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Evolution of SaaS LIMS Continues

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Three years ago the LIMSource published a two-part article about Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) LIMS that reviewed the new platform's delivery model in comparison to on-premise solutions.  Since that time many new SaaS LIMS have been introduced, most notably Thermo Fisher Scientific's LIMS-On-Demand (LOD) solution.  In this article, Technology Networks' editor Helen Gillespie interviews Kim Shah, Thermo Fisher's Director of Informatics Marketing and Business Development, and Seamus Mac Conaonaigh, Thermo Fisher's Director of Technology, for an update on SaaS LIMS.

Q: SaaS LIMS have now been around for about five years (can you believe it!) and Thermo Fisher's LIMS on-Demand has been available for two; how has the system been received?

Shah:  Originally our gut feeling was that LOD would be most attractive to small- to medium-sized labs.  And this is true, but we hadn't thought about organizations that need a LIMS for only a short period of time, such as food testing labs in the wine business that only need a lab during harvest season. What we've found quite interesting is that labs that use LOD in this way not only get the benefit of using the software only when required, but also keep the data in LOD year-round so that the previous year's data is available when the next round of data is collected.  

But SaaS LIMS in general have not been received as well as more popular business applications such as salesforce.com. Laboratories are slow to adopt the SaaS model for a number of reasons, most significantly because most LIMS implementations still require some on-site configuration and integration with laboratory instruments. Interestingly, we are seeing an increase in implementations in the area of shared services, where a number of laboratories use LOD on an ad-hoc basis for a week or a couple of days, but only when their workload requires a LIMS.

For instance, we have a recent implementation in a Hong Kong science & technology park that provides shared services to 200 companies. Those companies range from life sciences to semiconductors, and use a centralized lab in which LOD is installed. No single company in the technology park can justify a lab and a LIMS, but as a shared service they are able to collectively afford a state-of-the-art lab and utilize the services when they need it.

Mac Conaonaigh:
The increase in mobile computing that has occurred since we introduced LOD is also driving demand.  When new technology like this takes hold, it can make a solution like LOD useful for a different reason than we originally envisioned.  

Historically Thermo Fisher has provided dedicated hosted services on an annual or monthly basis. A SaaS solution is typically a shared service that takes a different approach. For example, there is no lead time to set up a new environment, while there typically is a lead time for a dedicated service. The LIMS-on-Demand architecture supports both models. We're finding, however, that even smaller labs don't want to share the environment, whether it is security concerns or validation requirements, so there is a higher comfort level with the dedicated model.  

That said, our LOD implementations are growing even though they are still a small percentage of our overall LIMS implementations. We use Integration Manager to extend the hosted LIMS and enable the use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. The rise has been astronomical for mobile applications; in fact, and we're discovering a lot of routine uses that are ideal for mobile technology, and we have begun to create tailored solutions for these users. These mobile applications address more routine, repetitive activities such as receiving samples at the loading dock that can be tracked by GPS, use the camera function to scan barcodes, or allow the user to dictate comments about, for instance, a damaged shipment directly into the mobile device. Our integration platform ties this information instantly to the LIMS.  

When we showed this functionality to the Hong Kong technology park, they were delighted because there's a huge potential in a shared environment where the capabilities are available to all the customers.

Q:  What are some of the biggest differences between deciding to go with the LOD SaaS LIMS instead of an on-premise LIMS such as Nautilus?

The primary difference is still one of management of cost and other resources. The IT overhead involved in maintaining an on-premise enterprise solution such as a LIMS is still significant and typically requires dedicated skilled IT and database personnel, not to mention the hardware costs and software licensing for components such as Oracle or SQL Server databases. With a SaaS model, most of this goes away, which significantly lowers the bar to get up and running. This often allows a LIMS to be made available without requiring a large capital expenditure, the approval of which can frequently be a protracted process in many organizations.

Mac Conaonaigh: Many customers ask us about validation in a hosted environment. Validation is a customer-specific process and varies greatly from customer to customer. In the design and features of our software, we try to enable our customers to validate their environment as easily as possible. When the software is running in an environment outside the customer’s direct control–such as a SaaS or dedicated hosted environment–validation can become more complicated. There are many support processes from service providers to help in this regard, such as SAS 70 Type II certification. Typically, the more shared the environment, the greater difficulty there is for security-conscious customers in justifying the use of the environment for their applications. Thermo Fisher has a dedicated environment for LIMS-on-Demand at our service provider, and our service provider is also instrumental in addressing key questions around security and other controls that often arise during the RFP process.

Q: How do you see the convergence of these new technologies affecting LIMS?

Shah:  The future will see many further changes as new technology arises. For example, contract labs in soil sciences can perform sample log-in as they collect it in the field and start to do predictive analyses about the workload. Mobile technologies will change how labs are staffed, monitored, and utilized.  We expect our LOD SaaS LIMS to continue to evolve in a synergistic way in response to new technologies.