1. Understanding your requirements
It may seem obvious but the key to a successful project is to have a clear goal in mind. Setting the objectives of the new system helps you understand what the solution must do and what success will look like. Typical examples of laboratory goals include better regulatory compliance, data security (physical and access control), reduced transcription errors, improved reporting, and faster delivery of results. These objectives are a key part of the business case and can be used to sell the project to the budget holders.
It is important to identify any limitations of your current system but also understand what it does well. Increased productivity, through faster release of test results, automation of management reports, and higher sample throughput are all common goals used to justify a LIMS and focus management attention. However, don’t forget to think creatively about how LIMS can help your organization. Can you streamline instrument management by having an integrated calibration and maintenance system as part of the LIMS, or can you automatically check an analyst’s competency to carry out a procedure using a built-in competency management module. The outcome of gathering such requirements should be a User Requirements document. This can define the minimum viable product for the LIMS i.e., what the system must do, along with requirements that could bring additional or unexpected benefits.
Ensure the project team includes relevant input from all stakeholders. These may include laboratory users, QA representatives, the customers of the laboratory services, IT staff and others. Senior management must also be included to sponsor and champion the project. At this stage you’ll also need an idea of your budget and an outline approval to move ahead with the project; buy in from the management sponsor is key to this.
2. Evaluate to find the right LIMS for your needs
Once you have defined your requirements the next step is to research the market to discover suitable LIMS offerings. Compare what is available to your requirements, not forgetting non-functional requirements such as your preferences for an on-premise or cloud solution, how you want to pay for it (one off payment plus support or a regular [i.e., quarterly] charge). As you review the various LIMS solutions available in the market you will naturally find a sub-set of them that meet your needs and which you want to further investigate.
Make sure you regularly refer back to your list of minimum requirements to ensure you are not swayed by unimportant features, forgetting that the core product is not fit for purpose. Once you have a shortlist of two or three vendors you should evaluate their LIMS solutions in more detail:
- Ask for a demo to explore the key features you need in your system (tell them those key features) but, during the demo, also spring a small task on them to see how they can configure their LIMS to suit your particular needs. (Nearly every lab requires some individual configuration. If this is hard for them to do it indicates the system may not be very flexible and may add unnecessary costs to the project).
- Ask if you can do specific configuration for your lab yourselves, or if the vendor’s technical services team must be involved. If they do need to be involved ask about their experience and consider the cost.
- Find out if the LIMS has a configuration environment. Some cloud solutions allow little or no adaption at all. Some, like Matrix Gemini LIMS, have a separate configuration environment. You may also need a test environment where configurations are formally tested before they are added to the live system. This is especially relevant for regulated environments.
- Discuss and make sure you understand the pricing options including initial costs for licensing, implementation, training, and on-going annual support costs.
- Look for references and review case studies from labs that use the LIMS.
Use your findings from this evaluation to select a supplier you feel confident in working with further.