Legal and regulatory issues aside, the nature of cannabis itself challenges information systems in laboratories supporting the manufacture, preparation, and analysis of cannabis products.
“Labs must report results in formats approved by relevant authorities,” says Tim Daniels, marketing manager at Autoscribe Informatics (Berkshire, UK). “Different jurisdictions specify test report formats, so any LIMS must be flexible enough to cover all bases.” According to Daniels, since cannabis testing labs ultimately answer to lawmakers and bureaucrats while complying with best practices, regulation drives LIMS adoption. “Laboratories working under ISO17025 are working under internationally recognized standards,” he adds.
Cannabis-suited LIMS should include a QA/QC module. LIMS usually come standard with competency management features to ensure staff competence, plus instrument calibration and maintenance modules to ensure the suitability of analytical instrumentation.
“Since regulations will likely change or be replaced, and because they differ among states, a LIMS that's end-user-configurable is a huge plus.”
Many companies with cloud-based LIMS advertise that keeping critical data off-site is the only way to go. Daniels says the choice remains valid. “It boils down to whether the lab’s IT department maintains its own data center or are already comfortable with external storage. Security, hardware purchase and maintenance, corporate culture, and personal preferences are the notable factors in the decision.”
Shan Randhawa, CEO at QBench LIMS (Roseville, CA) believes the hosted/cloud debate to be more settled. “As the industry evolves, customers will be better served by a cloud-based system. Managing an on-premise system, especially with the changing regulatory landscape, entails much more overhead, that experts reside on-site, and locks companies into working with LIMS vendors who cannot support a lab’s evolving needs,” says Randhawa.
LIMS deployments tend to reflect the material and regulatory complexity of the products under consideration. At minimum, a cannabis-worthy LIMS must provide sample workflow tracking, integration with laboratory instruments and state tracking systems, automated generation of certificates of analysis, batch processing, and report generation.
“The complexity of cannabis leads to several distinct commercialization angles,” says Randhawa, “which is why standard cannabis testing spans multiple disciplines; for example, chemical and microbiological analyses. As such, a LIMS that's not designed for a single (or specific) workflow—in other words one with flexibility—can prove more useful for cannabis labs. Since regulations will likely change or be replaced, and because they differ among states, a LIMS that's end-user-configurable is a huge plus.”
With cannabis testing services springing up all over, laboratories must differentiate themselves. “One way to do that is by offering better customer experiences and automation,” Randhawa says, adding, “Having a LIMS that interoperates with systems like Salesforce, Confident Cannabis, and Weedmaps will be much more valuable than a closed on-premise system. Integration with states' seed-to-sale tracking systems also may be required for laboratories.”