As consumers, using the cloud has become instinctive and straightforward – all of the testing, thinking and management is done for us and we simply benefit from the flexibility it offers. But as a business, planning, important decisions, and even an element of faith come into play. In the laboratory sector, we haven’t been as quick in adopting cloud solutions, but momentum is growing fast. With laboratories increasingly contemplating moving to the cloud, we asked Senior Market Analyst, Imogen Fitt, from Signify Research, to outline the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Transitioning to cloud architecture can offer a multitude of benefits to laboratory adopters. However, there are still significant questions to address and tangible deployment at scale has been rare. Cloud technology adoption is likely to be gradual, and yet it is only once laboratories deploy to the cloud that will they be able to
Drivers for moving your lab to the cloud
At Signify Research, we are seeing multiple industry trends are helping to drive demand for cloud-based laboratory software, including:
- Use of artificial intelligence and data analytics to
analyzelaboratory outputs and efficiencies
- Increasing consolidation, driving scale and complexity of networks
- Greater use of outpatient lab services and remote patient monitoring apps
- Government initiatives driving procurement and policy
- Increased availability of public cloud offerings
- Site expansion across borders into new geographic markets
- New applications demanding higher computing power
- Increase in volume and size of laboratory data with new technologies
- Heightened security risk for protected health information (PHI) against cyberattacks
- Growing requirement for wider access to laboratory data
- Improved local network infrastructures in emerging global markets
Agility, security, and capacity among benefits of LIMS and LIS in the cloud
Our research indicates that there are multiple payoffs emerging for those labs already migrating their laboratory information management systems to the cloud.
One of the first benefits is the fact that cloud software can typically be updated much more easily, with new features and performance improvements deployed remotely so that labs have more immediate access to new features which may strengthen their own competitive edge.
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Increasingly, we’re also seeing cloud providers develop tailored solutions for specific markets. This approach enables laboratories to benefit from capabilities that are specific to their industry or discipline, while allowing for future growth and expansion into new laboratory testing markets. Such examples can also be seen from cloud solution providers, such as Google’s tailored solutions for medical imaging.
Cloud deployments are, of course, newer and less predictable than traditional on-prem software deployments. There aren’t yet enough cloud enabled laboratory reference sites to reliably establish the long-term cost of ownership, but a compelling case is emerging. With that in mind, it is clear that the quicker the transition to the cloud, the earlier a clinical or scientific lab will be able to reap the benefits.
Cloud enabled versus cloud native
Cloud-enabled software is software which was originally designed for on premise deployment which has subsequently been adapted for use in cloud environments. Whilst a great quick-fix, longer term this approach can compromise the technical capability, maintenance, performance, and flexibility of the software, which in turn can muddy the waters when determining total cost of ownership.
By contrast, cloud-native refers to software that was built for the cloud environment. This tends to deliver better performance and overall cost improvements when compared to cloud-enabled solutions.
Generally speaking, start-up LIS/LIMS providers will more likely be cloud native as they’re starting afresh, whereas the more experienced LIS/LIMS vendors typically begin by offering customers cloud-enabled products. However, moving forward we expect established providers to invest in developing and promoting more cloud-native solutions.
There are advantages and disadvantages to partnering with both types of vendor; established vendors bring the benefit of established expertise and larger resources, however start-ups are more likely to have native solutions immediately available. Either way, it’s important to ask the laboratory systems provider you’re considering about their set up, including their approach to security, performance, and support.
Mitigating barriers to enable successful cloud migration
It’s not surprising that many labs find the prospect of moving to the cloud daunting. However, based on our research and client work, we at Signify Research have identified steps that can be taken to mitigate some potential pitfalls and improve a lab’s chances of reaping the full rewards of cloud migration.
Effective planning is key to reducing surprises and tackling issues proactively, and LIS/LIMS software providers are often able to help plan for likely challenges. In our experience, we find that common concerns include:
- Data security: In addition to core security functionality that comes with most cloud infrastructure, additional protections can be implemented, such as encrypting your own data and passing data through a secure firewall.
- Legacy applications: Your lab may be relying on some enterprise business applications that are not compatible with the cloud. Assess your current infrastructure to identify issues upfront and consider whether a hybrid deployment may be required, where some apps would remain on premise.
- Skills gaps: Not all in-house IT departments will have the skills needed to support cloud migration. This can be addressed by using a cloud migration company that will bring experience and may even help to train or recruit new skills into your team as your needs move away from hardware and software maintenance.
- Understanding the full costs: Don’t forget to include the cost of any associated costs, such as migration consultation support, training, and infrastructure. Ask your LIS or LIMS software provider for references, or speak to labs that have been through this before to understand how they measure successful LIS/LIMS implementations. Clinisys is one vendor to have helpfully supplied a blog on this topic, entitled 4 measures of LIMS implementation success.
- Poor performance or network bandwidth: Model any anticipated constraints before deployment and plan mitigations. Your provider should be able to help you manage any downtime and take steps to manage legacy apps should they start to become a problem. Monitor network usage throughout migration process to ensure it’s not being impacted more than you had planned.
The benefits of cloud are closely aligned with supporting an institution’s own growth and development, but cloud deployments can also come in a variety of forms according to your laboratory’s computing requirements.
Whilst this topic was discussed in more depth during my webinar, what I’d ultimately like to leave you with is this sentiment: Conversion to cloud does not have to be a rigid process. There are a variety of options available to help ease the transition. Ultimately these should be discussed with your software provider, who should be willing to tailor these examples to your institution and explain in detail the specific benefits and challenges you will have to face.
This blog follows a webinar delivered by Imogen Fitt from Signify Research in partnership with Clinisys. Contact our team for a link to view the one hour session.
For details about how Clinisys’ data-centric and cloud native laboratory solutions can help your laboratory reap the benefits of cloud deployment,
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