There are many benefits of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) and the value, or return on investment, is quickly achieved. This is especially true for labs that are currently using paper, excel spreadsheets, or a home-grown solution as a LIMS. If you are using one of these less efficient and outdated solutions as a LIMS, you are certainly not alone.
Labworks has been a leader in LIMS since 1985. And has seen the full evolution of LIMS and other lab tools. Even though we have seen it all, and we are rarely surprised by anything. However, we are often surprised by how many large companies, even fortune 500 companies, still use paper or excel to manage their labs and to process their samples. We are often contacted by companies that are unhappy with their current LIMS and want to explore other options. While this is great and we are happy to help them replace their LIMS, we get excited when a company contacts us that doesn’t have a LIMS and is currently using paper or excel, because we know that they are going to be extremely happy with their LIMS and that it will immediately improve every aspect of their lab operations.
Before we discuss the many benefits of a Laboratory Information Management System, we feel it is beneficial to list many of the common foundational features that make up a leading LIMS solution. There are too many features to list so we will list the most important items that make up the foundation of any leading LIMS. Also, this feature list will help provide greater context when we discuss the specific benefits of a LIMS. Primary LIMS components include:
- Sample Management
- Analysis Management
- Project Management
- Sample and task scheduling
- Sample workflow design and automation. For example:
- Sample scheduling and creation
- Sample collection (often via a mobile application for samples collected in the field, plant, etc.)
- Sample receipt or login
- Sample/Analysis preparation
- Test result entry via both manual entry and automated through integration with instruments
- Violation management
- Validation and approval
- Final Reporting
- Certificate of Analysis
- Label printing and barcoding
- Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC)
- Inventory management
- Instrument management
- Personnel management
- Document management
- Electronic Lab Notebook
- Compliance management
- Audit trail/eSignatures
- Operational dashboards
- Canned reporting (simple to very complex)
- Ad hoc query and export tools
- Statistical Control Charting
- Trend analysis
Again these are just some of the key functional areas that make up a leading LIMS. By seeing them all listed, one can easily start to determine the many benefits that a LIMS provides. In the following sections, we will list the benefits that help companies achieve an ROI in 1-3 years depending on your current stat and the size and scope of your LIMS implementation.
Increased productivity – Increased productivity of resources is a prominent benefit and is visible in nearly every aspect of the LIMS. This is especially true if you are currently using paper or excel spreadsheets.
In our recent survey, over 100 customer respondents stated that they saw an average of 50%-70% increase in productivity throughout the lab. Increased productivity is achieved through small items, such as implementing barcoding to reduce the amount of time it takes to enter data or to find an item. This reduces the time it takes to prepare for an audit from weeks to hours. Every feature listed previously has some increased productivity aspect to it. Increased productivity means labs can do more with less or more with the same so, as with most of the benefits discussed here, there are cost savings associated with every benefit which contributes to the return on investment.
Also, increased productivity is magnified in a pandemic or other natural disaster situations because of the increased communication and collaboration a LIMS facilitates.
Improved Data Quality and Security – Labs generate and manage large amounts of data. For example, a single sample may require multiple analyses and each analysis may test for multiple analytes which can result in hundreds of results or other data points that need to be entered into the system. However, through a simple integration with an instrument, hundreds or thousands of data elements can be loaded into the system in seconds. Faster and more accurate data entry allows for faster decisions to be made or actions to be taken. For example, as results are manually entered or automatically loaded into the LIMS, “Violations” can be identified. Automatic notifications or other trigger actions can then communicate and handle the violation as it occurs. In manufacturing or other time-sensitive processes, identifying issues can save considerable time and money.
Also, LIMS data security is required to achieve most industry certifications and to achieve regulatory compliance. While traditional data security is very important for any system, the LIMS provides additional security in the form of an “Audit Trail” that tracks all data changes. The LIMS Audit Trail tracks who entered or changed the data, when the data was entered or edited, and why the data was changed. It also retains the data before it was changed so users can see how data values changed over time and why. The LIMS Audit Trail is key to achieve most regulatory compliance and certification requirements such as 21 CFR Part 11 and ISO 17025 among others.
Reduced employee attrition and greater employee job satisfaction – This is a two-sided benefit with direct results from increased productivity. When employees are more productive and can reduce repetitive or remedial tasks, they feel more accomplished and find more satisfaction at work. A LIMS can also help when there is turnover in a lab by reducing the amount of time it requires to onboard a new employee. By having the data clearly organized and because of automation tools that facilitate many of the lab tasks, new employees can more easily learn their job functions because they have the proper tools to do their job. This is even more true when employees work remotely or work different shifts as the LIMS will increase collaboration and communication. We won’t go into all the benefits of higher employee morale because they are mostly obvious, but it is safe to say that increased job satisfaction is a clear-cut benefit with far-reaching positive impacts. This is especially true in today’s environment where qualified resources are harder to find and as resources work remotely.
Reduced Costs – Cost reduction is a part of all the LIMS benefits discussed thus far but because it is a key component to achieving an ROI for the LIMS investment it is worth discussing it more directly.
Overall increased efficiency and doing more with less or more with the same has direct cost savings and greater efficiency can also increase revenue especially with labs that charge for their services. If a lab can increase its throughput, it will increase revenue. If costs can be simultaneously maintained or even decreased, larger profit margins can be achieved.
One of the functional LIMS items that have the biggest impact in reducing costs but is rarely discussed as part of a LIMS, is Inventory Management. Inventory management of course tracks inventory volumes, but it also tracks vendors, quality of materials, and will trigger events when inventory items are about to expire and when they need to be reordered. As tests are performed, inventory is automatically decremented which gives a real-time view into inventory levels. This drastically reduces waste and helps to ensure expired items are not used and that inventory is ordered ahead of time to avoid outages of materials. Inventory management is also a large contributor to employee satisfaction and overall efficiency. Having the capability to track sample results back to inventory reagents is also a key to achieving compliance and certification.
Increased Revenue – Many don’t associate a LIMS with increased revenue, but for many industries, the LIMS is a key part of the manufacturing process or a key tool in the R&D process both of which drive revenue. As mentioned, labs generate a lot of data and by using a LIMS, as opposed to paper or spreadsheets, the data can be easily transformed into information which can then be used to make decisions more quickly, increase customer satisfaction through increased quality, identify opportunities for operational improvement, help manage vendors or 3rd party partners’ quality, and much more. Being able to identify trends, good or bad, can save revenue against errors in the manufacturing process and a LIMS can also identify opportunities based on test results.
Speed to market is critical and in R&D labs greater collaboration and communication amongst the R&D team and between the R&D team and the lab are critical.
Many labs in many different industries are required to meet very strict regulations to function. Having a LIMS in place helps to ensure that regulations are consistently being met and that the lab can easily and efficiently demonstrate compliance when audited. In this case, the LIMS helps protect revenue by helping to maintain operations.
Benefit by LIMS Function:
Now that we have provided some high-level benefits we will start where we began, and elaborate a bit more by specifying the LIMS benefit to a specific LIMS function and we will use the same list of LIMS functions we listed above for initial context:
|Sample Management||A LIMS manages the entire sample life-cycle from sample creation and login to the final report. Benefits include greater throughput, timely and accurate results, facilitated compliance, reduced data entry, ensures data quality and integrity, and increases employee and customer satisfaction. LABWORKS LIMS provides a highly flexible and robust solution that manages and automates all aspects of the sample life cycle.|
|Analysis Management||Similar to Sample Management, LIMS provides many benefits related to analysis management. In addition to all those mentioned above as part of Sample Management, analysis management helps to ensure samples are within specification. When they are not in specification, actions can be triggered to resolve any issues. The state of the sample is often dependent on the collective status of all its analyses LABWORKS LIMS provides functionality to manage the entire analysis processing process.|
|Project Management||LIMS can help organize samples and analyses into meaningful groups for greater analysis. Key for R&D labs and provides better project communication and collaboration. LABWORKS LIMS provides are robust project management module that provides an easy association between the project and samples and helps analyze results.|
|Customer or Vendor Management||Most LIMS facilitate communication and collaboration between the lab and 3rd party labs in which the lab may outsource analyses by providing mechanisms for data transfer and data entry. Customer portals allow customers to submit work orders prior to sending samples to the lab for processing. Customers place an order, print labels, and attach the labels to the samples so that the lab knows the samples are in transit and so the lab can easily scan the label/barcode/QRCode upon arrival at the lab. The LIMS may allow customers to track their order status and get final results upon completion. LABWORKS LIMS provides tools that allow results from 3rd party labs to be automatically loaded into the system. Results can be reviewed before being loaded or they can be loaded without review. LABWORKS LIMS provides a very state-of-the-art and secure portal for external entities to submit requests and track progress.|
|Sample and task scheduling||LIMS allows for samples or tasks can be scheduled into the future. When their time arrives, the sample is automatically created and available for further processing. For labs that have samples created regularly. Users can look into the future by selecting a day and see what is scheduled for that day. This helps with resource planning, and it helps prepare for what is coming that hour, day, week, or month. Helps with resource scheduling. Reduces data entry. Ensures instruments are maintained and resources are trained. LABWORKS LIMS provides a full calendar and scheduling module that allows for samples, tasks, and programs to be scheduled in any interval possible.|
|Sample workflow design and automation||Greater throughput through transitioning sample status based on defined criteria. This automation facilitates hand-offs from one function to another and ensures that samples or other items are processed efficiently. LABWORKS LIMS Workflow Architect allows users to completely and easily design any workflow to meet their current processes. Workflows can be set at a global level or at the individual sample or analysis level.|
|Sample collection (often via a mobile application)||Allows greater collaboration between those collecting samples in the field, at the plant, or on-site at the lab. Integration with map technology helps define the most efficient collection route thus saving time and resources (fuel). Better communication between the field and the lab helps the lab know what has been collected, what is in transit, and if there are any issues with the planned samples. Data collected in the field allows for samples to be easily received and helps track the chain of custody. GPS location tracking ensures that samples were collected where expected. LABWORKS LIMS provides a robust Mobile Field Application that works with iOS, Android, or Windows devices.|
|Sample receipt or login||A LIMS provides greater throughput and efficiency. Reduces data entry and helps to ensure data quality and integrity. LABWORKS LIMS provides a sample login module that is template-based, which helps users know what data is needed and which defaults many of the common data elements.|
|Test Result Entry||A key part of a LIMS is the ability to enter and track results. Most LIMS allow for manual entry and automated entry through integration with instruments. Most leading LIMS like LABWORKS allow for simple and complex calculations that trigger automatically upon entry. Once a result is entered, the LIMS will check to see if a specification is present. If there is and the result is outside of the specification, workflows can be triggered to notify someone and/or reorder the test on the same sample, reorder a different test on the same sample, reorder a new sample, etc. LABWORKS LIMS has a library of over 200 instruments with which it integrates. LABWORKS LIMS also has a violation workflow that allows users to define what happens when there is a violation.|
|Validation and approval||LIMS provide ways to validate the results and overall data. A LIMS identifies what needs to be validated, for what reason, and by whom. Multiple layers of validation can be established. By enabling the validation process the LIMS helps to ensure quality and timely results. LABWORKS LIMS allows for any number of validation levels through its Workflow Architect.|
|Final Reporting||Once validation has occurred, a final report is often generated and sent to a defined recipient list. This can be done with a prior review or sent directly to recipients. Reports can be scheduled and distribute automatically. This improves customer support, allows for consistent review of final data, and reduces resource requirements. LABWORKS LIMS provides many reports out of the box. Reporting tools allow customers to create any custom report including calculations, pictures, graphs, etc. The LABWORKS LIMS scheduling capabilities allow reports to be scheduled and run automatically.|
|Certificate of Analysis||Certificate of Analysis is often the final report for some industries and is critical to show that the results meet a customer’s specifications. This increases customer satisfaction and reduces manual creation and storage of COAs LABWORKS LIMS Certificate of Analysis module allows for custom COA for each customer. If a product does not meet the customers COA LABWORKS can search across customers to determine if the produced product meets the specifications of other customers. This helps match product to customer and helps generate revenue.|
|Invoicing||Some LIMS provide capabilities to generate invoices based on the services provided by the lab. Invoices can be generated specific to each customer. The LIMS often connects to the customer’s financial system for invoicing. While some LIMS can perform invoicing it is not the primary function of a LIMS and therefore, best practices suggest integration with a financial system is best. LABWORKS LIMS provides invoicing capabilities. LABWORKS allows for price catalogs to be created for each customer to reflect a customer’s negotiated pricing. LABWORKS LIMS integrates with most leading financial systems.|
|Quality Assurance and Quality Control (QA/QC)||Depending on the industry, QA/QC can be as important as samples and analyses. Setting up and managing the QC batching process can be complex and trying to do so with paper or excel workbooks is insane. Performing the QA/QC processes in a LIMS saves extensive time, resources, and minimizes mistakes. Simply making the QA/QC process more efficient can provide the full ROI of the LIMS. LABWORKS LIMS has a very robust QA/QC module that can also integrate with bench sheets for greater flexibility and efficiency.|
|Label printing and barcoding||Helps users get to information and take action more quickly. Reduces data entry and increases data accuracy. LABWORKS LIMS provides a full label designer that can create any style of label|
|Inventory Management||Inventory management was highlighted in the main body of this blog but it is worth listing again as it is a key driver in efficiency and cost reduction. Real-time tracking of inventory levels to allow for reordering lead time and to track overall costs is a real benefit. Tracking vendor quality is also key. Most labs don’t have any tools to track inventory and waste up to hundreds of thousands of dollars due to inefficiencies in tracking inventory. Inventory management is also a key component to almost every lab certification or regulatory requirement as it allows labs to ensure their testing is done with non-expired and quality inventory. LABWORKS LIMS has a full inventory management module that is fully integrated with lab operations which provides real-time tracking of inventory. Monitoring, ordering, vendor management, receiving, disposal are all parts of the LABWORKS inventory management module.|
|Instrument management||Instrument management is key to any lab management software. Being able to schedule maintenance, keep track of past maintenance, tracking calibrations is very important and knowing when instruments are available or not is key to work management. LABWORKS LIMS provides an Instrument management module that tracks maintenance and calibrations. Like many of the other components, instrument management is a key part of compliance by making sure instruments are properly maintained and accurate.|
|Personnel Management||Personnel Management tracks training and certifications of resources and when integrated with samples/analyses and instruments the LIMS can determine who is qualified/trained/certified to run certain tests and use certain instruments. LABWORKS LIMS provides a full Personnel Management module|
|Compliance Management||Compliance Management is comprised of almost all of the items listed above such as sample management, inventory management, instrument management, personnel management, but also includes things like Audit Trail and reporting. LABWORKS LIMS bundles and intertwines these modules to ensure compliance.|
|Analytics||Analytics comes in many forms such as:§ Operational dashboards§ Canned reporting (simple to very complex)§ Ad hoc query and export tools§ Statistical Control Charting§ Trend analyses tools Analytics helps convert data into information to allow for faster decisions to be made and issues to be resolved LABWORKS LIMS provides all the above-mentioned analytical tools.|
Based on recent surveys with over 100 respondents, labs implementing LIMS solutions typically see a return on investment in 1-3 years. When coming from a manual paper environment, the ROI is seen in one year or less.
Labworks LLC has been a leader in LIMS solutions since 1985. Our robust and flexible solutions are uniquely suited for quick and complete implementation to help you realize the inherent benefits of a LIMS solution.