There is a common perception that laboratories run on cutting edge technology to help them perform precise analytical techniques. For some laboratories, this may be true, but there are still several laboratories that use paper notebooks, excel spreadsheets or software (decades old) to record and process test results.
Regulatory drivers have increased the need for evidence of unadulterated audit trails, a culture of accountability and compliance with validated processes. To deliver on these needs, many laboratories are looking at software as an automated solution for documenting this evidence.
Drivers other than regulations can also influence your business need for software. Some examples are to maintain competitive advantage, increase laboratory capacity or reduce operational costs. So whether it’s a LIMS (laboratory information management system) or a simple workload planner, you may encounter the following obstacles in sourcing and deploying software within your laboratory operations.
1. Realising You Need Software
Buying new technology for a lab is relatively common. Typically, the product is tangible and visible such as a new HPLC or Karl Fischer Titrator; however, with software, the product and benefits are not always obvious.
Software is introduced to facilitate process improvements which ultimately result in automation and increased efficiency. One of the major hurdles for some laboratories are those who don’t realise what benefits they could achieve by implementing simple automation to streamline their process. You might be familiar with phrases like “I’ve always done it like this” and “What we do now already works?”
For laboratories who want to remain competitive in the market and continually improve the service they offer to their customers, then this change in perspective is an imperative first step for any improvement initiative. So, whether it’s in your annual objectives, or you’re looking for your next promotion, realising software is an achievable accelerator will help you reach your goals.
2. Picking the Right Supplier
How many times have you seen companies advertise “We are number 1” or “We are the best at…”. With everyone saying the same thing, who do you go for? The choice is tough. Do you choose the market leader who also supplies your competitors, or do you take a chance and go for a personable relationship with a dynamic SME?
A great place to start is to understand not only your functional requirements of a system, but also service requirements for routine support. Define what type of relationship you would like with your supplier, and use this as a basis (along with product functionality) for selecting the right supplier for a long-term and positive relationship.
3. The Price is Right
Let’s not forget that software for laboratories is not a consumer product where we can easily browse the shelves at the local supermarket comparing prices and ingredients. It will take time to get quotes from multiple suppliers to compare the cost, but most importantly, you should look to provide the same brief to all suppliers so that you’re comparing apples to apples.
Once you have a quote, use this information to calculate a return on investment . For those laboratories who are looking at this as efficiency or compliance improvements, you can simply apply a monetary value to your time to calculate the savings. Presenting this data to senior stakeholders will create a compelling justification for deploying a system.
It’s common to find laboratory operations overworked, high-paced environments struggling to meet sample turnaround times. In most cases, people find themselves in a catch-22 where they want to deploy a system to help save time, but they don’t have the time to run the deployment project. There are many ways to overcome the pressures of time. One example would be to use the software supplier’s deployment service; however, it is best to use it as assistance rather than abdicating responsibility as you will need to take ownership of the system once in routine use. So here are additional suggestions to consider when time is your biggest hurdle:
This is not a quick solution; however, recruiting additional resource to cope with the workload in the laboratory will free up your time. There will be a cost to introducing additional resource, so it would be a good idea to add this into your return on investment exercise. Don’t forget that there are different levels you can recruit – from apprentice to graduates to fully experienced professionals. Also, in some areas, regional authorities may have grants or relief available to businesses who are looking to expand their workforce.
Temporarily reduce capacity
With any improvement initiative, there must be some give and take to deliver the desired end-result. If there is scope to temporarily reduce capacity, why not explore this avenue? Same with recruitment, it would be best to weigh up your options and compare which route will be most cost-effective to free up time.
5. Resistance to Change
Resistance to change can be one of the most difficult hurdles to overcome because the reasons for resistance are not always based on facts and typically involve emotional reactions. The best way to deal with resistance to change is to understand why people resist. Here are a couple of reasons with suggestions on how to overcome them:
Not being consulted
When your team feels a part of the decision-making process, there tends to be less resistance to change. Keeping your team in the loop will give them reassurance that their job is not affected and they can genuinely look forward to improvements.
Lack of competence
This is quite common where a workforce is not familiar with technology and the change involves implementing new software such as a LIMS. People don’t like to admit that they may lack the skills in using software, and therefore may not easily transition to the new ways of working. Ensure your deployment project has a thorough training exercise and most importantly obtain feedback following training so that you can minimise the uncertainties before routine use.