Lab managers must make a wide range of decisions to enable the lab to be successful. Many of these decisions are made directly from personal experience and could be improved with better use of data. Implementing or improving the tools, software, systems, and practices that capture, monitor, and use operational process data can enable lab managers to make better, more informed decisions.
There are many types of data that can be captured and organized for use in operational decision-making, but here are three important categories:
- Equipment and environmental monitoring: involve continuous monitoring of key aspects of the tools and lab space, like temperature, humidity, atmosphere, and power
- Instrument tracking: involves understanding the usage and the utilization of the many different important pieces of kit in the lab
- Trend analysis: allows predictive power by analyzing many different streams of data that impact how the lab completes the technical work
All of these different data streams can be used to improve decisions and enable timely new actions to address changing circumstances in the lab to save money, enhance relationships, and better prioritize the use of time and assets.
To have success in implementing effective data capture processes requires joining together the right tool, the right partner, changes in staff behavior, and a willingness to use the data to make different and better decisions. Here are seven tips to help you reap the benefits of a data-driven asset management strategy.
Identify the pain points
Clearly document the problems driven by the absence of data or effective trend analysis. Get input from all levels of the lab. The more pain points that a single system can address, the better return on the investment and the more engagement you’ll see across the team to help with implementation. Highlight issues where the lack of monitoring created a problem that wasted time, money, and harmed key relationships, and where decisions didn’t actually fix the problem, like ineffective service contracts, capital purchases with low utilization, and areas of the lab with usage so high it creates difficult priority decisions.
Identify potential solutions
From the gaps identified, build a matrix of needs and wants for a potential asset management system. Differentiate the real needs so that they drive the decision-making process. Combine the evaluation of specific products with the vendors who supply and support them. Look for a system that has the flexibility required to be successful in your lab. A successful implementation is a dual process that involves finding the right tool and the right partner. Labs need a partner who will work through difficulties with them and are equally committed to the success of the project.
Demo the product
Work with the vendor to try a pilot of the asset management system to test how it works in your lab environment and get some data that will illustrate the benefits and help communicate with line management. One strategy is to include about 10 percent of the assets in a 30-day pilot. Focus on the most important needs for the lab. This is comparable to doing a demonstration before buying a new instrument.
Advocate to line management
Clearly communicate the benefits, costs, risks, and timelines with those who must approve this scale of project. Start early and know that this kind of project may require many updates and feedback sessions with various decision-makers. Ensure cooperation with other impacted lab functions, most importantly IT and those responsible for lab computer security. Build a business case that translates the benefits into currency for easy digestion by financial leaders.
One of the hardest parts of making a business case like this is talking with line management about improved decision-making. It can be very difficult to discuss how previous decisions were not optimized, and how they could be done better in the future. Focus on the facts and outcomes and try to not to be embarrassed by any specific situation. Being able to reflect on, get input from, and learn about less than perfect decisions is a sign of good leadership.
Identify behavior changes
Work with lab staff to walk through how the new system will provide important data to change decisions and behaviors in the lab. Identify the benefits of the new process for each member of staff. Look for WIIFM—what’s in it for me—for everyone.
Some of the biggest behavioral changes will impact the decision-makers in the lab. Work through new criteria and metrics for making decisions about how to schedule experiments, when to replace instruments, which equipment to have on service contracts, when to proceed with experiments, and when to intervene in the expected work process. To make full use of a lab asset management system, the decision-making in the lab needs to take full advantage of the newly available data and trends. The lab manager needs to lead, model, and expect these changes to the lab’s work processes.
Carefully plan the Implementation
The very best potential system will fail with an incomplete or rushed implementation. A modest solution can be very successful with a flawless implementation. Sometimes a tiered approach to implementation works best. Start in one portion of the organization, and as the system proves impactful, implement across the lab. The lab manager needs to apply at least as much priority to the implementation as to the process to achieve approval for the purchase. Involve people from across the lab in the implementation. Ensure there is a clear feedback process to learn during the implementation and provide options to adjust for success. Work with other functions, like IT, to ensure that diverse needs and requirements are understood and met.
Look for ways to prevent the old habits from being used after implementation. For example, there may be some lab operations spreadsheets that need to be locked and retired. Removing the old tools can prevent old behaviors from competing with the new work processes driven by the new system.
Implementing an asset management system is not a “set it and forget it” activity. The biggest benefits of the system are achieved from actively engaging with the data and tying these data to the day-to-day decisions of the lab. Work with staff to ensure the metrics, criteria, and behaviors expected on implementation are working and providing for better decisions and results. Continue to learn by using the system. Look for new and different ways to use the data to improve decisions and outcomes for the lab.