Does the Out Of The Box (OOTB) LIMS really exist?

Many organizations wishing to implement a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) for the first time might be tempted by an OOTB solution. After all, a simple, ready to go system must be an easy option – isn’t it? Well, many vendors offer OOTB LIMS, but how do their claims stack up with the needs of a real laboratory? Let’s look at just some of the typical claims and expectations for OOTB systems and find out what they really mean.

‘Ready to go LIMS’. With that sort of claim, you’d expect to be able to install the software and start using it straight away. But how suitable will it be for any given laboratory? Will it match the workflow? Will it match the required reporting scheme? The workflow issue is a particularly critical one, since many OOTB systems will claim a ‘Standard workflow’. However, what does ‘standard’ mean? Even laboratories in the same industry are unlikely to have identical workflows. If your workflow differs from that supplied with the system you will have to adopt the workflow, naming conventions etc. of the software as supplied which means changing how you do things in your laboratory. In some cases, the OOTB software has some way of being adapted. But as soon as changes need to be made to the software, we immediately start to move away from the OOTB concept. Interestingly, in 26 years of supplying LIMS throughout the world, Autoscribe Informatics has not supplied absolutely identical systems to any two customers even in the same industry!

Another common OOTB claim is ‘Everything is included’. This raises some interesting issues. To cope with widely differing laboratory requirements, a lot of functionality would need to be built in. If the software cannot be adapted in any way then the user may be faced with screens that are packed with functions that are of no relevance to them. This not only impacts on ‘Ease of use’ (another popular OOTB claim), but training and implementation could take longer. It seems from the above that some kind of customisation, or ‘Configurability’ is required, even for notionally OOTB software. But even here, there are widely different levels of configurability which have significant implications for the end user.

Different Approaches to Configuration

The simplest approach to configuration involves Configuration Switches. This allows some of the screen options supplied by the vendor to be turned on or off. This offers only a very limited configurability since it is completely restricted to the functionality supplied by the vendor. Another, more common approach, is to change the underlying code to configure the screens as required, but this usually is done in a proprietary programming language. This is clearly much more drastic since these changes will need to be carried out by the vendor (or highly trained users). Not only will that be likely to incur cost for the user, it departs even further from the ‘OOTB’ concept. In addition, any changes that are made in this way need to be re-validated. An alternative approach is to use an interactive user interface which uses visual point and click and drag and drop methods to create screens to support different workflows, add fields, list boxes etc without making changes to any underlying code. Since there is no programming involved, these changes do not have to be made by the vendor, they could be made by the end user. Most importantly, as the underlying code is unchanged, the software does not need re-validation.

The implications for OOTB LIMS

In reality, it is pretty well impossible to provide any LIMS solution without some degree of tailoring to suit a particular laboratory’s applications and workflows. The question is the level of adaptation, and the implications for the user in terms of cost, time to implement, validation and ongoing support. Another factor that needs to be considered is what happens if working practices change at some stage and future changes are required for the LIMS. Autoscribe Informatics has adopted the use of a configuration ‘layer’ for its Matrix LIMS which allows each system to look and behave differently to match user requirements. The unique configuration tools provided within the application are used to make all the changes without writing any new code. As an alternative to an ‘OOTB’ solution, Autoscribe Informatics has created a number of starter configurations for a variety of industries. These include:

  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Mortuary Management
  • Wastewater/Drinking Water
  • Radiochemistry
  • Biobanking
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Stability
  • Veterinary

and many more. The key to our approach is twofold. We won’t assume anything - we will discuss your overall goals and requirements to ensure you have the functionality you need and not what you don’t need. We can then see which of our starter configurations are suitable for you and use this to build a configuration that meets your requirements. This flexibility means that future changes can also be made – by you if you want to do it yourself. Matrix LIMS are built to accommodate change and therefore can be adapted, without coding, to fit customers current and future requirements. You are getting a ‘LIMS for Life’!

Dispel some more myths about ‘OOTB’ LIMS

If you’re interested in finding out more about some of the claims that are made about ‘OOTB” LIMS, take a look at our recent webinar: If you’d like a configured demo of Matrix to see how simple things could be, then give us a call on +44 118 984 0610.