Partnership and integration the future for LIMS

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The development of LIMS will involve not only integrated data, but integration with enterprise applications, in Kevin Smith's view

The industrialisation of the laboratory has resulted in the generation of more data than ever before. Whether scientists are performing medical research, manufacturing steel, or testing the quality of food, the challenge is the same: more samples, more experiments, and more data must be processed in less time, with better quality, and at less cost. The pressure is on for laboratory managers, and traditional informatics solutions such as LIMS need to adapt to support these tougher requirements in a wider, enterprise environment.

The 10-year anniversary celebrated by Scientific Computing World marks roughly half the time that commercial LIMS have been available. It is fascinating to consider how far LIMS have come since their inception in the early 80s and, in particular, the acceleration of this evolution over the last decade. Thermo has led the development of LIMS since 1986 with its flagship SampleManager; keeping abreast of industry trends and pressure points along the way and well-prepared to meet the challenges that life and analytical science organisations face today.

The evolution of LIMS
LIMS have evolved from rudimentary sample and report management tools into strategic solutions relied upon by the world's foremost science-based organisations. Their impact now extends far beyond the four walls of the laboratory to all levels of the organisation, through close integration with enterprise applications and platforms.

The dramatic drop in the cost of hardware in the early 1990s brought LIMS within the budgetary grasp of more laboratories. By the end of that decade, the pressure to resolve Y2K issues directed the trend away from home-grown LIMS. Dramatic advancements in computing technology have culminated in web access for LIMS users. In terms of functionality, the scope of LIMS has expanded to integral instrument-connectivity, audit trails, and electronic signatures that improve laboratory automation and comply with changes in regulatory requirements.

Integrated product and service solutions
Customers and industry observers may be aware of Thermo's three-year initiative to transform its disparate array of businesses into one, focused, integrated company. Our drive to realise the benefits of integration has parallels in many of the businesses we serve, especially in scientific computing. Experience tells us that traditional technology solutions such as LIMS must evolve and expand beyond the lab to form part of an integrated enterprise IT environment. This is why Thermo continues to develop partnerships with best-of-breed providers of enterprise resource planning systems and document management solutions, as well as Oracle and IBM.

The wide-scale adoption of internet technology facilitates integration and data exchange on a scale never possible before, simplifying access to critical applications by scientists and decision-makers around the organisation, regardless of time zones or geographies. As a progressive LIMS vendor, Thermo has devoted skilled people and financial resources to providing technology solutions that offer the latest in web services architecture, and implementation services that reliably meet timelines and budget requirements. The LIMS and informatics marketplace has also seen changes in the expectations of customers for vendor-supplied services to support their deployments. Customers recognise that the implementation of modern enterprise LIMS represents a long-term business investment, and the people and processes that a vendor employs have become more key to a project's success than product features and functionality.

Bringing data from the many different sources in the laboratory environment together so that it can be widely understood and shared is a formidable challenge, yet making earlier, better-informed decisions ultimately results in bringing new products to market faster. These decisions span the entire operational process from allocating resources toward the most promising compounds to achieving efficiencies in a manufacturing process, increasing productivity and giving the organisation a competitive edge.

LIMS customers today are looking to forge partnerships with vendors that have the resources to offer a comprehensive product and service solution to meet their precise business requirements. This is particularly the case with global pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers looking to standardise on mission-critical systems such as LIMS. Successful LIMS integration into an organisation's IT infrastructure allows resources from the laboratory to the final product to be monitored and controlled, and thus plays a key role in achieving increased profitability targets and lowering compliance risk.

Kevin Smith is General Manager, North America, Thermo Electron Corporation, Informatics & Services