in to reengineering the laboratory processes in concert with a LIMS. The biggest misconception when starting a project is that it will get done faster and add efficiency if “we just do what we’re doing now, except in a LIMS.” What results is a system that doesn’t take advantage of the electronic system efficiencies and simply moves cumbersome paper processes into an electronic form that may require double data entry—for example, recording on paper and then transcribing into the LIMS.

Generally, the greatest efficiency was gained when a data acquisition process was brought under control and data were extracted and parsed into the LIMS. That eliminated the transcription processes and review and was a huge success from the perspectives of time and user experience. Unfortunately, instrument interfacing has been problematic in the past for various reasons, specifically lack of interfaces, communication difficulties, and vendor support.

A second valuable area where the LIMS has improved efficiency and accuracy is providing printed labels for samples.For management, the LIMS brings a degree of real-time vision into laboratory processes that is otherwise lacking. No longer do managers need to track down paper or analysts, provided they have the discipline to enter data into the LIMS in a timely manner.

Q: What improvements could vendors undertake to make this product more usable or functional?

A: C.H. Rakesh Kumar: The most important considerations are improving ease of use and ease of configuring the system. Systems that require lots of customization are highly undesirable. We generally hesitate to do customizations, as it entails time, money and, as a regulated industry, validation as well. Vendors should consider a mechanism for evaluating real-time feedback.

Greg Mendizabal: Any improvements in tool debugging would be welcome. LabWare is pretty good with its tools compared to previous LIMS I’ve used, but they could still use some improvement. An advantage with LabWare’s architecture is that new modules of functionality can be added in at any time. The vendor can produce a module with novel functionality, and it could be sent out and incorporate the existing code dynamically. The downside is that sometimes the modules do not interact well with one another, and bugs can arise in seemingly unrelated areas.

The single most effective (but probably impossible) improvement that all vendors could make is to be able to produce a standardized data export that can be used to move data between systems. Unfortunately, this would facilitate the ability to move easily from one platform to another, whichwould not be seen as a benefit to vendors.