The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening’s 1st annual conference and exhibition, SLAS2012, was held in San Diego, California, USA on Feb 4-8th. The event was organised along identical lines to its predecessor, the annual ALA Conference, that has been based in Palm Springs over recent years. The Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) is the merger of the Society for Biomolecular Sciences (SBS) and the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA). The San Diego event attracted an attendance figure of 5800 and represented the first full-blown conference since the merger. As with the ALA conferences that were held in Palm Springs, a full schedule of short courses was included in the program, hence my involvement running the 1-day Electronic Laboratory Notebooks course. This course is also being delivered as a series of 6 webinars during March, in conjunction with IQPC.
SLAS2012 also offered a good opportunity indulge in some interesting conversations with vendors and other delegates during a tour of the 300+ booths and stands in the exhibition hall.
The theme of integration was quite evident amongst the various informatics vendors, which is good news, but inevitably there are strategic concerns about the different approaches being adopted. Quite clearly the amount of merger and acquisition activity over the past two years has started to line up some single vendor approaches to satisfying laboratory informatics’ needs. This does, however, fly in the face of the more traditional ‘best of breed’ approach that we typically find in laboratories. It will be interesting to observe to what extent purchasing decisions will be influenced (a) by the demand for integration, and (b) by market forces, as these newly merged organisations gain momentum. It may also raise questions about what the small, specialist vendors should do, if a new trend in laboratory integration evolves; align with a major player, go it alone, or wait to be bought? It may be some while before there is any sign of change, but there is also the possibility that faster moving, emerging technologies may overtake commercial and proprietary interests.
The lack of integration standards is a well-established problem in the laboratory world, and there’s very little evidence of a universal solution emerging. On-going efforts with AnIML and the Pistoia Alliance have yet to gain enough inertia to make a realistic difference, and it was interesting to come across another standards effort, SiLA (Standardization in Lab Automation) on display at a booth in the exhibition hall.. SiLA is attempting to introduce new interfaces and data management standards to facilitate the integration of lab automation systems. The SilA Consortium is a non-profit organisation based in Switzerland. It seems that one of the unfortunate consequences of a lack of industry standards is that there is the risk of too many disparate efforts to solve the problem that may leave us with too many standards.