I’m just back from Berlin and IQPC’s 6th Annual SmartLab Exchange. Since its inception, this is a meeting I have always enjoyed since it brings together an influential community of users, vendors and consultants in the laboratory data, information and knowledge management space for a meeting that offers a slightly different format to the traditional style of conference. The emphasis is on interaction, which this year embraced one-on-one meetings with product and service providers, think-tanks, and conventional auditorium-based presentations. I had the privilege of chairing the Exchange, as well as running one of the think tank sessions.
Elisabeth Goodman, of RiverRhee Consulting, has already posted an excellent report on the Exchange, which you can read on her blog, Operational Excellence and Knowledge Management in an R&D Laboratory Environment. Aware of the fact that Elisabeth had to leave before the final two papers, all I can add to her comments is that the AnIML project (Analytical Information Markup Language) was the subject of a presentation by Burkhard Schaefer, aided and abetted by a case study of AnIML in action by Mike Ludlow of LGC Pharmaceutical Services. See AnIML – An interview with Burkhard Schaefer for information about AnIML. AnIML is an XML-based standard that is developed under the umbrella of ASTM with participation from a number of different stakeholders in the pharmaceutical and environmental industries, government agencies, instrument vendors and academia.
The final presentation, by Gareth Maxwell of Northern Ireland Water, addressed the use of LIMS in a highly regulated, but non-pharma environment. Gareth’s presentation was focused on the well-publicised problems experienced with the water supply in Northern Ireland last December, caused by some dramatic and rapid changes in weather conditions. The scope and scale of the testing operations needed to support the delivery and maintenance of water supplies is extensive and subject to regulatory scrutiny from four different agencies. The adoption of a number of technology-based improvements, all interacting with the LIMS, have helped bring about time savings and error reductions in a number of operations.
Just a word about my think tank session on ‘Overcoming the most common challenges facing laboratory integration’. This session was run as a discussion, which I kicked off by asking the question ‘If we were to start anew to build an integrated data/information solution for our laboratories, would it look anything like the solutions we have in place today”. The question drew some different responses, but a common thread that seemed to emerge was that the lack of standards was a key issue. In a short session, we were never going to cover much ground in the discussion, nor, indeed, get to hear all opinions, but the overall consensus seemed to point towards the need to separate content from the tools (applications) in order to facilitate the use and re-use of the content in a multiplicity of best-of-breed tools. Standard data interchange formats would therefore be the catalyst, requiring each tool to have the capability to work with those formats. The concern that standards stifle innovation in technology development is a risk that was expressed, and acknowledged, but in the main, the content is not the subject of technology innovation. So, my opening question failed to get a clear answer, but (a) I never expected it to, and (b) I’m not sure there is an answer, yet…..
Overall, I found this another successful event in the series; well attended, high quality content, and high quality interactions. In addition, the location, within walking distance of a number of iconic sites of modern history, not only gave delegates the opportunity to get some (very!) fresh air, but also presented an opening gambit to start conversations. The programme itself spanned a number of topical subjects, but if anything, it is laboratory integration that seems to be rising to the top of the agenda and the area of most concern.