Managing lab automation, IT requirements and data flows is a challenge. The laboratory manager may well know what they need to simplify their processes, but the IT manager has an important say too — to ensure that any software solution is suitable for the local infrastructure, as well as meeting information security and compliance standards.
How can these two points of view become aligned?
What most people would like to achieve with laboratory processes is to automate dull and repetitive tasks and log key actions while securely delivering instrument data to whoever needs it. The snag is that no two labs run identical processes on the same equipment.
One solution to meeting these needs is to put in place a sample management system or LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System), and you have a choice of developing such a system in-house, or buying in a third-party solution. An in-house solution leaves you and your IT colleagues to manage the automation and IT problems (including the difficulties of updating operating systems, managing software upgrades and retaining IT staff). To avoid these overheads, organisations are increasingly turning to tried and tested third-party software solutions. So, what do you need to look for to keep both sample management and IT happy?
Here are six things that an IT manager would care about that should also be a concern for the lab manager:
1. Is it tried and tested, standard technology or are you paying for someone else’s one-off?
Big companies want things to be based on trusted, gold-standard software platforms. Small companies may not want to take on the perceived cost and infrastructure challenges of these solutions, but they do need the reliability they offer. Titian Mosaic software is one that offers the best of both worlds – it is built on enterprise-strength architecture but is available either as an on-site installation, or as a software as a service option (SaaS) where Titian manage the infrastructure and so that you don’t have to.
2. Is it web-based but secure?
Your sample data and intellectual property are priceless but need to be shared among teams, possibly across different sites. Can you ensure this sharing remains secure? For instance, if you host your LIMS software in the cloud, will your data be at risk? Or can you impose restrictions to allow secure shared working?
Is the sample management software itself web-based? This means it’s easily accessible and you don’t have to deploy it on desktops, saving time and maintenance.
3. Can you manage automation with it?
Writing different protocols for each robot and manually transferring files of data between different systems are two of the biggest operational headaches in a lab, and often involve tying up your automation expert in repetitive tasks. If your sample management or LIMS software can manage the automation and the data transfers in one workflow, then it will rapidly pay for itself in efficiency savings and by reducing errors. It will also mean you don’t need to call in an IT expert to every time you want to change a lab process.
To realise these benefits, look for a system that integrates widely, across multiple vendors’ equipment and software. It needs to offer standard, simple integrations to the automation and software already in use at your company and to future purchases, without large upgrade penalties. It is worth checking that well documented Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are available, should you wish to further integrate with other hardware or software.
4. Can you demonstrate a full audit trail?
Audit trails are essential to meet common compliance requirements. However, recording small details is something humans find dull to do and thus is prone to errors, so your solution should automate this as far as possible. The level of detail recorded in your audit trail may be crucial to meeting certain standards of compliance.
As well as simplifying the operators’ workload – whether that is generating protocols for automated liquid handlers, interacting with manual weigh stations or recording sample movements in and out of freezers – Mosaic sample management software ensures that all of this is recorded in Mosaic’s audit trail.
5. Can the system manage changing needs?
You want a sample management or LIMS software that copes with your processes as they already are, but you also need the system to cope with expansion of your business, with acquiring new equipment, new scientific requirements and with supporting multiple projects.
Titian Mosaic software is modular, so it can start small but easily cope with expanding systems and multiple projects. For example, just four Mosaic customers now use it to manage over a billion samples in total; although it is just as suitable for small sample collections.
Mosaic will also handle multiple registration systems (sources of substance information) and manage a variety of plate layouts – including unusual ones. It is extremely flexible for handling diverse substance types, including allowing users to create their own sample definitions
6. How good is the support?
Good support is essential to ensuring smooth easy deployments and to managing future demands. You want your sample management software company to have longevity, and to have a good reputation with its customers. It is also important to ensure you can take your data with you if your company changes systems in the future.
Titian Software has 20 years of proven reputation supporting pharmaceutical and biotech companies. We are very experienced at deployment and data migration between systems – but we are extremely proud to say no customer has yet asked to migrate their database elsewhere!
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