Why Labs Should Choose a LIMS Over Spreadsheets to Manage Data

Managing data and inventory is a necessary task for labs of all sizes and industries.

This can quickly become a challenging task for labs looking to scale or meet specific regulatory standards. That is why choosing the right tools for your laboratory is critical to its success. Many labs start with pen and paper or spreadsheets, while some will make the jump to digitize their operations with cloud-based software.

Between a spreadsheet and a cloud-based LIMS, which should your lab choose? We’ll examine that question and more in this article.

What Are Your Options For Managing Lab Data?

Labs have no shortage of data to manage. While it varies across industries, labs will need a system to manage:

  • Inventory data
  • Sample and test data
  • Documents
  • Quality assurance and quality control data

 The most common choices available to labs are:

  • Spreadsheets/pen and paper
  • Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs)
  • Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS)

Let’s explore these in greater depth.

Spreadsheets/pen and paper

The most basic option is to manage your data with a combination of pen, paper, and spreadsheets (either Excel or Google Sheets).

Labs have been managing data and inventory with pen and paper for years, long before more sophisticated software tools hit the market. When computers went mainstream, spreadsheets provided a leap forward for labs as they offered a more structured (while still flexible) way to organize and sort data. 

While spreadsheets get the job done to an extent, they are not without their shortcomings:

  • They still require manual user input and oversight
  • While flexible to start with, they can be difficult to update as processes change
  • There are limited security protocols you can manage for them
  • They do not offer robust multi-user access or role-based access 

Because of these shortcomings, many labs find they quickly outgrow the usefulness of spreadsheets and need to opt for a software solution. 

Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)

Many labs might look to an ELN (electronic lab notebook) as the solution to go digital.

An ELN is a logical choice. It serves as a digital version of the classic lab notebook, allowing lab workers to electronically document experiments, tests, and results. 

With features that enable:

  • Digital record-keeping and note-taking
  • Easy searchability
  • Archiving
  • Data sharing
  • Multi-user access

ELNs provide a more organized and efficient way to manage laboratory data. They also facilitate collaboration among lab members, as multiple users can seamlessly share and access notes and findings. 

An ELN’s strength lies in its ability to be a digital record and not much beyond that. ELNs streamline the documentation process. However, they offer limited support for labs looking to digitally manage samples, inventory, and compliance.

For that, labs will need to invest in a LIMS. A LIMS is a more robust software platform that we will examine next, though we’d recommend you check out our comparison between a LIMS and ELN for an in-depth breakdown

Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)

Stepping into a more advanced realm of lab management, Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) provide comprehensive solutions tailored to the demands of modern labs. 

Unlike the narrower focus of ELNs, LIMSs manage and track experiments, samples, associated data, and laboratory workflows. A LIMS can support:

  • Inventory management
  • Sample and test management
  • Invoicing and billing
  • Reporting
  • A customer portal to request tests
  • Quality assurance and quality control
  • Integrations between instruments

These robust management capabilities can streamline your lab’s processes and aid in meeting regulatory requirements.

Here’s a quick rundown on the best use cases for a LIMS:

  • Sample tracking and management: A good LIMS will be an excellent asset for efficiently managing high volumes of samples from receipt to reporting. 
  • Workflow automation: Look for a LIMS with automation features that allow you to streamline and ensure data integrity.
  • Data integration and reporting: A LIMS can provide centralized storage and easy access to laboratory data, enabling quick report generation and historical data retrieval.
  • Instrument integration: For a lab with many types of instruments, a LIMS can be invaluable for seamlessly connecting them while automating data capture.
  • Compliance and documentation: While not every LIMS can support quality management and compliance, some (like QBench) provide out-of-the-box features to help labs meet regulatory requirements. 

When it comes to all-encompassing management tools, a LIMS often stands out as the gold standard.

Advantages Of A Cloud-based LIMS

Between the three options, a LIMS is a clear winner for labs looking for a robust and secure way to manage data and processes at scale. On top of that, here are the main advantages of using a cloud-based LIMS in your lab:

  • Accessibility anytime, anywhere: With cloud-based LIMS, lab personnel can access data and workflows from anywhere, provided they have an internet connection. In the ever-increasing popularity of remote work, this ensures uninterrupted data access even when away from the lab.
  • Scalability on demand: As labs grow or their needs change, cloud-based LIMS like QBench can easily scale up or down and adapt to support your processes. 
  • Enhanced data security: Hosting on-prem software comes with additional costs to secure and maintain your systems. cloud-based providers (like QBench) invest heavily in security measures, offering encryption, firewalls, and regular backups. This ensures that lab data remains secure and data recovery is swift in the event of local disasters or mishaps.
  • Seamless updates and upgrades: Cloud LIMS solutions often come with automatic software updates, ensuring labs always have access to the latest features and security patches without needing manual installations or prolonged downtime.
  • Cost-efficiency: Over time, a cloud-based LIMS can result in significant savings. Labs avoid hefty upfront costs associated with hardware purchases and benefit from predictable subscription-based pricing, reducing the total cost of ownership.

Not only can a LIMS provide a robust solution for your lab, but choosing the right software provider can equip your lab with tools to help you get more done at scale. Now, let’s look at a side-by-side comparison of why you should consider a cloud-based  LIMS over spreadsheets to manage your data.

Why You Should Use A Cloud-based LIMS Instead Of Excel Spreadsheets

There are several distinct advantages of a cloud-based LIMS over manually using spreadsheets to manage your lab’s data. The ones we will explore are:

  • Role-based user access and control
  • Automation
  • Configurability and flexibility as your scale
  • Security
  • Regulatory compliance

User access

Managing user access must be a top priority for labs looking to scale, whether in one location or multiple.

A cloud-based LIMS outperforms spreadsheets in this area by offering role-based access control. This empowers lab managers to assign specific roles, ensuring team members only tap into data and functionalities that align with their responsibilities. This not only streamlines the user experience but also bolsters data integrity. In some industries, role-based access control or report sign-off may be required to meet regulatory requirements or receive quality certifications.  What’s more, QBench offers a customer-facing portal to securely provide access to members outside your lab.

Another edge a LIMS has over spreadsheets like Excel is its ability to handle simultaneous user access without the risk of data conflicts, eliminating the notorious issue of overriding data in shared spreadsheets.


While Excel spreadsheets can handle formulas and basic automation tasks, a cloud-based LIMS takes automation to a new level. 

With a LIMS, labs can automate complex workflows, seamlessly integrating various stages of sample processing and analysis. This end-to-end automation not only accelerates operations but also reduces the chances of manual errors, enhancing overall accuracy and efficiency. A LIMS also facilitates automatic data capture directly from laboratory instruments, ensuring that results are immediately stored and processed without human intervention. Being cloud-based also allows a LIMS to integrate with best-in-class industry tools more easily.

By embracing a cloud-based LIMS, labs can transform their operations and accomplish more at scale.

Configurability and flexibility as you scale

Scaling laboratory operations is not just about adding more resources; it's about adapting and evolving processes to match growing demands. 

Excel spreadsheets, while customizable to an extent, offer a short ceiling when it comes to adapting to increasing complexities. In contrast, a cloud-based LIMS comes with scalability built-in. 

The right LIMS will offer:

  • Extensive configurability to tailor functionalities to their specific needs, whether they're expanding existing operations or branching into new areas of research and testing. 
  • Dynamic reporting tools to generate new reports and dashboards on the fly, giving labs easy access to their data. 
  • As a lab's volume of samples, tests, or even departments grows, a LIMS can effortlessly integrate these additions without disrupting existing workflows. 
  • The ability to integrate systems and tools as your lab’s needs change.

With a cloud-based LIMS, labs gain not just a tool but a dynamic partner that adapts and grows in tandem with them.

Improved security

While Excel spreadsheets can be password-protected, their security features are relatively basic and can be susceptible to breaches. Transitioning to a cloud-based LIMS gives you a quantum leap in terms of security. 

A cloud-based LIMS will utilize robust encryption methods, ensuring data remains protected from unauthorized access. Regular backups are another staple of cloud-based software, guaranteeing the swift restoration of valuable data in the case of unforeseen losses or corruption. 

A LIMS will also provide advanced security features like:

  • Audit trails
  • Robust logs
  • Two-factor authentication

To provide an additional layer of security to help your lab rest assured that its data is safe.

Regulatory compliance

Relying on Excel spreadsheets can make it cumbersome to ensure all regulatory boxes are ticked, given their limited capacity to manage complex compliance workflows. 

A LIMS provides features tailored to uphold standards set by regulatory bodies, be it the FDA, EPA, or ISO. Features such as electronic signatures, detailed audit trails, and validation workflows ensure that labs can seamlessly adhere to Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) and other industry standards. 

QBench takes compliance seriously and is proud to meet the following standards:

  • ISO 17025 Compatible
  • HIPAA Compliant
  • Support for CLIA Certification
  • Support for FDA 21 CFR Part 11 Compliance
  • SOC 2 Type II Compliant (best-in-class security)
  • Metrc integration for cannabis regulatory reporting

By choosing the rightLIMS, labs equip themselves to meet current compliance standards and to adapt swiftly to any future regulatory shifts.

Ready to Ditch Spreadsheets? Check Out QBench LIMS

For a lab looking to scale or meet regulatory standards, spreadsheets offer limited support. 

Many labs benefit from a cloud-based LIMS, which provides more advanced features for managing sample, test, and inventory data at scale alongside robust automation, security controls, and improved regulatory compliance. 

Choosing the right LIMS can be tricky, though, but that’s where we would recommend QBench. QBench LIMS provides labs with a flexible, configurable, easy-to-use LIMS that they can deploy quickly. No matter how big your lab grows or how much your processes change, QBench can support you through it all. 

Curious to Learn more?

Check out our case study on how an experienced lab manager prefers QBench over seven other LIMS.

Ready to See QBench in Action?