Introducing new software to the lab can feel like a series of hurdles, even if you’re confident that the software will be a net benefit to the lab. One of the biggest challenges is simply defining what it is that you actually need and determining which type of software best meets those needs—which isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. After all, there is a lot of functional overlap between different types of software, so the distinct use cases for each aren’t always clear.
After you’ve determined which type of software is best for your application, it’s important to shop wisely, test candidate programs, and thoughtfully implement the software to ensure the best possible results.
|Common Types of Lab Software|
|Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)||Used to manage samples, data, and equipment, automate processes, and otherwise support operations|
|Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)||Used to help capture and describe experiments|
|Chromatography Data System||Used to record chromatography-related processes by converting analog detector voltages into digital signals|
|Inventory Management Software||Used to manage the state and quantity of equipment, consumables, and other supplies|
|Risk Management Software||Used to facilitate risk management operations such as chemical inventory, incident tracking, etc.|
Ensure backups are possible with the selected SaaS
Software as a Service (SaaS), or cloud software, is software that runs on the hardware of the service provider and the end user accesses via the internet. SaaS is a very common business model for laboratory software, and it’s likely that whatever program you choose will be a SaaS.
Cloud software requires no storage or advanced configuration by the end user. While this makes administration easy for your organization, it is imperative that you are familiar with the backup, recovery, and data export options that the SaaS provider offers. “You want to make sure you’re not permanently locking yourself into one provider with no option to get your data out,” says Bill Dykstra, IT director of LabX Media Group. There’s no guarantee that the SaaS provider has their backup solution squared away, so if their servers go down, your data could be lost with it.
After selecting a service provider, be sure to regularly export all data from the application and back it up to numerous sites, ideally to both another cloud storage provider and local storage media. Your organization’s IT department can help you create an effective, reliable backup plan.
Select a pilot group to test it
After selecting the new software, choose a few of your direct reports to test the software. A pilot test group will provide feedback you can use to identify which parts of the application are hardest to use, evaluate if the features properly accommodate established workflows, and if the program seems to justify its price tag.
Recruit a mix of tech-savvy and less technically inclined people to participate in the pilot test. The more tech-savvy testers will be able to offer insight and analysis at a deeper level, which will help you determine if the software will meet the lab’s needs. Non-tech-savvy users, on the other hand, may shed light on which aspects of the software are unintuitive or difficult to use. According to Dykstra, “Someone somewhat tech-savvy likely needs to be involved in selecting the software you want to use, but that person might not be a subject-matter expert in what the software is actually used for. So, I think you want to have a mix to ensure the software is ‘good software,’ and that it meets the needs of the team using it from their non-IT perspective.”
Roll out the software top-down, gradually
While some staff may look forward to using the new software, you’re likely to meet resistance from most. An effective way to combat this resistance is to shift a few functions over to the new software and then roll it out among management first. The functions that have been shifted over to the new software will draw new users to it out of necessity, and then the example set by lab leadership will encourage others to use it more. Over time, shift more functions over to the new software until it has been fully adopted and the old software is no longer used.
To effectively convince your colleagues and staff to adopt the new software, you must go beyond the features. A feature means nothing if it doesn’t translate into some benefit or solve a problem. Before pitching the software to various stakeholders, identify which features would most benefit each stakeholder. Then, clearly communicate those specific benefits. By showing how the new software will solve problems, streamline processes, or otherwise help the users on an individual basis, they will be much more receptive to adopting the software.
There are bound to be a lot of questions about the new software as users adopt it. After fielding some questions, note any recurring ones and record them in an FAQ sheet. Make this sheet readily available, ideally within the software itself if possible. Consider writing tutorials on carrying out the lab’s standard operating procedures in the new software as well.
Selecting and implementing new software can be a lengthy process, but the right software will make up for the time spent in its implementation by streamlining processes and consolidating information to make your lab more efficient overall.