A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) can offer tremendous benefits to any lab by saving your lab time, improving accuracy, and providing access to data for your entire team.
Choosing the right LIMS can be a hefty task. There are many to consider, and deciding whether one platform is a better fit than another for your lab’s specific needs and workflows can be a large task. If the thought of comparing numerous software platforms and their features against each other is enough to give you pause, we hope this guide will help you see through the clutter and make the right choice for your lab.
After reading this guide, you will be well-versed in what a LIMS is, how a LIMS can benefit your lab, and what to look for when choosing a LIMS.
First time choosing a LIMS?
A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is software that helps labs:
The first LIMS hit the market in the 1970s, and they have been an integral piece of an efficient and organized lab ever since.
Today, LIMS have evolved into sophisticated systems that support a wide range of laboratory activities, from sample management and quality control to data analysis and reporting. They’re rich in features, networked across devices, and built with multiple goals in mind.
A LIMS isn’t the only piece of software a lab could use to organize their data though, so let’s see how a LIMS stacks up against an ELN.
Along your journey in choosing a LIMS, you will likely come across platforms that offer an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) - are these the same as a LIMS, though?
While a LIMS and an ELN play essential roles in streamlining a lab's operations, they serve distinct functions.
A LIMS is best suited for:
An ELN, on the other hand, serves as a digital version of what a physical lab notebook provides. You can manually input data into an ELN and record notes and observations from tests; however, ELNs don’t offer the same reporting and automation capabilities as a LIMS.
Many laboratories benefit from using a LIMS alongside an ELN to completely digitize their operations and data. If you need more than a digital record and source of truth, then a LIMS is a better choice for your lab than relying solely on an ELN.
Like an ELN, a QMS (Quality Management System) is another software platform that can be confused with (or integrated with) a LIMS.
A QMS helps labs manage quality control processes more efficiently. A QMS detects errors in a lab process and helps ensure accuracy and reliability. As you can see, a QMS can be extremely powerful - especially if your lab has strict quality control requirements.
A LIMS, on the other hand, can serve a broader scope of use cases than a QMS, providing labs with a much more comprehensive solution. With a LIMS, you can:
And yes, some LIMS platforms include features for quality management. In fact, the QBench LIMS includes a suite of quality management tools that allow you to:
A QMS is often a vital piece of software for a lab, though if you select the right LIMS, it may include many of the quality management features that your lab will need or may integrate with your preferred QMS. Learn more about the difference between a LIMS and a QMS in our guide.
We work with many first-time LIMS buyers, and while it may be their first time using a cloud-hosted LIMS, it won’t be the first time they have tried to manage data and inventory for a lab.
Many labs start with some form of a homegrown LIMS, which could be as simple as a combination of spreadsheets (either Excel or Google Sheets) with pen and paper or as robust as a self-hosted software platform built for their specific use cases.
If you find yourself stuck between staying with a homegrown solution built on spreadsheets/custom software or moving to a cloud-based LIMS solution, we would ask:
If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then we would strongly recommend that you invest in a cloud-hosted SaaS LIMS instead of using spreadsheets or custom software to serve the same purpose. Check out our guide on whether you should buy or build a LIMS for more on this topic.
It’s no understatement to say that a LIMS can help your lab improve its efficiency and scale, so we understand this is a considered choice. When evaluating multiple platforms and their assorted features, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s best for your lab.
That’s why we have grouped six keystone components of a LIMS that you should look for and use to evaluate the platforms you choose from:
Every lab is different, and will rank these based on their workflows. That is perfectly okay; there is no “right” or “wrong” way to combine these building blocks. Lab managers who keep their processes, needs, and staff center stage when determining which LIMS is right for them will have the best experience choosing and implementing a LIMS.
Let’s walk through these six components to help you judge which LIMS is right for your lab.
We’ve worked with many labs that were expanding beyond what their homegrown LIMS could handle. For example, a homegrown agricultural LIMS could enable an agricultural lab to manage a few standard soil analyses, and a homegrown clinical LIMS would run diagnostic tests. They would track samples through testing and generate reports.
This system works perfectly fine; it’s easy for the staff to learn and gets the job done. But what if this lab were to expand rapidly? Or what if new regulations were introduced, such as changes to ISO standards (17025, 9001) or FDA 21 CFR part 11? While these home-grown systems work for some time, it quickly becomes an expensive challenge when needs and use cases change.
As time passes, this homegrown system can quickly become unmanageable as new software and processes get added. This results in a cluttered lab environment with multiple dashboards, ad-hoc programs, and increasingly complicated processes.
Some cloud-based LIMS still have rigid workflows that require custom code when you need a change. However, some vendors built their systems with change and adaptation in mind. That helps labs stay agile, adding processes to appeal to multiple segments of an industry or even expanding to a new one.
All labs face some change, and many LIMS offer some flexibility. Buyers need to consider their need for two kinds of flexibility: configurability and customization. What’s the difference?
Some labs are served best with a flexible LIMS that is both highly configurable and highly customizable. After all, more flexibility is seldom a problem. But a LIMS with little flexibility not only means lost business but can also result in low productivity and poor user adoption when specific options aren’t available to staff.
Labs that face any of the following changes over time should consider a highly flexible solution:
After flexibility, you must also decide whether your LIMS will be cloud-based or on-premises.
Keeping servers on-premises (on-prem) means your lab will have more direct control over your hardware capabilities and the physical location of your data. After all, you own the servers and can control where they're installed and where they fit in your network.
That control comes with drawbacks:
On-prem security often can’t measure up to cloud systems, either. These systems can be slower to get security patches and are vulnerable to risks from connected devices. You can manage some of these responsibilities with service contracts for support, but you’ll want to ensure it’s accessible. That’s because you may need on-site help if you maintain security by foregoing cloud access to your system.
A cloud-hosted SaaS (software as service) solution means a third party owns the software you are using, and your lab just has to pay for a license to use it.
Many of the drawbacks cited above (security, data backups, IT, staffing) are taken care of by the software provider, meaning your lab can focus more on using the software and less on maintaining it. This approach requires no licensing, ongoing compliance certification, or upfront capital costs. Multiple devices and operating systems can connect seamlessly for staff working remotely or traveling.
Instead of high upfront costs, the cost of a cloud system is spread over time, often paid via the number of users. Major upgrades get included, too. Not having to contend with support or security obligations can offer companies peace of mind and contain costs.
Labs that face the following should consider a cloud-based LIMS instead of an on-prem LINS.
One major benefit of a LIMS is integrating your systems and tools to improve your lab’s efficiency and organization.
To set your lab up for success with proper integrations, you need a well-documented and developer-friendly RESTful API. A good API means your LIMS can communicate with other software, eliminating double work and data entry errors.
Think about which use cases you need:
Overall, an API increases the flexibility of a LIMS. But there are some circumstances when a robust API isn’t necessary. You may not need a robust API if you don’t have software and instruments to integrate, have only a few users, or have only simple workflows.
Labs that face the following challenges should invest in a LIMS with a robust (and developer-friendly) API:
Any laboratory that values automation, integration, and efficiency in data management could benefit from a LIMS with a robust API. But in the end, they’ll have to have the tech chops to integrate systems.
Configuring a LIMS To meet staff needs leads to greater internal control, simple changes, and high adoption. That means your LIMS will be better at doing its job, reducing errors, and boosting productivity.
Look for these components:
In fact, QBench LIMS was ranked highly by G2 for ease of use and boosting lab productivity, making it a fantastic option for labs looking for a LIMS that is as user-friendly as it is configurable and powerful.
Labs that face the following challenges should prioritize user-friendliness when choosing a LIMS:
Labs of all industries and sizes will benefit from setting up workflows and automating processes.
Here’s a sample of the things you can automate for your lab:
Whether you need to easily configure workflows, trigger an automated process, or make updates to these automations as requirements change - your lab will likely benefit from a LIMS that can provide automation.
The most configurable and flexible LIMS will include automation engines that allow you to trigger specific actions or data syncing based on events in the system.
Ask how important it is for your lab staff to add and alter workflows related to:
Generating Reports: Can the LIMS automatically generate customized reports from multiple tests and data sets across systems?
Most labs will be able to grow through automation, offloading repetitive tasks so lab talent can handle more complex work. Labs that benefit from a LIMS with workflow automation capabilities are labs where:
Like any piece of software, a LIMS will need to be implemented for your team to set your lab up for success and ensure things are working properly.
The implementation time of a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) varies widely depending on several factors, including:
But that doesn’t mean interruptions to your lab are a prerequisite for implementing a LIMS that will add flexibility to your lab processes for years. While it’s common to hear industry stories of implementations that take a full year, you might be able to implement your LIMS in fewer than two months, certainly less than 12.
Look at the implementation process for a LIMS typically in all its phases, including:
Each phase can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the scope and complexity of the project. Faster implementations cause less disruption and stress for stakeholders. And they don’t have to limit the performance you get from a new LIMS. Ask whether a LIMS team spends time upfront understanding your requirements, is responsive to your needs, and how much time it will take to transition to your LIMS.
Labs that are under the following challenges should look for a LIMS with quick implementation:
Overall, a lab that does not implement a LIMS misses out on the benefits of integrated laboratory operations, data management, and simpler compliance. A LIMS helps streamline laboratory workflows, improves data quality and traceability, and enables better decision-making based on accurate and reliable data.
QBench believes a LIMS should help your lab work smarter, with unparalleled flexibility to drive whatever the future brings. It’s one of the reasons we’re so proud that this commitment continually gets recognized by G2, where QBench was ranked highly for empowering labs to get more done and see better results from our LIMS.