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A Guide to Outsourcing Laboratory Services

What you can outsource, how to choose the provider, and ensure a successful partnership

Rachel Muenz

Outsourcing services can bring a variety of different benefits to your lab, provided you select the right partner. For those new to outsourcing lab services, this article provides a brief summary of outsourcing, the various laboratory-related services you can outsource, the main benefits of outsourcing, how to choose the right provider and ensuring a successful partnership, and recent trends in lab service outsourcing.

What is outsourcing lab services?

Outsourcing laboratory services means hiring someone else to do work instead of doing it with current lab staff. This can be sending work from your laboratory to another laboratory to complete, and involve “in-sourcing,” or bringing in staff from another organization to do work or manage a process in your lab. It essentially involves giving responsibility of some aspect of your laboratory’s work to a third party. Outsourcing can save time, money, and/or bring in a capability your facility may not have. 

What are some of the services you can outsource?

Almost any task that can be completed in-house can be outsourced, provided the right agreements are in place. Here is a list of some key services offered by both small and large service providers: 

  • Accreditation
  • Auditing
  • Calibration
  • Certification
  • Clinical Trials
  • Consulting
  • Instrument Repair, Maintenance, and Preventive Maintenance
  • Method Development
  • Operations
  • Problem-Solving 

For the full list and descriptions of each service, see our listicle.  

What are the key benefits of outsourcing? 

With the right partner, outsourcing services can benefit your lab in many ways; here are a few: 

  • Save time
  • Save money
  • Free staff to focus on higher-value-added work
  • Access capacity unavailable in-house
  • Access expertise unavailable in-house
  • Access capability not available in-house
  • Access fresh, unbiased perspectives
  • Increase flexibility 

How can you choose the best service provider for your laboratory?

According to former lab manager Sherri Bassner, PhD, in her article on how to choose a contract lab, when deciding whether to outsource, lab leaders need to carefully examine the issues they are really trying to solve by outsourcing. Once lab managers decide to outsource and are making their final choice of contract lab, Bassner says they should ask themselves the following four questions: 

  1. Is the relationship transactional or a partnership?
  2. What kind of accreditations/certifications are required?
  3. What are the lab’s processes and commitments around delivery?
  4. What are the qualifications of their personnel and what equipment do they have available? 

For a handy checklist of other variables to consider when choosing lab services, and a graphic illustrating the general process for selecting the best lab service option, click here. 

How can you ensure a successful partnership?

Once lab managers have chosen the outsource provider they’d like to partner with, there are some important steps to ensure the partnership is successful, mainly centering on strong communication of needs, wants, and expectations to avoid any misunderstandings. In particular, it’s important to communicate your expectations regarding: 

  • Cost
  • Urgency of projects/tasks
  • Deadlines
  • Quality requirements 

Scott Hanton, PhD, dives into this topic further in his article on leveraging contract research organization (CRO) relationships to get the most out of your partnership with the CRO you’ve chosen. 

What are recent trends in lab outsourcing? 

The amount of outsourcing done by labs has grown in recent years, particularly during the early days of the pandemic when labs that had to close turned to outsource partners to continue serving their customers. Lab leaders are also outsourcing tasks or business areas they wouldn’t have in the past, according to Christie Bowden, senior group leader and research scientist at Arkema Inc., one of four lab leaders interviewed in this Lab Manager article on recent trends in lab service outsourcing. 

When the right contract lab is chosen and both sides do their best to ensure an effective working relationship, outsourcing can be a positive influence on a lab’s overall success. Based on the experts interviewed for the trends article, outsourcing is only going to become more popular as we move into a post-COVID world. If lab managers do their research, take the time to formulate and ask the right questions, and communicate their requirements clearly, they can ensure outsourcing is an asset rather than a liability for their labs and the overall business.

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