LIMS are powerful, but often complex tools. These big software packages, designed to assist labs in their sample processing and data handling capabilities, can’t meet every need, and a growing field of companies has sprung up to offer labs supplementary tools to make their LIMS run faster and fit more snugly to their business model.
LIMS Wizards, a subsidiary of CSols, Inc., create LIMS support products. Their first release, SampleVision™, is aimed at helping fix an important gap in leading LIMS. Technology Networks spoke to Robert Jackson, Director of Delivery at LIMS Wizards, to find out more.
Ruairi Mackenzie (RM): Could you tell us a bit more about SampleVision?
Robert Jackson (RJ): Over our years of working with laboratory informatics systems, we have seen many cases where people send samples into a laboratory for analytical work and to get results back. It all works well when you have LIMS clients wherever you’re working, and you can log it straight into the LIMS. But often people are out at sites that don’t have LIMS access. Maybe they don’t work for the company, so they’re not given a laptop with a LIMS connection or maybe they’re out in the field collecting samples, or they are a researcher who has only an occasional need to send a sample in. The previous way of solving this would be through paperwork. You’d put the paperwork in a box with your samples and ship it over to the lab, where it would be logged in. There’s plenty of opportunity for data entry errors or problems with labeling.
SampleVision is a portal that is LIMS independent. It runs on web servers with a browser front end. The crux of it is, a sample can be submitted in SampleVision, which is then interfaced with the LIMS system. We support the four big LIMS products, so we have an interface for SampleManager LIMS™ (ThermoFisher Scientific), as well as LabWare LIMS, STARLIMS (Abbott Informatics), and LabVantage LIMS.
You can also print out your sample labels in SampleVision. You can stick them on your sample containers and have another label for the whole request. It arrives at the central lab already logged into the LIMS, so they can just scan the labels on the samples to receive them into the lab. The lab does its usual analytical work and when they’ve produced their results, SampleVision can request the results through the LIMS.
SampleVision simplifies the interface between an external sample testing requester and a central lab. We’ve worked with a number of organizations where something like that would have been useful to have.
RM: Could you go into more detail about the challenges your users most commonly report when they’re working with LIMS and how they were addressed in the design of SampleVision?
RJ: One common pain point is inaccurate requests – either the wrong analysis request or the wrong sample information, which then means the lab has to call the requester. Everybody in this situation is frustrated, and it wastes time.
The complication of using a LIMS is another pain point. You need training, you need a license. You don’t want to do any of that for an occasional sample. That’s where something like a portal approach can help. Really, it’s less paper, more automation and a simplification of the overall process.
RM: What challenges did you and your team face in getting these different LIMS to all work with the same portal?
RJ: That was quite tricky at times. All four of these LIMS have a web interface-type API available. We often find that these web interfaces are not well documented by the vendors. There’s a lot of delving into technical documentation to work out what the heck they’re doing. Quite often we’ve found that we were the first people to try and do this kind of thing with some of these LIMS. It’s technically challenging to get it to work reliably.
That’s why we are happy to have benefited from the overall CSols, Inc. organization, which has a lot of experience with all those LIMS products. We were able to tap into some expertise in-house with folks who have been working day-to-day on all these products. I guess the challenge was that they’re all different, everybody’s doing their own thing.
RM: If the LIMS vendors develop their own portals, would SampleVision become redundant? How do you stay agile in the LIMS field?
RJ: These LIMS vendors are working on portals and we have a few competitors in this field. What we try to be—and the same goes for CSols, Inc.—is not tied into any one particular vendor; hence, we have various partnerships with a number of them but we’re not resellers and we don’t have any close commercial ties. In organizations with multiple LIMS solutions, which is often the case for major corporations, SampleVision can talk to multiple LIMS simultaneously, so you’re not tied or locked into any one LIMS product. We see an agile approach as being very important.
We have to keep moving quickly, see a niche and fill it. If it is that obvious, then somebody else is going to jump in there as well. We’re going to try and move faster than the vendors who have larger systems and who maybe come out with a major release every year for their LIMS. We’re trying to move a lot quicker than that and lead the way.
Robert Jackson was speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Senior Science Writer for Technology Networks.