There are over 700 core labs and facilities in the U.S. and they are the backbones of the R&D world. A core lab is typically part of an academic organization, serving institutional researchers working in individual laboratories as well as providing services for external customers. Core labs frequently are subject matter experts when it comes to equipment and techniques. As a result, the impact of core labs extends beyond their immediate institutions; so do the business challenges they face.
Keeping An Eye on the Bottom Line
From a bottom line perspective, a core lab faces some of the same demands that any business would, for instance: staying ahead of rapid changes in technology and equipment, paying rent and salaries, and calibrating ROI when it comes to acquiring expensive equipment to develop new offerings.
And like any other business, core labs are buffeted by factors on the “Increasing” scale:
- Increasing customer expectations
- Increasing business objectives
- Increasing need for capacity
- Increasing competition from other labs
While core facilities receive considerable institutional support from grants to cover operating expenses, a significant percentage of their financial support comes from customer revenue. In a 2016 benchmarking study of core labs in 156 institutions, core lab managers reported that 52% of the core income came from customer revenue, while revenue from institutional support stood at 30%.
Not surprisingly, the volume of customers doing business with these labs is growing: 54% of cores reported growth in the number of customers, a 3% higher growth rate than the previous year. The pressures on time management in the lab are also increasing. The core managers reported that they are spending more time serving customers — approximately 46 hours per month, a three hour increase from the year before.
All these factors would seem to point to a robust outlook for core lab facilities. But other studies have found that despite the high throughput of today’s technology, many core facilities have trouble breaking even due to more competition, decreasing funding levels, and poor management. In other words, in these facilities, business expertise may be lagging behind science expertise.
When you manage a core lab, you also manage a business. Therefore, your facility needs to implement effective business strategy: provide value to the customer, differentiate yourself from the competition, and keep a close eye on the bottom line. On top of that, like most businesses today, core labs need to juggle an ongoing technology challenge: maintaining the technological status quo, while staying on top of technological advances that are coming faster than ever. So, how do you balance doing important science, while running a business?
Minding Your Business is More Important Than Ever
Clearly, for today’s core facilities, maintaining a strategic approach to running a lab is just as important as the scientific research being performed within the lab.
My own experiences working in a core lab, has taught me that there are four very basic and effective best practices that every core lab should follow.
1. Stand Out
Consumers have a choice about where they shop; scientists are no different. Scientists who send samples off to a core lab for processing have a choice about which lab to do business with; it’s important to differentiate yourself from the competition when you present yourself to potential customers. Identify what these differentiating factors are. What does your lab do better? In what way? Do you offer faster service? Is your capacity higher? Do you have more or better equipment? Communicate those differentiators clearly to your customers.
Think about ways you can increase your competitiveness or your standing in the eyes of a customer. Even making small adjustments at the margins can add up to an impactful difference. Can you shave your prices, increase your turnaround times, or deliver higher quality standards? If your capital expenditures for instruments or other consumables has dropped measurably, is that an opportunity to pass on cost-savings to your customers?
Get to know your customer base and analyze what really matters to them. Are they looking for the latest technology? Are they focusing more on reliability and error-free results than on pricing? Define customer expectations and then spell out how your lab can meet these needs better than your competitors.
2. Invest in Integration
It’s a given that technology is always evolving; it is increasingly important for cores to invest in new technology and tools that can seamlessly integrate with the existing systems in the labs. The less time you have to spend on getting your systems to “talk” to each other and work together, the more time you’ll have to focus on the science.
3. Automate Efficiency
Automation is the key to higher productivity, fewer errors, better collaboration, and less staff time wasted on routine tasks. Investing in informatics tools such as a freezer management system, liquid handling for lab prep, laboratory information management system (LIMS), and ELNs (electronic lab notebooks), will help you work smarter, faster, and keep you ahead of the competition.
4. Measure and Evaluate
Every business keeps track of success metrics. Core labs must do the same. Guesswork and instinct won’t help you run a more efficient lab: Metrics are at the core of the kind of reliable, data-driven decision making that leads to success.
Define the key performance metrics that matter for your lab; measure, analyze them, and then put the data to work. For instance, these key metrics are usually important: turnaround time, instrument performance, and use of consumables. Your lab may have other unique metrics that contribute to your performance and bottom line. Accurate and ongoing reporting will not only measure trends, but also identify areas that may need improvement.
A Core Lab Needs the Right Tools
Core labs mean business — and that means that the right strategy and the right tools will be necessary for success. If you would like to learn how using SLIMS, our LIMS + ELN platform can increase efficiencies and improve the bottom line in your core lab, please contact us for a demo.
Designed by Genohm, SLIMS is the all-in-one solution for modern laboratory management, providing a seamless integration of Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) and ELN functionalities in one powerful platform. The comprehensive features in SLIMS are tailored for your laboratory, including a complete Electronic Laboratory Notebook with Workflows and Order Management modules for all experiments. For more information about SLIMS and our integrated ELN, visit our website.