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Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation Provides SaaS LIMS to Startup Companies

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The August 2012 Technology Networks' LIMS article highlights an interview between Editor Helen Gillespie and Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC) directors on how HKSTPC uses their SaaS LIMS to break the bounds of traditional laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and offer services on a time-share basis to support a variety of scientific data-centric operations from biotechnology to forensic to contract labs.  It's an interesting delivery model that illustrates how businesses are taking advantage of cloud computing solutions.

While cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) LIMS have been available for a few years now, most organisations still prefer to implement the traditional LIMS model whereby they manage every aspect of the system.  But the traditional model is costly; what do you do if you're a start-up with great ideas but minimal resources?  One solution is to leverage shared laboratory services provided by an organisation such as the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTPC).  Technology Networks reached out to the Corporation to find out more. 

Q: Tell me about the technology park: What's the concept behind it and how does the LIMS tie into it? 

HKSTPC:  Hong Kong Science Park was opened in 2002 with a multi-phase plan to expand the facilities and services to address the needs of five industry clusters: Electronics; Information Technology & Telecommunications; Precision Engineering; Biotechnology/Life Sciences; and, Green Technology.  As of end June, there are almost 400 technology companies in the Park with 56 of them in the biotech sector.  Construction of the Park was divided into 3 phases on twenty-two hectares of land.  Phases 1 and 2 have been completed and Phase 3 will be completed in stages by 2016.

In the biotech/life sciences area, most of these companies are small to medium enterprises, SMEs, comprised of less than 20 people.  Thus we offer an incubation programme with shared services that enables their lab and R&D [Research & Development] department to exist. 

Our shared lab services include a number of facilities that range from a Mass Spectrometry Lab to a Genomics Lab to a Proteomics Lab. There are more than 40 different life sciences instruments for shared R&D use and an on-demand LIMS that manages all the data.  Most of these companies couldn't afford to manage a lab or purchase their own LIMS, because they only need to use it once in awhile. 

Along with the facilities, the LIMS is available on an as-needed, time-share basis.  As a result, there's no need to buy the systems or the hardware of hire IT people to manage the system; it's all done centrally from the labs and LIMS offered by the technology park.

Q: When did the LIMS go live? 

HKSTPC:  The on-demand LIMS was implemented about two years ago as a pilot project initially used by two organisations. Neither of the companies could dedicate people to maintain an on-site LIMS so we need a flexible and all-round shared system solution.   We anticipate that more users will join over time because this type of system doesn't require capital or people to maintain the LIMS. 

This is the first time these organisations have used a LIMS.  Previously they used paper-based management systems, so the change to a paperless lab is not easy!

In finding the right business partner to materialize the shared services concept, the partner’s technical know-how, comprehensive customer support, and good track records are very important selection criteria to us.  What's interesting is that it is not just the LIMS, but the entire lab is shared.  This means shared instruments and equipment.  The software per se is not shared.  Organisations pay a fee for the number of concurrent users on an annual basis.  This fee can be scaled up or down depending on their needs. 

The labs operate like a conference room: you schedule in advance during lab operating hours, which are Monday through Friday, 9 to 6. Once the analysis is done, users then have access to the LIMS 24x7 because the LIMS is a web application that is always available.  Thus, data can be accessed anytime without the need to actually be in the lab. 

Regarding data security, the shared platform has numerous security settings that ensure the data is all segregated and not available to anyone but the appropriate organisation.  There have been no real concerns from the customer's standpoint about data security because the numerous security features embedded in the system have made them very comfortable that the database, and access control are all separate and secure.

Q: What's the biggest benefit to the technology park organisations from this type of shared services model?

HKSTPC:  The organisation doesn't need to tie into a long-term contract; a SaaS system with  LIMS-on-Demand feature can be used only when you need it. This provides the ability to scale up or down when you need to, with no long-term contracts and no on-going operating expenses.  This allows the fledgling organisations to save development costs and focus on their core competencies.  Remember that our tenants are all SME's; they could not afford the IT people, the equipment or software on their own. For instance, IT server rooms take up floor space, which is very expensive in Hong Kong. The shared services/on-demand offering addresses all these issues.

Q: What happens next? 

HKSTPC:  Now that the system is in place and our pilot program has proven successful, we plan to roll it out to more users as well as promote the LIMS for not just the R&D that it is being used for now, but for QA/QC in pharmaceutical manufacturing.  This will include extending the scope of the LIMS to more applications. 

This is the only technology park of its kind in Hong Kong.  The incubator idea is popular in China and not an unusual concept; there are science parks in China although they don't offer the same services.  The shared facilities of our technology park are unique.  Right now we're working with Thermo Fisher to market the idea to more companies, not just to get new tenants for the park but also to extend services outside the park.  It's a whole new concept in how and where an organisation utilises their workplace needs. We are very excited about it.

Note: HKSTPC partners with Thermo Fisher Scientific to offer the SaaS LIMS to the biotechnology companies in Hong Kong Science Park.