This is a continuation of the last blog post discussing these search phrases that brought readers to this blog: “sap-lims interface” and “sap-lims interface challenges.”
- Pre-built does not mean “no more work to do”: If there is an interface already created between your brand of LIMS and another system, you will still need to have some work done to it. Since our databases allow us to add tables and columns, some of those will need to be reflected in the interface. The interfaces are influenced by our implementation choices in the workflow, as well (see point 3). There will always be changes to make to the interfaces. Even the “standard” SAP QM (Quality Management) to LIMS interface will need changes. And, as with everything else, the bigger the systems you work with, the more massive the changes to that interface will tend to be.
- Data mapping is just plain old hard work: Between two types of systems, even where we recognize that tables and fields will have entirely different names, but even the data in them is not always easy to map. Sometimes, fields will have data that just doesn’t naturally map to the other system. For example, the production system might have a list that shows all the production lines as 01, 02 and 03. But the LIMS might store that as 001, 002, 003 or NONE (or a sample with no manufacturing line associated might merely be empty and that is a totally different issue, which is how to handle blank fields). The “NONE” seems easy to handle but even in this very simple example, it’s not always easy to work with, depending on the situation. And when you have many fields that have these types of exceptions to deal with, and if each exception has different rules and meanings associated with it, then this turns into a lot of work, most of it will typically be programming work. Note: This sounds simple to do but, depending on the situation, it can be tricky to deal with.
- Workflow doesn’t match: No two systems have the same workflow. You could interface two LIMS of the same brand to each other and, unless they’re basically copies of each other, they’ll have different workflows. When we talk about mapping even systems that sound similar, such as SAP’s QM to a LIMS, where they’re both dealing with samples, even then they really aren’t the same. Each has different event points because the purpose behind the sampling is somewhat different (e.g., checking a batch versus managing testing). This is going to be the hardest issue you will deal with. You have rules in each system to deal with that cannot necessarily be changed. Then, each system creates and manages different pieces of data at different points. Getting the data you need to pass between the two systems at the right time and setting up rules for how to deal with it is your absolute greatest challenge. Consider that you might even need to send events multiple times between systems in order to get all the right data sent AND to make the right things happen at the right time in the right system.
The bottom line, here, is that this is a lot of work, takes time and effort, and a lot of dedication by both sides of the interface. If you recognize this ahead of time, that the entire thing will be difficult, then it won’t be a surprise. Then, you can plan accordingly, and will have somewhat less hair pulling and shrieking, along the way.