If your LIMS runs in a web browser, do you really need to build an app in addition to that? Is a web-based LIMS all you need? The focus of this post is whether you need a LIMS website or app – or even both.

Web-based LIMS or Not

If something runs in a web browser, then it’s a web-based application. However, not all applications are equal.

First of all, you can make things run in a web browser by running them inside other applications. So, there are customers out there running LIMS that aren’t web-based within a web browser by using Citrix.

I’ve been in a number of situations when I’m working with a customer who is doing this. As long as it’s properly set up, it seems to work fine. Notice that I said “as long as it’s properly set up.” So, if it’s not properly set up, it can have issues.

Of course, the problem is that Citrix can be complicated to set up. In addition, it’s not a skill that just everyone would have. Plus, I hear it can get expensive to buy the licenses to do this. However, this is just a casual remark that customers occasionally make to me about Citrix.

Your Web Browser Matters

If your software vendor tells you that their software works primarily in a certain brand of web browser and a specific version, then that’s probably what you should use.

Let’s suppose that your company has standardized on IE version X. Also, suppose that your LIMS vendor has tested its software on Google Chrome version Y. I would run both. There are likely to be applications where you really do have to run IE version X in order to get all your company’s applications to work. Also, with the serious nature of the data and processing within a LIMS, ELN or LES, it might be best to use Chrome version Y when you’re running the LIMS.

On top of that, at some of your companies, there will also be people using Safari version Z and who can’t use the other browsers We’ll come back to this issue.

Sometimes, You Run Into Unexpected Problems

My point is this – certain applications work best being run in the browser in which they were meant to run. Some applications don’t work at all in other browsers. Some of them work well-enough to fool you that they’re working fine. Unfortunately, you might run into an important situation where it doesn’t.

For example, things like grid result entry, right-mouse-clicks, fill-down/up functions – these are great candidates for the types of things that work in one browser and not another. For some people, if something like these didn’t work, it would be difficult to do their work and it would seriously and negatively affect their work throughput.

Yet One More Issue

Each brand of LIMS, ELN or LES is written using some tool. This “tool” could be a programming language, for example. However, whatever tool they use, the version of that tool or the types of things done with it – all of that can also affect what browser and version will properly work with it.

Here’s an entirely different example – I had a customer whose webmail basically worked in any browser. However, you couldn’t receive or send attachments unless you used a specific version of Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, the version was two versions old and new people on the project didn’t necessarily have access to get that version. So, everyone had to have a corporate laptop, even if they just needed to share documents.

Back to Apps

Writing an “app” is a special skill, all its own. There are all types of things to consider. The visual aspects resolve differently on different devices. Cameras on different devices work a bit differently from each other. Screen sizes can widely vary. There are a lot of tools that help work around all of this. However, the skills you use to modify your LIMS (such as LIMS Basic, VGL, C#, JavaScript, etc…) – you’ll be doing something quite different to build an app.

Even when you begin looking at specific tools that make the job easier, there are still gotchas to consider. Then, how many different devices would this app need to run on, for example?

Going back to the example of grid result entry, that kind of app is more likely to be run on a tablet than a smart phone. If your company has a limited number of tablets that this will run on, the fewer the types, the less complicated this becomes.

As far as a LIMS website or app goes, you don’t even need your LIMS to be a web-LIMS. You can build an app that runs for a specific application. The most common examples are those companies who acquire field samples. They build an app (or several) for their field people. People who work on-site just use the regular LIMS, in whatever situation it’s in (web-based, client server, etc…).

LIMS Website or App – Is the App Worth the Trouble?

When you consider whether you need a LIMS website or app, consider users and browsers. If you have some users who need to use a different browser and are doing something where that browser just doesn’t properly work, such as grid result entry, one of two bad things is basically happening:

  • The users have to go so slow that it takes them much too long to finish their work.
  • The users are keeping up with their workload by going fast-enough but the data has issues. Possibly it’s not being put in the correct grid cells, for one example. Then, someone has to go back through and re-check and fix it all, which then takes time, if they can figure out what was actually supposed to go where, that is.

In some cases, both are true. In either case, this isn’t ideal, and I think we can all agree on that. If writing an app for that device would allow the work to happen in an appropriate and expedient manner, then this app is worth considering.

However, let’s also suppose that you’ve never written an app and might never write another one. Whether or not it’s worth buying or acquiring app-building tools, then, is the next issue. It might be worth paying someone external to write just this app for you.

With that said, sending these types of things out for an external build is typically a significant project in and of itself. So, I’m not throwing this suggestion out there as casually as it might sound.

Finally

When you decide whether to have a LIMS website or app (or both), there are several factors to consider. A web-based system isn’t necessarily going to meet all the needs of the users. There will be times when you have to consider whether you do need to build specific apps for specific situations. There have to be some limitations put on these, as well,. Otherwise, the effort to build them can become infinite. You’ll probably have to define the devices, browsers, versions and that sort of thing and make it clear that these can’t be changed without prior discussion.

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