The Life Science field has reached a new era in terms of data management and data storage. Slowly but surely, laboratories will replace their old paper and pencil methods with IT solutions. Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) and Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN) will play a key role in the context of this technical evolution.
Despite the consensus that the transition from old traditional methods to computerized solutions is inevitable, a large proportion of lab people still see this transition as an expense rather than an investment. We will try to understand the origin of this perception in this short blog post and ascertain whether the fear is founded or not.
Let’s establish what the cost is for a traditional lab to update from paper and pencil or an Excel-based solution to a more sophisticated computerized solution. Several transitional steps are involved.
- First, the lab staff must break the routines to which they have grown accustomed and probably wonder if they should take the leap. The change will cause re-training for everyone from the technicians to the lab managers, which incurs a cost.
- Secondly, a few people in the lab need to be selected to become administrators for the new IT system – a role that was potentially unneeded in the paper world. People in this role have to dedicate up to 20% of their work for administrative tasks; sometimes even more.
- The third concern is that even in a perfect world a software solution that exactly matches the lab’s expectations cannot be found, meaning that staff either have to lower their expectations or agree to pay for customizations to adapt the chosen software.
- Fourth, if the lab chooses shareware instead of freeware, they will have to pay either an annual license fee or a larger lump sum to be allowed to use the software.
We can see where the worries are coming from. All of this is painful for a business manager in charge of the transitory process, especially because it’s all about software. Nobody likes to pay for software, right? It is surprising how much money people agree to pay when it involves hardware, but for software the cost expectations are surprisingly different. It’s like a shopper saying, “I’ll take the computer, but not the Operating system. I don’t need it.”
This is an overwhelming cost, right? So why proceed with the transition? Well, let’s look a little further before writing off a shiny new systems. The main reason a lab moves toward computerized solutions is all about compliance. Computerized systems reach beyond other types of databases, allowing sample positions to be tracked digitally, sample metadata to be displayed and always accessible, and lab processes to be tracked A to Z so you always know who did what. By controlling processes and being able to easily monitor them, errors are reduced and quality is improved. At the end, reducing errors and improving sample quality will save money! Some processes can cost thousands of dollars. Taking the example of an NGS lab, one run of an experiment could cost between 10K and 20K. Reducing errors means the lab avoids repetition of very expensive processes.
There is more to gain than simply reducing errors. As mentioned earlier, computerized systems allow for a better characterization of samples because they track processes and record all associated metadata. Let’s look at another simple example. Two biobanks need to take aliquots of the same blood sample. The first biobank records some basic information manually in their lab notebooks. In the second biobank they keep track of all the metadata and experimental processes in their ELN and LIMS system. Both labs have the same sample, but the second one has much more information and can retrieve data easily through in-app exports and reports. Which sample is more valuable? The second one, of course, because samples have more value based on how well they are characterized.
Yet another aspect we should consider is automation. Computerized systems allow automation processes. It’s in the DNA of IT systems to reduce repetitive tasks. It can be through instrument integration, report generation, automatic analysis, intelligent decision making, and more, depending on the software. It takes time to implement your given automation, but once it’s servicing the lab, it saves incredible amounts of time and money afterward.
Each factor should be considered when deciding whether a lab should transition to a computerized management system or not. However, most of the earlier concerns cause short-term headaches at first that end with adapting an ingenious software investment that pays well into the future, supporting the lab’s data integrity, retention, and retrieval.
Have a look at our simulator to see how much you could save by using SLIMS here