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Dont make a lottery out of choosing a LIMS

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Autoscribes LIMS has more than the usual applications, from lotteries to vehicle rentals, as Sophia Ktori discovers

The typical place for a laboratory information management system (LIMS) is in a contract testing laboratory or a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant, so few of us who purchase a lottery ticket would stop to wonder whether it is a LIMS that underpins that lottery database. But that’s exactly what the team at Autoscribe Informatics has done. The company was asked to, and succeeded in, configuring and installing its flagship LIMS platform, Matrix Gemini, as the management system for a major UK lottery.

‘Matrix Gemini carries out all the functions required of a LIMS, but what sets the dual desktop and web-enabled system apart from other LIMS platforms is the degree of configurability,’ claims founder and CEO John Boother. ‘This configurability requires no new custom coding, which means that Matrix Gemini can be adapted, without the need for programmers or IT specialists, to just about any setting where database management is required’. The software is written in Microsoft’s C#, part of the .net architecture, and this central core code remains the same, howsoever the product is configured. ‘Even if we are asked to configure it for a lottery.’

The Autoscribe challenge

This ability to configure the system fully without writing code is something that the company is keen to demonstrate. Anyone who stopped by the Autoscribe stand at Pittcon during March, would have had the chance to take the Matrix Gemini configuration challenge. Customers were invited to draw out a sample registration screen that they would like to use in their own laboratory, and the Autoscribe team configured that screen for them, there and then.

‘What we offer is a product that can be tailored by the client, down to the level of screen design and terminology, screen interaction, how you move between screens, and how inputting data or making changes to one screen impacts on another’, Boother stresses. ‘Matrix Gemini is shipped with a series of configuration tools, and customers can come on a three-day training course and learn how to configure the product to match their requirements. We call it future-proofing.’

Most commonly, clients will receive a tailored package from Autoscribe, and then carry out future configurations to the system in-house as their requirements evolve. ‘90 per cent of the time, we deliver a complete turnkey solution based on user requirements, although some customers have configured the whole system from the ground up,’ Boother comments. ‘What is really important for all our clients, is that because there is no requirement for custom coding at any level of configuration, customers can send their home-grown configurations to us, and we will support these at no charge, as part of their standard service package. We also offer upgrades to the system on a roughly three-monthly basis, based on client’s requests, and our customers can choose whether, or when, to implement these new features.’

The benefits of this ultimate configurability are manifold, Boother stresses, and make the software highly flexible going into any industry or sector setting. ‘Some of our systems have been in place since the original Matrix

version 1, back in the mid-1990s, and have simply been upgraded through the years to the current version 5, growing and adapting within the customer’s environment. It’s a huge achievement in terms of low cost of ownership and return on investment.’

Flexibility for multiple sites

Flexibility is particularly important for multi-site and global customers, the company believes. The software can be installed at one site and configured to that site’s requirements, and then rolled out to other global sites, which can then configure the system to their requirements, again, with no need for any custom coding. ‘It’s still the same central server and database, but configured on a site-specific basis to individual needs and preferences. Take, for example, different sites working on different product lines. With Matrix Gemini you can filter out all the irrelevant tests and process stages, or unnecessary sample registration fields. This is a huge departure from other LIMS platforms, which will be configured to suit one site, but then other sites have to adapt their processes to the setup of the initial install.’

Matrix Gemini systems have been installed in the more obvious settings such as pharmaceutical manufacturing, food and beverage testing, stability testing, hospital or veterinary services, biological sample testing, and biobanking. ‘We have also installed our systems in a nuclear power plant, an aeronautical design setting, and in a hospital mortuary’, Boother comments. ‘It is, however, the lottery management system that exemplifies just how ultimately configurable the system is. One field that we are now looking at as a potentially new growth area for Matrix Gemini is the rental market for equipment and vehicles. We are really limited only by our physical resources.’

Growth and expansion

Today’s iteration of Matrix Gemini has evolved from the first embodiment of the product in the early 1990s, when UK-based Harley Systems sold the rights to its Windows-based LIMS package to UK-based Autoscribe Ltd. ‘Following consultation with existing customers, we spent the next three years completely rewriting the platform,’ Boother explains. The resulting Matrix Plus versions 2-4 were rolled out to customers between 1996 and the early 2000s, but it was the second complete rewrite of the platform in C# that transformed Matrix into the Gemini release (version 5) which was launched in 2009.

About 25 per cent of Autoscribe’s current business is in healthcare, including pharmaceutical manufacturing, hospital and human/veterinary laboratory services. The veterinary field is one that the firm is targeting as a key area for global growth. Over the last three years the firm has doubled its US business with plans to treble the business within 12 months, and, as Boother indicates, believes that it has just ‘scratched the surface’ of this market.