Today’s laboratories are more innovative and productive than ever. Lab leaders are increasingly searching for ways to streamline their team’s workflows and limit the number of manual tasks necessary in their facilities. Inventory management and asset management software are two related examples of tools that managers can utilize to keep their labs efficient and organized.
Inventory management versus asset management
Inventory management software simplifies the process of tracking all the chemicals and equipment in the lab. Implementing the right software can save laboratories time and money, and prevent unnecessary delays during experiments. “Not knowing that the lab has run out of a specific reagent, or that lab equipment may not be available when needed, can slow down research or potentially impact a critical experiment. To that end, inventory management is only a first step to effective lab operations and asset management,” explains Heather Lorenz, senior product manager with Agilent’s CrossLab Group.
Most labs would benefit from inventory management software. A good place to start is by looking for manual recordkeeping and sources of duplicated efforts in your current approach. “I’d suggest that lab managers assess the amount of time they are spending creating reports, manually performing reconciliations, and ordering chemicals they may already have on-site (but cannot locate),” says Joe Sheehan, sales manager at Vertére.
The size of the lab also matters. “It is estimated that once an organization has more than 50 lab staff, the process of managing lab instruments and supplies becomes complicated enough to require inventory management software,” says Lorenz.
Asset management software is another step to improve effective lab operations. Data indicating how often a piece of equipment is used, its condition, and service history are highly valuable and helps guide future purchasing decisions. Asset management software compiles this information, and other data, to produce an up-to-date status report on laboratory instruments. It is also a valuable tool to support compliance efforts, as maintenance notifications and archived service and calibration records simplify inspections.
Asset management software may be customized to meet the needs of different laboratories, but its overall function is to “allow the user to manage their assets by keeping track of location, condition of assets, serving as a repository for service records, keeping track of service or maintenances schedules, aiding in the disposition of the assets, and more,” explains Suzanne Martinez, vice president of operations and business development at Lab Asset Manager. Laboratories of all sizes can benefit from implementing asset management software, according to Martinez, but especially organizations with a broad range of instruments in their labs, especially those that may also be geographically dispersed. “These companies are typically looking to streamline processes by gaining a better understanding of what is happening across their enterprise labs.”
Some asset management software allows users to schedule time to use specific equipment, along with advanced metadata capabilities, “like factoring in input (such as temperature and humidity) from other connected internet of things devices, supporting mobile user interface interaction and input, and enabling machine learning/AI-driven decision making,” says Steve Morandi, former portfolio director, Global Technology Services at PerkinElmer (Morandi is now vice president of Product at Evolv Technology).
Factors to consider when implementing lab management software
There are a few things to consider when purchasing inventory or asset management software for your laboratory.
“All good lab management programs take into account the three main pillars of methodology: people, technology, and process,” explains Lorenz. “Factors such as optimizing how software is used (people), understanding the scope of that software use (process), and determining how the lab assets and supplies will be identified and tracked (technology), should all be considered in regards to the dynamic needs of the lab.”
Given the variety of benefits and features to choose from, it is important to select a software best suited to your laboratory’s needs. For asset management, Martinez advises those comparing different products to look for “flexibility so that it can grow with the changing needs of the company. It is also important to have an efficient solution across departments and functions so the information gathered by all departments is accessible and transparent.” She adds that a challenge for life science companies is “finding a software that is specific for the workflow of the lab environment.”
Morandi adds to this advice, and recommends starting by “identifying the critical factors of operation that you want to address with asset management software. Consideration should be given to the type of lab, (e.g. GxP, type of research/science being conducted, etc.) regional versus global capture, size of the analytical instrument installed base, variety of multi-vendor instrument providers and modalities, expected throughput and criticality of the specific lab workflow, importance of lab environmental data capture, data security/cyber resiliency, and a view of the service/outsourcing model, to name a few.”
Optimizing inventory management software
If inventory management software sounds like a fit for your lab, there are many ways to optimize the software platform to obtain the greatest cost, time, and resource savings. According to Lorenz, optimization has an important human component. “Adopting software to help manage laboratory inventory is not only about the particular software that is deployed; it is also about educating and enabling lab staff, so the software is used to its fullest potential. This can be accomplished through training, but it is also about change management to best fit the use of software into the culture of the lab.”
According to Sheehan, “an optimized system would contain essential data, provide the necessary user access, and simplify the management of container records.” He suggests a few ways this can be achieved. First, “ensure data consistency by reducing data entry errors.” Using a catalog of chemical records prevents duplication, reduces human error, and minimizes repetitive tasks for your users. It is also important to “establish a process plan to streamline and standardize the management of container records, from receipt to disposal,” says Sheehan. “An intuitive software solution will allow a plan to be implemented easily and used often.” He also recommends opting for a software solution that “will allow task-specific roles and site-specific configurations,” so that users have the rights required to perform their tasks.
Both inventory and asset management software can save laboratories time and money, and keep daily operations running smoothly. Investing time to develop the appropriate process and train laboratory personnel can help maximize your return on investment.