A Configurable, Off-the-Shelf LIMS in a University Setting

Universities offer many professional companies a wonderful developmental ground on which to not only sale and teach, but to build and rethink. This can be particularly true while working with a LIMS in the university laboratory setting.

Within many sectors of the market, a configurable, off-the-shelf (COTS) LIMS has become the standard selection by many laboratories; particularly environmental based laboratories, whether municipal, state or commercial. Today, configurability of COTS LIMS far surpasses those of even five years ago, allowing any laboratory to put is “own†stamp on the use and structure. However, many questions can arise when it comes to dealing with smaller scale laboratories at universities or non-profits associated with university research. A list of common questions and problems are found below:

“I have a limited budget.â€
“I need a research based LIMS. A COTS will not work.â€
“I need to have ELNs.â€
“My research assistants are always changing. How can I deal with this?â€
“I work with various groups in several different laboratories within one/several universities.â€
“I need what you offer, but just a bit different!â€

“I have a limited budget.†First, any professional LIMS company understands that with the rare exception of a large, specific grant, they will have to work with the university on pricing, payment schedule, and often dealing with RFPs. The public sector dealings with universities are not unlike any other public sector dealings.

“I need a research based LIMS. A COTS will not work.†The question of whether a COTS LIMS will fit depends completely on the university laboratory and application. In some cases, a true, research-based LIMS is the only LIMS that meets specific needs. Quite often though, a COTS LIMS, given the many options available within the LIMS, works perfectly. While evaluating LIMS, look carefully at the options available in a COTS LIMS before dismissing them. In terms of pricing, they can be vastly less expensive. Often times during a demo, our technical support personnel can give an easy workaround to a problem that was thought to be a showstopper. Asking questions is vital.

“I need to have ELNs.†Mention of electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) come up time and time again. In the end, the laboratory needs to decide what functionality it truly wants in an ELN. More often than not, a simple Excel sheet and notepad are all that are desired. In many cases, including Khemia’s, almost any ELN capable of running Microsoft office is capable of running the front end of the LIMS.

“My research assistants are always changing. How can I deal with this?†Staff turnover, especially in the case of a university, can be tough. In many university laboratories, a student may work for only a semester or only in Fall and Summer semesters, but not for Spring, etc. To address this, one must figure out which type of LIMS user is necessary. There are a number of ways LIMS are sold in regards to users, however, two are most common. One is named users, where each user is specifically named and takes up a license. The second method is concurrent users, where a laboratory is given a set number of licenses that may be logged on at once. This, for example, can allow a laboratory to give 25 people permission to access the LIMS, with only five users logged on at a time. The choice of user method comes down to a matter of price and practicality.

“I work with various groups in several different laboratories within one/several universities.†Multiple sites accessing one LIMS instance is something LIMS companies have become well versed in. There are essentially three options: 1) all sites use the same LIMS database, 2) one LIMS instance with multiple laboratory IDs, or 3) multiple installations of the LIMS. This is something best discussed with a specific LIMS vendor to fully understand their offerings and price structure, as well as discussed carefully with the university IT department. What an IT department will allow often plays a trump card in what can be done.

“I need what you offer, but just a bit different!†This is one of the reasons I most enjoy working with universities, they offer many great ideas; both upfront and as time goes on. At Khemia, our LIMS is constantly becoming more well-rounded based on feedback from universities and the non-profits working with them. Within the commercial or municipal market, we know and understand the request for modification, as we have worked with many laboratories in the same sector. However, university request often fall outside of the already known. Just be aware that when purchasing a COTS LIMS, request for new features, if agreed upon, often take some time. Make sure the base product fits and then see if changes can be made to make it fit better.

At least 50% of the time, from my experience, a COTS LIMS can fit into a university setting. Upon occasion, a concession has to be made or a workaround used, but this is often well worth the price difference compared to a truly customized LIMS solution. Plus, a COTS LIMS is generally a well vetted product with those attached in technical support very well versed in laboratory practices. Upon occasion, making a methodology fit the LIMS make the methodology better and more defensible.

Khemia Software is happy to work with any university to see if our LIMS can fit your laboratory. Any questions or comments may be addressed to Robert Benz (rbenz@khemia.com), Director of Sales & Marketing at Khemia Software (www.khemia.com).