For the first time in some years I made the trip to Pittcon, held this year in Philadelphia, to present a one-day short course on ‘Getting Started with an Electronic Laboratory Notebook’. The course is well established and only needs tweaking from time to time to reflect changes in the ELN market such as convergence issues, external factors such as The America Invents Act or technology advances, particularly with reference to mobile and cloud. This was the first time the course has run at Pittcon and it was great to have an interested, and interesting group of attendees.
Pittcon also presented an opportunity to boost personal fitness by walking the exhibition floor (over 1000 exhibitors!), and although I had no specific agenda, other than looking for anything interesting in the informatics domain, there were four things that struck me.
- The convergence issue (how to differentiate amongst the different informatics tools) is getting even more complex with some vendors adding LIMS/ELN type functions and other capabilities to their systems in order to enhance their scope of application. For example, an increasing number of LIMS vendors have ‘ELN’ capability within their systems or available as a module. Furthermore, discipline specific tools are increasingly incorporating workflow funcitons.
- Platforms are becoming increasingly evident in the informatics area. The provision of an infrastructure to accommodate functional modules is changing the business strategies of a number of vendors. This approach is, for example, at the heart of Accelrys’ strategy to address laboratory integration and was also evident in the ACD/Spectrus DB release which adds the capability to integrate information from disparate sources, to automate processing and interpretation, and add sample tracking and workflow elements. Accelrys have added ‘Accelrys LIMS’ to their informatics portfolio to address process execution and workflow requirements to complement their other ELN, LES and EBR (Electronic Batch Records) tools
- Mobile devices and web-based deployments are increasingly being catered for by informatics vendors. An increasing number of products can be run on Smart Phones and Tablets, although vendors chose different strategies to achieve this. In the simplest case, using a browser as a thin client offers a simple, but not necessarily optimised solution, that is device independent e.g. LabWare LIMS/ELN. An alternative is to develop dedicated ‘apps’ that provide limited, but focused functionality, e.g. StarLIMS. The third option is to reformat browser-based pages so that they display properly in a small window, e.g. LabVantage.
- Workflow configuration and dashboards are increasingly featured as user interfaces to LIMS products. With a growing number of vendors offering drag and drop approaches to building and configuring workflows, which in the right circumstances can offer strong alignment and increased usability with specific laboratory operations. Dashboards provide a real time ‘management’ view of the status of any data entities in the LIMS database, for example, sample queues, instrument utilisation/availability, or indeed any other transactional data that the LIMS manages.
Pittcon moves to Chicago next year.
Here’s a list of short articles appearing on the website during 2012:
ELN Articles and other resources
The America Invents Act – an update
ELNs Master Class
iPads in the Laboratory
ELNs in Academia
SmartLabs Exchange 2012
ELNs, Platforms and Blogs
What is an Electronic Laboratory Notebook?
Informatics, Integration and Standards
Laboratory Informatics: Moving the emphasis from ‘data in’ to ‘information out’
Laboratory Informatics and Social Tools; another integration issue?
Building a Smart Laboratory
Laboratory Integration and Data Interchange Standards
Additional information about Laboratory Informatics is available in the guide ‘Building a Smart Laboratory‘, written by John Trigg, Peter Boogaard and Bob McDowall, and published by Scientific Computing World in September 2012. This addresses the broader area of laboratory informatics, encompassing LIMS, SDMS, LES and ELNs. Additionally, the Scientific Computing World annual Laboratory Informatics Guide is available online (requires a free subscription), and includes articles on ‘The Informatics Landscape’ (John Trigg) and ‘When Data ComesTogether’ (Peter Boogaard).
The lack of laboratory integration and data interchange standards has frequently been the subject of debate on this and other websites, meetings and conferences for a number of years. (See the earlier post on Informatics, Integration and Standards). The subject was to the forefront at this year’s ELN’s and LIMS Forum, held in Milan, Sept 25th – 27th, with three discussion/workshop sessions aligned to the issues.
References in the previous post to the initiative being established by the IQ Consortium was confirmed with the news that a significant number of major pharmaceutical companies are contributing funds to the Allotrope Foundation to tackle the issue of analytical data. The strategy being proposed by Allotrope is to seek agreement on metadata, understand and work as far as possible with existing standards (AnIML seems to be in the frame), and then engage vendors.
During the workshop sessions, a number of people expressed their view of the overall standards situation, and the mood seemed to be one of frustration, i.e., we know the problem, we’re fed up with no progress, but we don’t think anybody will address it at a sufficiently low (technical) level. If there was a consensus, it was more along the lines of leaving the vendors with their proprietary formats, but publicly documenting them and converting them to an agreed standard format. This is an approach already adopted by a few vendors, but universal take-up is some way off. I’m reminded of the situation in digital photography where every vendor has his own ‘raw’ or proprietary format, but images can be readily converted to a standard (JPG), either in camera, or in third party image editing programmes.
On a broader basis, there was a feeling that some of the demands about handling the ever-increasing size of data sets, externalisation and cloud-based systems would increase the demand for standardisation and integration solutions, and may lead to some progress, but the general attitude amongst delegates was that we should be turning the conversation towards adoption, rather than development of standards.
A couple of other discussion points were the feasibility of refusing to buy (pressurise vendors) – not considered viable, or to emphasise ‘compliance to standards’ in RFPs, basically getting the issue on to vendor’s radar screens.
The debate will continue, and we will watch the Allotrope initiative with interest.
Building a Smart Laboratory is a new publication from Scientific Computing World, written and compiled by John Trigg with contributions from Peter Boogaard and Bob McDowall. It is designed to provide an introduction to the concept of the integrated lab, giving newcomers all the background they need to make informed purchasing decisions.
This publication includes the following features:
Laboratory automation and laboratory informatics
- Industry evolution and trends
- The LIMS market
- The ELN market
- What is laboratory automation?
- An overview of laboratory informatics
- Laboratory instrument systems
- Simple analytical instruments
- Computerised instrument systems
- What is a LIMS?
- What is a LES?
- What is an SDMS?
- What is an ELN?
- Costs/return on investment
- Regulatory compliance and systems validation
- GAMP software categories in a LIMS
- GAMP software categories and system life cycle for a LIMS
- System life cycle, detail and documented evidence
- Patent-related issues
- The America invents Act – implications
- Data integrity
- Data authenticity
- Data management
- Knowledge management
- Systems architecture
- Pay by the cycle
- Operational vs. investment budgeting
- Data storage
- Data integration
- The internet and web-based tools
- Sematic computing
- Electronic records
- Data formats
- Electronic records management
- Systems integration
Business case development and project management
Internal culture and technology adoption
To view the entire issue as a PDF, click here.