LIMS in academics,
then and now
By Robert Benz, Sales & Marketing Director for Khemia
I recently read, or I should say reread, an article
written by Douglas Perry for the American Chemical Society in Today’s Chemist
at Work titled “LIMS in the academic world” (https://pubs.acs.org/subscribe/archive/tcaw/11/i01/html/01comp.html). The article was published in January of
2002. Almost exactly fifteen years
later, most of the well discussed points are still valid. LIMS has not truly found a home in academic
settings despite the fact it is rare to see an operating commercial laboratory in
any business sector without some sort of LIMS in place today.
Certainly, exceptions exist and are more numerous than 15
year ago but overall, not by much. A
true disconnect still appears between LIMS use in academia versus “the real
world” of commercial and government run laboratories. Today, even small wastewater plants are
installing a LIMS or LIMS-like functionality to keep up with the regulatory
environment imposed upon them, much less larger laboratories or laboratories in
even heavier regulated fields.
The faults brought to the forefront in the original
article are indeed still true on both sides; both within academia itself and
the LIMS vendors. Academia laboratories
do tend to be fragmented and small.
Academia laboratories do often operate in such a way as to not fit, or
at least perceived not to, within a more rigid operational structure of a true
COTS (commercial off the shelf) LIMS.
Academia often does not have the finances normally required to install
and implement a standard, commercially available LIMS. Schedules of academia are often difficult for
commercial LIMS companies to work with given the scattered days/hours of
laboratory staff and various seasonal breaks.
From the LIMS vendor side, the problems often come down
to the simple facts of a commercial enterprise: time and money. First, having tried to sell into universities
in the past, the fragmented, small laboratories all seem to act
independently. I have quite literally
had two separate meetings scheduled within the same building for professors
researching similar topics who had not spoken to one another. It is not uncommon to find the biology
laboratories on floor one, the geology laboratories on floor two and the
chemistry laboratories on floor three and many times, the laboratories on each
floor have no idea what the laboratories on the next floor up are doing, what
instrumentation is used, etc. When
combined with the prospects of heavily discounted, smaller sales, it does make
the salespersons, no matter how technical and academic in nature, have a
tendency to pass on the efforts.
This persistent problem is truly a problem for all
parties. Academia could and should take
advantage of the benefits of LIMS and, equally as importantly, properly prepare
their students for working laboratories outside of the university structure. In turn, LIMS companies should embrace the
new ideas, new twist and new thinking that comes from academia. Admittedly, not always easy and sometimes you
do have to say “no” but valuable all the same.
There is no place greater for a business entity’s higher level learning
than working with academia itself when you can engage the up and coming best biologist,
chemist and programmers to mention just a few.
The financials of working with universities sometimes
provides for some tough convincing. Often,
a small LIMS implementation is a great deal of a particular professor’s yearly budget
if not more. Sometimes working out the
logistics of several university groups purchasing a LIMS is not easy. Upon occasion, the university head office
themselves make things so tough that that a LIMS company cannot even
effectively donate a LIMS to the university (unfortunately, I have seen this
twice). From the commercial side,
convincing others within the LIMS company that the time required for training,
the potential “must have” customization and the heavily discounted price is
worth doing is not always an easy task.
One must truly have upper management buy in on universities being worth
the trouble. But, from a different
perspective on business and seeding the future soil, who does not remember
Apple’s (AAPL) investment into schools and universities starting in the 1980s
if not before? As it turns out, that
company did anything but go broke with its market cap as of the day of this
writing at 712.06B.
On a more personal note, I have always enjoyed working
with universities. I have fortunately
sold LIMS into the university scene and to a non-profit working with multiple
universities structure and sincerely hope to work with many more. I have seen the request from those clients
that were eye opening and have had to say no to more than a couple
requests. Yet, at the end of the day, I
am often most proud of those sales and have made some terrific friends and
acquaintances along the way. I see those
sales as more than a dollar and cent value but as a true engagement into both
our and their futures.
For any additional information, please contact Robert
Benz (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Khemia
Software, Inc. (www.khemia.com).