A LabManager survey on Return on Investment (ROI) in 2009 found that: “Although only 40% of those surveyed said their labs required a formal ROI study to acquire new equipment, the majority agreed that management were more receptive to projects that show possible ROI.” It went on to say: “The main problem with generating ROI studies was identified as the difficulty of measuring the economic benefits of technology.”
Many people would argue that calculating the economic benefits of technology hasn’t got any easier, but below are 4 areas to consider for sample management or LIMS software:
1) Benefits of efficiency
For assay scientists, there are two important aspects to efficient assay creation:
- Improving data quality and repeatability by ensuring the right sample goes to the right place in a fully traceable way.
- The speed with which they get their assay plates. If you can get your plate made more quickly, you can get your results faster
Improving data quality improves ROI by avoiding unnecessary cycles or blind alleys of research. Shortening the assay turnaround time speeds up the whole drug discovery cycle.
It starts very simply. Before adopting sample management software, many Titian customers wasted a lot of time tracking down their samples. In one case, scientists felt like they were spending half their time finding suitable alternative samples because the inventory wasn’t automatically topped up. Now, if their Mosaic software says a sample is available, the order goes through. Scientists don’t have to find samples or spend time phoning up to check if an alternative batch will do. And that’s just a benefit of efficient ordering supported by a good inventory system, before even considering the further benefits of integrating automation into the process.
PharmaTech, in a 2006 article, identifies: “key possible benefits from a LIMS, namely process automation, instrument integration, bar coding and reporting”
These are a starting point which give rise to other efficiencies with much wider implications for ROI:
- Ordering is massively speeded up by an inventory management system
- Sample management or LIMS software uses barcoding for tracking, reducing the time taken to find samples but also providing an unbroken chain of custody (audit trail)
- Inventory searching is easy and up to date, avoiding duplication of samples
- Sample management software allows you to consolidate many assay runs into one, with attendant reagent and time savings
- Incorporating management of automation in workflows provides efficient scheduling, adding to time and cost savings
- Such integrated workflows also save time and reduce errors when transferring information between systems, and provide results faster
- Turnaround time for assays is speeded up, and at the same time data quality is improved
2) ROI is about what adoption enables, rather than the costs saved
What can a good sample management LIMS system enable?
1. Data integrity and inventory security
Why is this important to ROI? A 2016 HTStec survey quoted in Drug Discovery World found that obstacles significantly limiting the use of samples didn’t just include sample quality issues, but the inability to rapidly locate samples, plus difficulties with reading sample IDs. Difficulties with sample identification was the most damaging problem for the expected use of stored samples for 38% of respondents. (For a tongue in cheek demonstration, watch our cautionary video)
When labs purchase a new piece of automation, a lot of the justification is down to accuracy rather than the cost of the machine. For example: you justify choosing an automated store, not merely to reduce human errors in picking, but because of the value of the samples lies in knowing exactly what has happened to them and when. Automated stores give you cold chain security. You choose automation to deal with precious samples because ultimately you gain cost savings, throughput AND sample integrity.
Similarly, sample management software is brought in for inventory security: providing throughput, an audit trail and improved data quality – not merely for cost savings.
2. More time to do complex science
If a scientist can start a process and then leave it running unattended (walk away time), then they are free to continue their research. Automation can play a huge part in freeing up research time, but only if it is well integrated with, scheduled and directed by lab management software. Such systems provide:
- Automated overnight runs, to provide samples to work with next morning
- Scheduling to use existing equipment efficiently and avoid bottlenecks at peaks of demand
- Removal of time-consuming and niggling jobs
Many companies recognise that ROI from sample management is about opportunity cost: not about recouping investment but about what you enable, to allow you to do things you can’t otherwise do.
AstraZeneca, writing in Drug Discovery World, says it is about enabling the capability to do more. “By pushing the boundaries for automation, labware and software, we have made it possible to extract more value from each compound in readiness for an increase in new targets. “
3) Wider implications
Wider implications from implementing LIMS or sample management software are much harder to quantify and often forgotten about but can have a significant effect on ROI. These include:
- Improved compliance from a defined, reproducible and well audited process. Good compliance is essential to efficient drug discovery, but hard to cost
- Raised employee morale and user satisfaction arising from a smooth, efficient and reliable process
- Risk reduction from the improvement in data quality, thus avoiding reworking results from errors, or progressing with inaccurate results before the error is detected
4) You can now measure ROI!
Scientists are often surprised by one of the benefits of sample management or LIMS software: that it easily generates reports for managers that show what is being produced. Indeed a 2010 LabManager article on LIMS points out that in many ways these systems bring the measurement of ROI to the lab, as they: “analyze usage patterns and establish metrics that drive costs in an analytical laboratory”.
This is never a primary requirement for such a system but often a great benefit. If the data is there, why not use it?
Further resources from Titian:
- Delivering seamless integration of lab equipment and workflows - watch our liquid handling integration video
- Automatically logging workflow steps and providing context-relevant information using augmented reality
- Improving end-to-end sample management accuracy and efficiency – download our webinar series