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31 May 2023

6 guidelines to help you choose the right LIMS for your environmental laboratory

Wendy Elliott-Smith

Senior Director, Product Development


Wendy joined HORIZON Lab Systems in 1997 to establish a quality assurance department. In her over 25 years’ experience in the laboratory information systems space, she has worn many hats and today oversees the Clinisys Platform™ team.

There are technical requirements to consider when researching and selecting a LIMS software application for your laboratory, but tunnel vision on those technical details can make you miss the forest for the trees. Many laboratories overlook critical elements in the selection process. The following six guidelines for choosing a LIMS provide a non-technical framework to help you evaluate LIMS alternatives.

1. Choose expertise AND experience

When it comes to the business of the laboratory, it’s critical not only that your LIMS provider has deep expertise in laboratory information management systems and managing interoperable data, but also that your provider has experienced laboratorians on staff to fully support you on implementation, configuration, and integration.

Look for a team with deep roots in the laboratory—staff that has lived and breathed laboratory operations in the specific scientific discipline you need. Be comfortable that the customer experience team supporting you has been in your shoes to understand how the LIMS software will work best for your needs. Their team will necessarily become an extension of your own staff.

The higher the level of expertise, the better the chances that features and functions will more closely meet your needs—with minimal customisation. Also, the company must demonstrate a strong understanding of software application development in order to deliver the most effective and reliable products. The development team should be able to explain their technology vision to you and rationalise their choices for platforms, interfaces, integration, and functionality.

2. Think long-term

You will likely have this LIMS for ten years or longer. That means functionality must be broad enough to address your current needs and be flexible enough to meet future needs. Consider four categories:

  • Integration: How easy will it be to integrate new instruments? How about future integration with accounting or other business applications?
  • Platform scalability: Where will the lab be in three, five, or ten years in terms of staff size and sample testing volume?
  • Feature flexibility: Are there features you may want down the road, and how easy will it be to get those features? Will you be entering other markets and needing different functionality?
  • Ongoing costs: Consider total cost of ownership, not just the software and maintenance. What are initial and ongoing training costs? What upgrade expense is required over time? Will there be additional hardware, network, or other third-party software costs? Are there additional modules you will have to purchase, or is all the key functionality bundled into one package?

3. Look for functionality that directly improves productivity and quality

At the heart of any new LIMS is the ability to improve laboratory productivity and quality management. The system should be an interactive intelligent application that provides sustainable improvements to your lab. Failure to adequately meet any one of these criteria will leave a gap in your information infrastructure. Ask the LIMS software vendor to provide specific examples of how their system addresses each item. The system must:

  • Streamline sample management and tracking
  • Automate instrument data upload
  • Facilitate compliance with industry standards and government regulation
  • Enhance reporting and access to information.

4. Configurable really does beat custom

Many LIMS providers describe their solutions as “out-of-the-box” and “off-the-shelf”, while others emphasise the custom nature of their offering. From a cost and maintenance point of view, generally, the closer you can get to off-the-shelf, the better off you are—assuming that the software is well established and is configurable.

Core LIMS functionality is well understood today, and that means you should expect that a provider will be spreading the costs of standard features across a large customer base. True configurability enables you to cost-effectively tailor that system to your unique needs.

With a customised system, you are paying a steep price for what is essentially a one-of-a-kind solution, one that requires constant attention and investment. Unless you have good funding and an open-ended deadline, custom software becomes one more operational burden to manage. Unfortunately, the definition of “configurable” is in the eye of the beholder, so look for these three things:

  • How well does the system meet your workflow requirements or offer flexibility to change?
  • Is reporting adequately addressed, either through standard reports or a user-friendly report writer?
  • Does the system speak your language—is the nomenclature the same as your lab, or easily configurable?

5. Don’t take their word for it

For the real insights into the LIMS software and the people who work for the maker, ask for references. It may seem like a basic step, but go beyond the demos and ask to speak to a lab owner, an IT manager, and a lab manager who use the vendor’s LIMS product.

No company has 100-percent customer satisfaction. However, after you have talked to three to five references, you will start to see trends. Here are several questions you can ask:

  • Did the customer get good value for money?
  • Was the LIMS maker helpful to deal with?
  • Did implementation go smoothly?
  • How is the company’s post-production support?
  • Is product development innovating the product at a good pace?
  • What productivity improvements has the client experienced?

6. Understand implementation and support resources

Any LIMS is a complex solution, and even the best systems require some expertise to properly implement and maintain. But, the more configurable and reliable the product, the less you’re going to rely on implementation project managers and technical support. Likewise, some training is inevitable, but the more intuitive the product features and user interface, the quicker your lab staff will come up to speed, with less disruption to your business.

Be careful to distinguish between set-up and customisation. When you go beyond changes to business policies, screen names, and report formatting, you are starting down the path of customising your solution. Also, find out the size and quality of the customer support team. If your software is off-the-shelf, you can expect to have less need for 24/7 support. With a custom application, you should expect to have someone on call during business hours.

A well-functioning LIMS will open up enormous productivity and quality improvement opportunities for your lab. Make the LIMS selection process as enlightening and as thorough as you can. To talk about Clinisys Laboratory Solutions™ and how we can help your lab scale and operate more efficiently, request to meet with us.

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