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.
Labs have no shortage of data to manage. While it varies across industries, labs will need a system to manage:
The most common choices available to labs are:
Let’s explore these in greater depth.
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:
Because of these shortcomings, many labs find they quickly outgrow the usefulness of spreadsheets and need to opt for a software solution.
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:
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.
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:
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:
When it comes to all-encompassing management tools, a LIMS often stands out as the gold standard.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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:
With a cloud-based LIMS, labs gain not just a tool but a dynamic partner that adapts and grows in tandem with them.
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:
To provide an additional layer of security to help your lab rest assured that its data is safe.
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:
By choosing the rightLIMS, labs equip themselves to meet current compliance standards and to adapt swiftly to any future regulatory shifts.
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.
Check out our case study on how an experienced lab manager prefers QBench over seven other LIMS.
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