A LIMS Primer
by Gloria Metrick
Used with permission from Lab Manager Magazine®

This article is meant to give you a general idea what a LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) is, as well as giving you an idea of the types of budgeting expectations and project activities that you might encounter.

LIMS: What is it and what does it do?
The main purpose of a LIMS is to track samples through the laboratory. It will commonly allow you to track both the location of samples, as well as indicate how much work has been finished on the sample. It will also allow for logging and managing the samples, as well as providing a central repository for the testing performed and results gathered.

Minimally, most LIMS will typically allow you to track the following information:

  • Information related to the sample, such as the source of the sample.
  • The tests being performed on the sample.
  • Information related to the tests, such as which lab is doing a particular.
  • Result details, such as the results, themselves, whether they are within an acceptable range, and the appropriate units for the result.

LIMS usually allow various types and levels of approval, in order to hold back information from its next step. For example, some labs require peer reviews of all data before it is sent to a supervisor for review. These types of review rules are common in many LIMS.

Many LIMS are integrated with instrumentation or with instrument software in order to electronically gather the data. Some LIMS products include this functionality, although there are products on the market that can be purchased to perform this function when it is not part of the actual LIMS software.

LIMS: What else can it do?
When a LIMS is created for a specific customer or industry, it is common to include functions that would be needed for that industry or customer. For example, LIMS that service the Pharmaceutical or Biotech industries might include drug stability capability, a clinical study module, or a dissolution testing function. As another example, when a LIMS will be used to track manufacturing quality, it might include an interface to manufacturing systems, such as SAP.

LIMS: What doesn’t it do?
Most LIMS do a poor job of document management, a function best left to the document management systems. Most LIMS also tend to lack functionality to fully track inventory.

What implementation options do you have?
There are three options:

  • Buy a system that is so limited or specific that it need only be installed, supporting data entered into it, and possibly then be validated, before it is ready to be used.
  • Build a system specific for your needs.
  • Purchase a system that is flexible.

Then, you would create a scope of the additions or changes you will be making to it, plan your resources, and do the work. This choice has similar steps to what you will do when you build your own system, except that the choices for what you will do will be narrowed down by the restrictions of the system and, if you selected a system appropriate to your situation, you should have less that you will have to have programmed into it to make it a positive addition to your laboratory.

When you purchase a commercial LIMS package, what else might you need to purchase?
Typically, even if you purchase a number of licenses to use the LIMS software product, there are other items and activities that you should include in your project budget:

  • Ongoing product support costs.
  • Training costs.
  • Business services, such as help in selecting a LIMS software product, requirements analysis assistance, or work-flow analysis.
  • Implementation and services, such as design services for new or modified features, and programming services.
  • Validation services, if applicable.

The items you will need to additionally purchase tend to depend heavily on the following factors:

  • Whether or not you have the internal staff that can do the task.
  • The size and complexity of your laboratory.
  • Whether your laboratory has many unusual functions in it.

These are just a few examples of what you should have in mind before you begin your own LIMS project. This will give you enough information to get you started on the process, and give you some issues you should begin think about, as well.