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The role of LIMS in digital transformation strategies



Digital transformation uses digital technologies throughout an organization to fundamentally improve or change how businesses operate and provide value to their customers. Digital transformation may encompass multiple systems and technologies including robotics, workflow automation, advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) and Cloud technologies. While this may require the implementation of new systems there is great potential for improvement by applying the ideas to existing systems. Digital transformation is a natural extension of the so-called fourth industrial revolution, and as such requires seamless multi-directional flows of data and information from every facet of the business. This creates a data ecosystem characterized by complex relationships. Done correctly this has the potential to link tacit data (data known only to a single person), and group data or tribal data (data known to a limited number people often within a single team) to help create and protect that most valuable resource – corporate knowledge. Nowhere are these ideas more applicable than in the laboratory environment. Laboratories provide a rich and varied source of data that is of significant importance and value in the wider enterprise sense. However, all too often this data exists as silos of information that cannot be linked. Figure 1 provides a simplified view of the multilayered informatics model that can exist within a manufacturing organization with a QA/QC lab function.

Figure 1: The Role of a LIMS in Digital Transformation

How LIMS can help

The diagram shows, the laboratory does not work in isolation from the rest of the organization or enterprise. It both produces and consumes data and information. The data and information flow may be within a single laboratory (inter laboratory), between laboratories (intra laboratory), or between the laboratory and the rest of the enterprise (extra laboratory). The production and consumption of data throughout the enterprise significantly enhances the value of the data. However, this is only the case if significant issues around how the data is generated and stored, as well as questions around data compatibility and accessibility are addressed. Placing a configurable LIMS at the center of your laboratory informatics strategy can make a significant contribution to the digital transformation of your organization. The LIMS can record and manage data associated with a myriad of laboratory activities over and above those just associated with sample testing and make the data accessible within a standard database. In this way, the ability to easily search a single source of data allows better, more informed decisions surrounding all aspects of the laboratory to be made. It can also provide the all-important integration with wider business functions. Indeed, the ability to integrate with a variety of other systems has become a key selling point for the Matrix Gemini LIMS.

For example:

  • Integration with complex instrument data systems such as Chromatography Data Systems, to automatically schedule sample runs and collect the generated results
  • Initiating testing based on batch information passed from an Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERP) or Manufacturing Information System (MIS)
  • Integrating cleaning plans and production schedules in the food business
  • Providing a searchable interface that helps scientists make sense of vast amounts of genomic data
  • Allowing external customers direct, but limited and controlled, access to their data and information
  • On-line approval of test results in an animal health lab allowing customers to receive results even if the responsible veterinarians are out of the office
  • Automated creation and delivery of invoices for a food based technical center ensures commercial customers are correctly charged and revenue is maximized
  • Linking laboratory data to other business data to allow visualization of corporate data through the use of business intelligence tools
  • Integrating laboratory testing data with state mandated tracking systems in the emerging area of legalized cannabis production
  • Seamlessly integrating patient information in an equine veterinary system with the appropriate laboratory results as requested by the veterinarians

These are just some examples of the capabilities of a LIMS such as Matrix Gemini to create, consume and distribute data and information of value. Furthermore, by providing access from a single integrated source to the type of operational and management data described above, the LIMS can be used to model the effect of potential business changes. For example, the impact of a new production line on the time to complete product testing and therefore product release, or the implication of winning a new contract on labor and equipment requirements in a commercial testing organization. The LIMS becomes a business-critical system that enables informed decisions to be made regarding a multitude of laboratory processes.

Integration with other Enterprise Systems

Matrix Gemini is characterized by its unique configuration tools that allow solution configurations to be built without changing the underlying code. These tools can be used to develop wider data management solutions. At least one organization has used Matrix to create a complete business management tool linking the commercial and scientific aspects of the business in a single system. More commonly organizations integrate Matrix into their IT ecosystem, linking business critical systems to streamline operations. For example by integrating veterinary hospital systems managing the care of valuable equine patients to the pathologists in the dedicated testing lab. Revenue can be maximized in a commercial testing laboratory by providing full details of all analytical procedures carried out as part of an agreed contract to the relevant finance systems. Clearly a LIMS is far from a complete digital transformation solution, but it can provide a powerful component of this complex process. Digital transformation is applicable to many sectors but is to some extent still in its infancy, especially within the laboratory environment. It is interesting to note that in the industrial manufacturing sector, the concept of Industry 4.0, the trend towards automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies and processes, was first put forward as long ago as 2011. While significant progress has been made in this area, there is still much to be done almost a decade later indicating the size of the challenge associated with digital transformation. However, even small advances towards this end can yield significant benefits.