IQPC’s SmartLabs Exchange celebrated it’s 7th birthday in Brussels with two and a half days of presentations, discussions and meetings on topics related to laboratory innovation, data management, informatics, operational excellence and automation. In general, the presentations covered a range of key laboratory informatics topics such as data management, integration, and the whys and wherefores of informatics tools, with a particular emphasis on productivity, sharing and collaboration.
A key feature of the SmartLabs Exchange is an emphasis on interaction with a number of discussion and ‘think tank’ sessions scheduled in to the programme. As an aid to initiate discussion and networking, each delegate had provided, in advance of the conference, a list of the three top projects/issues in their companies. A rough categorisation of this list gives some sense of the priority of the most important issues companies are currently facing:
- Data issues (management, archiving, analysis) – 46 votes
- Integration – 32 votes
- Informatics tools (SDMS, LIMS, ELN) – 26 votes
- Culture (sharing, collaboration) – 21 votes
- Automation – 19 votes
- Productivity – 19 votes
It is clear from this brief survey, and from discussion sessions, that the ability to collect data is outpacing our ability to process, analyse and manage it. Nevertheless, the demands for integrated automation and informatics tools continues to grow, although the functional convergence in commercial products in the LIMS/SDMS/LES/ELN area is causing some confusion. There was a clear recognition amongst delegates that despite the plethora of technology solutions available to laboratories, one of the key criteria in achieving successful progress is the need to change some of the underlying cultural and behavioural habits that are not so well tuned to technology our to the concepts of sharing and collaborating. The prospect of introducing social tools into the mix to address some of these issues came under some scrutiny in a facilitated discussion session, a sign, perhaps, that laboratories may be starting to look more broadly for help in addressing ‘knowledge management’ concerns.
The more startling example of looking elsewhere for ideas came in a presentation by Stephen Rose of McLaren Applied Technologies, who described the data collection, data management and data visualisation processes used in Formula 1 motor racing to make real time tactical and strategic decisions. Processes in the Life Sciences industry may run at a slower pace than formula 1 cars, but GSK are already partnering with McLaren to investigate data exploration possibilities based on the competencies that McLaren have developed.