Laboratory Digitalization: Common Questions Answered

by | 13. 06. 2024 | Laboratory digitalization

Reading Time: 7 minutes

As more laboratories transition from traditional paper-based systems to digital solutions, many are curious about the benefits, challenges, and best practices for making this switch.

At BioSistemika, we often receive questions about laboratory digitalization and how to approach it. We gathered a list of these frequently asked questions, and we are sharing the answers with you in this blog post.

How can the implementation of digital tools streamline processes and improve efficiency in my laboratory?

Laboratory digital tools, like LIMS, ELN, LES, and others, offer many benefits to a laboratory. You will be able to automate repetitive manual tasks, which will significantly enhance efficiency and accuracy. With centralized data storage and security mechanisms, you will have better data access and collaboration while ensuring data integrity (FAIR principles), which is crucial for satisfying regulatory requirements.

Additionally, these software solutions provide various tools and functionalities that enable you to plan and monitor activities more efficiently, assure better utilization, manage your inventory, SOPs and lab supplies and assure that you have a full overview of what is happening in the laboratory at all times.

Is mapping of lab processes necessary before implementing laboratory digitalization?

To assess your laboratory effectively, we strongly advise creating a process map. This will help you identify all starting and ending process points, understand their sequential flow and interactions, and pinpoint all bottlenecks and inefficiencies within your processes.

When you map your processes, you will also gain a good insight into the data flow in your lab. By doing so, you can effectively define and prioritize your requirements. Without a well-defined process map and requirements, you will not be able to effectively find the right solutions.

Digitalization of our laboratory is on a roadmap for the next year – how should we start?

Always start with a current state evaluation of your laboratory. Conduct interviews with all individuals involved in the processes to thoroughly understand each step and then map the processes. This will enable you to identify needs, gaps and bottlenecks of your lab workflow.

Based on this information, define the requirements for the digital solution – clearly define what you want to achieve, for example: efficiency, safety, or regulatory compliance. Once you have your requirements defined, start searching for a solution that can meet your needs. Ideally, choose solutions can offer all the functionalities you require and provide modularity and configuration within all-in-one platforms.

Once you start with the implementation, proceed step by step: start small, then gradually expand the functionalities and extend them to other departments.

Laboratory software

Should we begin the digitalization process within a single department, or is it advisable to implement digitalization across the entire institution simultaneously?

We recommend a step-by-step approach to digitalization to avoid overwhelming changes in your institution. When looking for the right solution(s), you may find one platform that can support all your departments with the necessary functionalities. These platforms (e.g., LIMS, ELN, LES) are usually modular, allowing each department to configure based on its specific needs. However, if use-cases are too specific, it makes more sense to implement solutions that fit best and integrate only key touchpoints.

We suggest first mapping the processes in the laboratories across the departments in your organization, and gathering the user requirements from all the departments you wish to digitalize. That way, you will get a bigger picture of the needs in different departments, therefore, you will avoid the mistake of selecting the solution that only fits one department.

Regarding the implementation, starting with implementing the chosen solution in just one department to familiarize with LIMS or other software is a good practice. Gradually expand the software to other departments, making incremental changes instead of large, stressful adjustments for your employees.

There are many laboratory software tools available on the market– which one do you suggest for our lab?

The choice depends on your laboratory type and your specific needs. If you are a QA lab working with many samples, then a LIMS solution would likely be a good solution. On the other hand, an ELN is a more suitable solution for research labs that focus more on performing a higher number of experiments and require more collaboration.

There are also other software tools besides LIMS and ELN, such as digital SOPs, Inventory management systems, Resource management systems, etc. Many novel software solutions are modular and provide more than just core LIMS and ELN functionalities.

You can read more about different laboratory software solutions in our blog article: Laboratory Software – Which is the Right One for Our Lab?.

Is the self-optimization of reactions and processes with Machine Learning (ML) techniques and automation a viable and prospective approach?

Yes, of course. ML techniques and automation are crucial to stay ahead in the ever-evolving scientific area. Many digital tools already provide ML features, such as chatbots that allow you to query and instruct LIMS or ELN systems to perform tasks for you. However, to leverage the technology, you always need to start with data – structured and organized data is essential. We advise following the FAIR data principles.

Many companies are already taking advantage of the technology, primarily in R&D. With ML, you can automate experiments, predict and adjust experiment conditions, generate outcomes, identify patterns and causes, and analyze data more efficiently and accurately. In addition, many solutions offer ML for predictive maintenance of equipment and resource management. Therefore, there are many possibilities to improve your processes with ML and automation and we strongly advise you to start implementing those technologies in your lab.

What is the best approach for handling legacy data during the data migration process to a new system?

If you are already using some digital tools and are implementing a new one, data migration can be a challenging task as each system stores data using different logic. There are several possible strategies when it comes to data migration:

  • Migrate none – this means that you make a clean cut with new system. If possible, obtain data from the old system with data integrity intact and archive the data in a way that you can still access it.
  • Hybrid approach – migrate only certain data, for example inventory data, sample data, SOPs. This is recommended and usually not a very complex migration. More importantly, it enables smoother transition since you already have the basic data that is valuable from your future analysis and experiments in your system.
  • Migrate everything – migrate all data from the old system to new. This is a complex process so be aware that this will significantly increase implementation time and costs, However, having all the data in one place brings many long-term benefits. For example, you can reuse and compare the data across the experiments, apply ML algorithms and predictive analytics to learn from the data and predict experiment outcomes.

Before deciding for any of these approaches, make sure to do the assessment, which data is important to you, what you want to achieve and what are your long-term plans.

Laboratory software

Based on your experience, do you suggest adopting a pre-figured Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) or developing a custom LIMS solution on our own?

We always suggest thoroughly reviewing the solutions already available on the market first, and not developing your own. Firstly, there are many LIMS products on the market (more than 150). Therefore, there are a lot of opportunities to find a solution that will fit your needs. Many LIMS products are (almost) fully configurable, meaning the vendor will provide you with only the required modules and functionalities. In case you need very specific features and workflows, vendors also offer customization; however, this is rarely.

Secondly, developing your own LIMS system will cost a lot (easily exceeding $1 million). You will need to maintain the software and regularly fix and update any issues that arise. Additionally, many custom LIMS software become obsolete as you need to invest a lot of time and money to keep them up with time and technology. However, in some specific cases, it could potentially make sense to look further into developing your own solution. For example, if your workflows are so complex that it would be too expensive to customize existing solutions or in cases where vendor lock-in poses too big of a risk to your business.

Which type of LIMS is preferable: local server or cloud based?

This strongly depends on your existing IT infrastructure and user requirements. If you have internal IT resources, you might be more interested in on-premises (LAN) deployment, as you can use your own infrastructure instead of paying for external. Additionally, if your instruments are already connected to the LAN, devices might be easier to connect or integrate. On the other hand, you will be responsible for your infrastructure, maintenance, security and operation.

If you are a smaller lab without internal IT resources, you might lean towards a cloud-based solution. This approach helps you avoid infrastructure, operational, and maintenance costs, but these solutions can, therefore, also be slightly more expensive as you pay for hosting, running, and maintenance. However, the higher price can be justified by the absence of the need to employ an IT person in your lab. Scalability is easier achieved with cloud-based solutions. Vendors usually provide a SaaS (subscription-based) model, meaning your initial costs will be much lower, though over time, these can exceed the costs of an on-premises solution.

How much do LIMS usually cost?

The cost depends on many factors. Firstly, there are different pricing models – some offer SaaS platforms with a subscription-based model, while others use perpetual licenses. These can range from $ 1,500 up to $ 20,000 per user, depending on the number of licenses.

Besides the licenses, you need to pay for implementation services, which can vary – from 50.000 to 200.000 € for small to medium-sized labs. This depends on functionalities, complexity, customizations, and data migration. In addition, vendors also charge extra for premium support, which usually includes 24/7 technical assistance, priority service request handling, remote diagnostics, and other services.

What key roles need to be involved in LIMS implementation to ensure its success?

To ensure successful LIMS implementation, you need to take the right approach to both the selection and implementation process.

For the selection process, assign a person who is responsible (a project manager) to create a plan, set goals, define resources, and oversee the progress. Involve all individuals who are part of the relevant processes, assign someone to gather information from the market, and prepare a database with potential solutions. If you have internal IT resources, include an IT representative to discuss and define the best approach for IT infrastructure requirements the implementation. These stakeholders should all participate in communications and demos with vendors and in the decision-making steps.

It often happens that lab personnel do not have a capacity to fully dedicate their time to the digitalization process and finding the right LIMS solution on the market. In that case, it makes sense to look into working with laboratory digitalization consultants, who can help you speed up the process without the overwhelming involvement of your lab team. You can read more about that in our blog post: The benefits of Hiring a Digitalization Expert.

For the implementation process, involve the same team members as you did in the solution selection process. Designate someone to communicate with the vendor’s team (usually including a project manager, engineers, and life science experts) and manage activities required by the vendor. Ensure an IT representative is available (especially if you choose an on-premises deployment option), and include someone from the lab to populate master data and become familiar with the system.

 

Are you facing challenges in your digitalization journey?

Book a meeting with our laboratory digitalization consultancy specialists.

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