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Four Tips to Ensure LIMS Selection Success

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Selecting and implementing LIMS solution is not an easy project; instead the path to success is riddled with obstacles and hurdles.  For most projects, once a budget is set, selecting the appropriate solution should be a straightforward process. A list of requirements is created. Products are reviewed for appropriateness. A choice is made. Why then is the process of selecting a LIMS so fraught with error, misunderstanding, and failure?

The budget has a lot to do with it. Your organization may not be able to afford what you need, and any solution that is implemented based solely on cost will be less than ideal and never popular.

In addition, any LIMS decision typically crosses departments, involving not only the lab but often the IT department, and is thus the source of more than a few problems for many organizations. IT may have infrastructure requirements that don't address lab requirements. The decision becomes a team effort that can mean compromises.

Finally, the process is time-consuming. It takes time to define the requirements, time to research products and interview vendors, time to get the budget approved, and time to implement. Sometimes this can take two to three years. A lot of things can change in that time. A new lab manager may favor a different LIMS solution. IT may decide on a different corporate standard. A new Vice President may want a complete review of the project. The budget may be cut. The scope may expand. There are many areas where hurdles may arise. One statistic that has long been circulating is that 60% of all LIMS projects never get implemented. Some of the blame rests with the vendor; but some of the blame rests with the organization purchasing the product.

What then is the best methodology for ensuring success? Four basic guidelines will help ensure success:

  1. Avoid "scope creep". Clearly define the scope, objectives, and resources available for the LIMS. Scope creep is one of the major reasons for failure to implement the LIMS on time or within budget. Define the functional requirements that the LIMS must address in order to perform the necessary laboratory tasks. Then review the available LIMS that fit your budget and requirements and interview those vendors.

    2.  Define your requirements. LIMS selection boils down to what you have, what you want, and what you need (knowing that you can't always have what you want). Create a LIMS implementation team that includes an upper management champion (to ensure that your budget gets approved), the lab manager, LIMS users, Quality Assurance staff, and IT staff who can help steer your team through the IT infrastructure requirements that the LIMS will need to accommodate.  Once the team is on-board, they develop the project plan and start the process for defining the Functional Requirements Specifications for the LIMS.

    3.  Choose a configuration.  LIMS selection is also difficult because it combines several technologies, including computer processors and storage, data acquisition and instrument control (e.g., interfaces and software), a database 'engine', a data communications network, procedural programming languages, data description languages, report writer software, and the system user interface.  The situation has only increased in complexity in the past decade as Software-as-a-Solution (SaaS) systems have become available. Determining what your configuration should be, and the resulting LIMS products that should then be reviewed, is driven by the Functional Requirements Specification and the budget allocated for the project.

    4.  Interview LIMS vendors.  Once a configuration is determined, the various LIMS offerings should be reviewed and a short list of LIMS vendors created for one-on-one interviews. Despite similarities, no two LIMS are exactly the same. The purchase price of the LIMS is not the only cost. Additional purchases may need to be made that include hardware, networking, cabling, and computer upgrades.  Don't forget that once the LIMS is installed, there are numerous on-going training and support issues to be considered.

This very basic set of guidelines provides a look at four key points to consider that have helped other laboratories implement a successful LIMS.  Most importantly, remember that success is based on preparedness, so anticipate how you are going to overcome implementation obstacles and you're well on your way to project success!