Storing, retrieving and making sense of all the data produced in a research labs is a great challenge and LIMS can help you with that. You can use a set of lab journals, nice Moleskines or just rely on your memory. But being a digital scientist, don’t you think some smart software could make your life much easier?
Enter the Laboratory Information Management System aka LIMS
No-LIMS vs LIMS
Prior the 80s and the advent of the LIMS, researchers used paper, pen, and large volumes of bound books for data and sample tracking. The process was time-consuming, tedious, and prone to error.
But then computer use became more common and larger institutions developed a LIMS to provide a simplified data management system within the lab.
Sadly for smaller research groups, LIMS were prohibitively expensive, difficult to implement, and tough to use.
Despite this, the traditional LIMS model laid the framework – a framework left relatively intact until the Internet changed the LIMS landscape.
- Organize data: a LIMS is meant to organize the huge volumes of data potentially created by a lab or research group.
- Track experiments: you can setup an experiment, run the experiment, record results, analyze the results, and repeat the experiment with altered variables. The LIMS system keeps track of all the information along the way so that the experiment can be repeated by anybody in the lab.
- Track inventory: LIMS also keep track of the inventory associated with an experiment. For instance, who used an item last, how much was used, where the item was/is located, and any other information that is necessary to monitor and store.
Traditional LIMS vs Cloud LIMS
The Internet came and provided a major shift in LIMS world. You can store your Laboratory Information Management System on the cloud, which allows for improved accessibility.
While traditional LIMS platforms can only be accessed from designated computers that are connected into the research groups’ network, cloud LIMS (like GoLIMS, LabLynx, or LabVantage) can be accessed at any time and from any computer that has Internet access.
The implications of this are enormous, with a cloud LIMS:
- Independent of hardware and operating system used: some of your researchers like Windows and others are Apple fans? No problem, with cloud LIMS they just a need a browser to access their research data using a secure login.
- Independent of location: Are you attending a conference in the other side of the world and you only have a tablet? No problemo, baby. You can still access your cloud LIMS anytime, anywhere.
- Share with others: cloud LIMS allow you to easily collect the important pieces of data across all of your work and then share it with other LIMS users or with the public.
Such features will allow a biologist to record their project specific data but collaborate with a chemist, psychologist, or engineer without needing to use a different application.
With products such as GoLIMS, researcher will save time by being able to find and copy repeatable experiments, keep better track of inventory, and be able to compile research for publishing or a patent without painstaking backtracking.
Once utilizing a cloud LIMS fully, it also eliminates the concern of losing data, finding past experiments, or chasing after colleagues to ask questions.
While GoLIMS is designed to work with multiple disciplines, other LIMS can be very industry or field specific – meaning it may be very good at tracking of, say, thousands of tissue samples, but not so good at keeping track of people or communications.
Cloud LIMS vs Other Cloud Tools
Cloud LIMS are not without competition from more mainstream software products.
As mentioned in “3 Mandatory Tools for Digital Scientists” many researchers have adopted other types of cloud software such as Evernote, Dropbox, and Mendeley to manage projects, store essential files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.), and collaborate on research papers.
The advantages of these online tools include:
- An established and loyal following from users.
- Can be used for free in some cases.
- Very easy to use.
Cloud LIMS address many of the potential problems with using Evernote, Dropbox and Mendeley by offering a full combination of project management, electronic notebooks, inventory management and file storage that is tailored for scientific research tasks.
And unlike Dropbox or Evernote, security is often of paramount importance when building LIMS software, especially with the push for HIPAA and sensitive data compliances. Full activity logs, easy restore points, encryption, automatic sign-outs, and other security measures safeguard data stored in infrastructure such as GoLIMS.
No Pain No Gain
Successfully utilizing a cloud LIMS, or any other Laboratory Information Management System, is not without its challenges for some research groups.
The design of the LIMS will vary in degrees of user-friendliness and require some changes in daily workflow and a connection to the Internet. Most these are minor hurdles that any group dedicated to becoming more organized can handle without much time and effort.
Of course, the usefulness of any LIMS is only realized through consistent and regular use from the research group. Dedication to using the system requires motivation from regular users as well as encouragement from the principal investigator (PI).
When making the switch the research group must, to some extent, draw a line in the sand that says, “From this point forward, we will become digitally organized and centralized.”
Fortunately, an advantage of a cloud LIMS is a low learning curve and seamless implementation – making a successful switch much more likely.
The Age Of The Digital Scientists
The age of the Internet has brought about rapid changes in nearly every field and scientific research is no exception.
The adoption of the “cloud” has driven down the costs of producing, maintaining, and updating software which in turn provides significant advantages for the consumer.
Cloud LIMS can be up and running very fast, reduce upfront costs and total cost of ownership, and with little to no need for internal IT support and maintenance.
And unlike traditional LIMS platforms, cloud LIMS are 100% scalable, so a researcher can store as much or as little as they need – allowing the LIMS to grow with the group.
In today’s world, research must be able to change directions quickly to stay ahead of the increasing competition for funding, resources, and time. Luckily, the Internet has opened the gateway for powerful tools that can complement research endeavors and keep a research group ahead of the curve.
Are you using LIMS or cloud LIMS in your lab? Which ones? Share your experiences in the comments.