Category: Applications

The public perception of laboratories is that they are filled with the latest technology and make use of extensive automation. The reality however is that many laboratories still use paper notebooks and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to store, manage and manipulate their data. If you are working in a laboratory that uses paper notebooks to capture sample results and record manual calculations, and uses spreadsheets to manipulate and compare data, then you are certainly not alone.

But have you thought about implementing a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)? Autoscribe Informatics has many clients who have moved from paper and spreadsheets to a LIMS. Some of them, including Far Chemical, Catalent and the Irish Equine Centre, have been kind enough to provide case studies of their journey. These case studies are worth reading if your laboratory is currently using paper and spreadsheets as they provide inspiring stories of what can be achieved. Laboratories that make the switch to LIMS benefit in many ways.

Managing Data

Small laboratories, with few personnel, often feel they can manage their work with paper notebooks reasonably efficiently. This may or may not be the case, however, as the work of a laboratory increases, more staff are taken on, and processes become ever more complex, paper becomes an increasing burden. Data must be transcribed by hand from instruments to notebook. Calculations must be performed, either by hand or using spreadsheets, and analytical results must be compared against limits. Appropriate staff must check and approve data entered and calculations performed before approving test results and releasing those results. If Certificates of Analysis are to be created these will need to be done manually and will require further transcribing of data, opening the process to further potential errors.

A LIMS can support and automate many of these manual tasks, both reducing the time it takes to release results and improving the quality of those results. For instance, tests can be allocated automatically during sample registration depending on substance type, and calculations on the test results can be performed as soon as the results are entered. Test limits at the test, substance, and sample level can also be applied automatically. Rather than chase down notebooks for review, managers can log in from any location to review, validate and approve test results. Certificates of Analysis may then be created, released, and even emailed to clients automatically.

More importantly, when using a LIMS all data is held within a single database, rather than notebooks around the laboratory, and in multiple filing cabinets. Data from any sample or batch can be instantly recalled if required, rather than looking through multiple notebooks or spreadsheets to find the data you need. Customers who move from paper to LIMS often report that the time saving due to centralized data management processes saves so much laboratory time and resources that it justifies the purchase of a LIMS by itself.


Manually transcribing instrument readings to a lab notebook and then to a spreadsheet to perform calculations, and then potentially back again, requires the manual copying of data many times. This inevitably leads to transcription errors, and forces extra checks to be performed to ensure the final released results are correct. As the volume of work increases this burden should encourage laboratories to integrate their instruments to transfer results directly into the LIMS, eliminating transcription errors altogether and speeding up the process. Matrix Gemini LIMS has an automated software interface that allows data to be directly imported from laboratory instruments. Once setup such interfaces work reliably in the background removing the need to use paper altogether.

Some clients deal with many thousands of samples a day, so efficient printing and use of barcode labels, and scanning to speed up sample accessioning and testing, can have a huge impact on efficiency.

Security and Traceability

A major limitation of spreadsheets is that they have limited access control and traceability built into them. It is not easy to simply log changes, and record who made those changes; version control may not be enforced. If data is accidentally altered or deleted the original data can be lost forever. Also, only a single person can access and update the spreadsheet at any one time, which can cause frustrations when multiple people need to access the same spreadsheet. However, spreadsheets can at least be password protected to prevent unauthorized access, unlike laboratory notebooks and paper records which must be locked away in filing cabinets to keep data secure.

A LIMS transforms data availability while also keeping it secure. Users must log in to the LIMS which then automatically keeps an audit trail of all the data they create, modify, and delete. Audit functions let you know who made the changes, what changes they made, and the reasons why they made them. Users can be given different levels of access depending on their work. This level of security ensures users can only access the data they need to perform their work. For instance, some staff may only have access to sample registration and accessioning screens, while others will have access to result entry, validation, and authorization screens. This partitions data within the LIMS, keeping it secure, with all changes fully traceable. Once a laboratory experiences lost paper records or spreadsheets that have mysteriously been altered, especially if this is uncovered during an external audit that potentially harms their business, the purchase of a LIMS becomes a priority in business plans as part of their data resilience planning. By why wait for this to happen?

Data Recall

Laboratories often use previous data for analytical or statistical purposes. Statistical process control in manufacturing is used to ensure the quality of the product. Data analysis can also be used to highlight if operating procedures are not being rigorously followed, or if there are staff competency issues. Drawing on a pool of data in a single LIMS database provides many opportunities for data analytics to improve the business.

The ability to quickly find and re-print a Certificate of Analysis for a particular sample or batch, and to create high-level management reports about the efficiency of the laboratory, is often cited as a major time saving for laboratory managers. Management reporting, that used to take many hours of churning through paperwork and spreadsheets, can very often be automated to produce daily, weekly, and monthly reports, automatically distributed to those that need them. Recalling data, whether for ad-hoc reasons or for regular reporting, can be a major time saving for your staff, freeing them up for more valuable and satisfying tasks.

Building Your LIMS Justification

Businesses naturally grow over time. As they grow laboratory managers often find their working hours and level of stress going up as they try to keep up with the analytical, managerial, and other administrative work required of them. What used to be manageable in paper and spreadsheets gets to a tipping point where change must occur. Yet creating a business case to make those changes and move from a paper-based to a LIMS-based laboratory can be time consuming and difficult if you are not used to creating business cases for software such as a LIMS.

To address this issue Autoscribe has a white paper called ‘Justifying the Purchase of a LIMS’ which will help. It outlines a process of creating a business plan that clearly demonstrates the return-on-investment of introducing a LIMS to your laboratory. If you recognize the issues of working in a paper-based laboratory, and feel a LIMS will help you drive efficiency and re-gain control of your data, then downloading this white paper and creating a formal justification for a LIMS is your next step.