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The LIMS saga continues…

February 8, 2011

LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) is a software solution designed to help testing laboratories operate more efficiently and effectively.  Like most small labs, EWI Lab Services still uses spreadsheets to track work flow, compile data, and create reports.  The spreadsheets work great because they are customized for a particular test, but the primary failure of spreadsheets is their inability to communicate with other systems (financial, sales, materials tracking).  Obviously there are ways to do this with database tools, but that is just making a homegrown LIMS.

Last year, I was able to convince EWI management that it was time for EWI Lab Services to make the investment in a LIMS system.  We down selected and moved forward with implementation fairly quickly, only to find ourselves 8 months later with a tool that did not meet our needs.

Despite the disappointing LIMS implementation failure, I have decided to pick myself back up, brush off the dust and go back in fighting!   As the saying goes “it’s only a failure if you didn’t learn anything”, well I’ve definitely learned a few things.  Here are some of my key takeaways:

  • Take the time to create a functional specification.  This can be done in house or through a consultant, but can not be skipped.  And if you think you have one that is “good enough”, go back and add more detail.  At some point in time the detail will have to be sorted through – better sooner than later because changes can get really expensive, really quickly.
  • Ask for and investigate references.  Following through on reference calls can seem like a waste of time – “why would they provide someone who is going to give a bad referral?”, I convinced myself.   Even the best referral can help set expectations.  Questions like how long did the implementation actually take compared to the estimate, were there any overruns, did the performance of the LIMS system meet your expectations?, etc. are all good learning points that can help to make a better decision.
  • Make sure you share all of your needs up front.  Any LIMS solution is going to be complicated.   Proceeding with the easy stuff first may be a good approach for the start, but can make things more complicated down the road.

There are obviously many more learning points, but I felt these are the ones most worth sharing.