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Laboratory Informatics Supports Decision Making

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Authored by: Kim Shah, VP Marketing, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Informatics

One of the key challenges faced by life science organizations today is the inability to turn the vast amount of laboratory data generated into useful information that enables management at all levels of the organization to make timely and effective decisions. Many companies still use manual processes for collecting, analyzing and reporting on data and they also use both structured and unstructured content. A worldwide market research study on LIMS users conducted by Strategic Directions International (SDi, Los Angeles, CA) determined that over 70% of laboratories have less than half their instruments interfaced with their LIMS.

Transcribing data is slow, expensive and error-prone. It has been estimated that, at a typical laboratory, one Full Time Employee (FTE) a week is used in manual data transcription alone, thereby costing the organization valuable personnel time and revenue. Oftentimes, the reports that distill this mountain of data into relevant information are extremely tedious to create, taking scientists away from productive research and thereby costing the organization valuable personnel time and revenue. Manual data transcription and report creation takes laboratory managers away from the scientific work of the laboratory.

Additionally, with multiple applications across the enterprise generating reams of data that sit in separate silos, aggregating and mining these data is a very real and complex problem. This complexity is compounded even further when a laboratory manager has to manage multiple teams or groups of work. One of the most common reasons for purchasing a LIMS is its ability to integrate with laboratory instrumentation and enterprise systems for better data management. Despite the fact that laboratories feel this integration is a requirement, it is not always achieved in practice. Because data formats and applications are frequently inconsistent and not well integrated, there is no coherent way for scientists to aggregate all of their work in one place. Lack of an integration solution prevents business managers from being able to draw conclusions and make decisions based on the real time data that is generated in the laboratory. The result is time and revenue lost due to the time it takes for multiple laboratory personnel to gather data and prepare reports so that the information becomes part of a management decision that affects the business.

All of the above are barriers for life science executives trying to make effective business decisions and increase return on investment (ROI). These barriers have triggered an era of change for laboratory informatics solutions.

Laboratory Informatics – A Changing World

The world of laboratory informatics is changing. As life science laboratories look to streamline the vast flow of information, living with multiple disparate systems with minimal to no integration is no longer an option. Aside from greenfield installations, informatics integration is most often conducted one data silo at a time. Vendors have responded by developing strategies that reflect the real current needs of complex businesses and elevate the role of the laboratory into the stream of the enterprise decision making process. A coherent strategy that can integrate data from all the different sources of potential data across the enterprise is a key business driver today. Laboratory instrumentation, informatics software like LIMS, CDS and ELN, enterprise systems like MES, PIMS and ERP, enterprise communication tools like SharePoint and BizTalk, quoting and invoicing systems and document management systems like NextDocs and Documentum, all generate a wealth of mission critical information that needs to be integrated.

The integration of informatics solutions with a variety of enterprise systems is particularly relevant for life science companies in today's business climate where near instantaneous response is required to know the source of potential risk, to take steps to mitigate that risk and to continuously protect consumers. It is therefore critical for any integration strategy to bring key knowledge originating in the laboratory to management at all levels of the enterprise. Furthermore, with increased pressure to cut costs and shorten the pipeline lifecycle, companies are looking for tools that allow them to better communicate, make decisions faster and report out on how compounds are progressing in drug development.

Clear Benefits

By offering an end-to-end solution that facilitates the integration of various instruments and systems, along with the interoperability necessary to transform data into relevant business drivers, innovative modern informatics systems are able to help life science organizations expand the business of science from the laboratory throughout the enterprise. Having all data sources integrated enables staff to access information from a single location, track data points in real time, eliminate the costly time, labor and error introduction involved in the manual transfer of data and setup automatic ways for identifying trends. There is greater control over the various key processes as well as greater transparency of data.

The shift to a laboratory fully integrated with the enterprise yields a greatly enriched user experience that allows individuals and organizations to not only manage and capture their data more efficiently and securely, but also to simplify their daily work flow. Integrating the enterprise facilitates better planning, data quality, collaboration and end-to-end report generation. At a higher level, it provides management with dashboard views of key business metrics that are essential to effectively run their operations and mitigate risk. This means that management will have the critical data they need before, not after, any point of crisis and it also means early insight into how drugs or compounds are progressing in the pipeline on a routine basis.

An example of this integration strategy is in place at MDS Pharma Services, which centralized its bioanalytical data storage across its global locations and automated the processes related to data analysis. This process streamlined all activities related to the bioanalytical laboratory and enabled more reliable compliance with the many global regulatory agencies it responds to. Merry Danley, Associate Director, Bioanalytical Technical Operations and QC for MDS Pharma Services, explains: "From an IT standpoint, seamless integration of databases, operating systems and hardware has enabled us to easily share data in any type of format with our clients. Integration has streamlined the data transfer steps even more and has provided the ability to share data between laboratories easily, including the ability to easily transfer methods from one site to another."

In a typical life sciences company, the laboratory is comprised of various instruments for sample handling, preparation and storage; there are data archives and other database resources; and the laboratory will have software to run its instruments and a LIMS to manage the data being generated by those instruments. For the most part, the data generated in the laboratory is not connected to the rest of the enterprise systems, such as ERP, PIMS, or to any collaborative technologies like Sharepoint, BizTalk, document management or communications. Forward thinking companies will begin to think about how the laboratory can better connect to the rest of the enterprise so that efficiencies are maximized, resources are properly allocated toward the greater business goals, and management have all the relevant information they need to make better informed decisions.

Conclusion

For many years, there has been a clear gap between the integration a laboratory hopes to achieve and reality. The real or perceived complexity of linking the different data generating systems is one reason why this integration is currently not more prevalent. However, the role of integration in turning large quantities of data from disparate sources into valid business knowledge is critical. Companies integrating technologies and methods are the ones that will grow and gain a competitive advantage in today’s volatile business environment. This integration of informatics solutions with a variety of enterprise systems is particularly relevant in today’s business climate where near instantaneous response is required by companies in all industries to protect the public or the environment. The integration of the entire enterprise will facilitate better data correlation and collaboration, end-to-end report generation, more secure data exchanges, with the goal of providing management with a dashboard view of the key business metrics essential to running the business, and enabling management to have the critical data they need before, not after, any point of crisis.

By effectively integrating laboratory informatics data with enterprise systems, the role of the laboratory in the day-to-day mission critical decisions required of management throughout the enterprise is elevated. Enterprise connectivity is set to change the market by transforming laboratory data into relevant business drivers for those companies committed to the advancement and integrity of science and to the health and safety of the world we live in.


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