The world as we know it is changing – significantly. None more so than our world of work. Things have definitely changed in the lab whether you’re involved directly with the testing and research efforts for COVID-19 or not.
You’ve probably introduced new procedures in line with the updated guidelines from government and public health bodies to ensure social distancing and minimise risk. And you may have changed what you’re working on completely.
When implementing new practices and processes many organisations often forget to consider the software that they need to support them. That’s changed with this pandemic. During this time we’ve all had to adapt – and fast. And it is technology that’s been at the forefront of helping people stay connected – and continue with the day job.
Getting ready to return to ‘normal’
Let’s face it – it’s probably going to be a little while yet before things feel ‘normal’ again. So, how do you kick start your lab and bounce back stronger than before?
One question to ask is how easy it was to adapt your existing software systems so you could continue to work remotely, capture new data, securely share information or even manage your new processes. Perhaps you felt ‘pressured’ into taking the plunge to purchase new software or upgrade your existing systems. Or became one of many labs that reverted back to using spreadsheets and even paper-based systems.
Before the pandemic you may already have started to review the software systems you’re using. But if you haven’t, then thinking about software that allows you to work remotely will definitely be on your radar now.
Either way it might be a good time to sit back and take stock. Take the time to review how your lab operates, what improvements you might want to make and what technology is available that can best support you. This could perhaps be the start of a digital transformation in your lab.
Your lab’s journey into digital transformation
First things first. What do we mean by digital transformation? According to Wikipedia ‘Digital Transformation (DT or DX) is the use of new, fast and frequently-changing digital technology to solve problems. It is about transforming processes that were non digital or manual to digital processes.’
To put simply, it’s moving away from those paper-based, manual processes and leveraging technology to manage and run them instead. Or using up-to-date digital technology, such as cloud-computing, that provides additional as well as enhanced functionality and capability.
However, let’s be clear it’s not a good idea – or practically possible – to have technology do everything for you. Fortunately, we’re not in the age of the Terminators just yet!
And your lab won’t automatically improve its quality or efficiency, for example, just because you’re using the latest digital technologies.
The key thing is to identify and understand where your key pressure points and challenges lie. You can then work out how much time, money, resources and effort this costs you and what kind of solutions will help you resolve these. The answer might actually require a combination of changes to processes, extra training as well as new or updated systems.
Importantly, remember that every lab works differently and has its own priorities. So when it comes to the digital transformation journey there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’.
Also, it’s not a sprint – you don’t have to change everything in one go. In fact, I’d strongly advise against it. So where can you start? Perhaps with a lab information management system. Contrary to popular myths they’re not all expensive, convoluted systems that take a decade to go live!
Where does a Laboratory Information Management System fit into a lab’s digital transformation strategy?
Speed, accuracy and reproducibility are essential requirements in today’s labs. But data is becoming more varied and complex – and there’s so much to track!
A LIMS helps you move away from paper-based systems by allowing you to capture your data in a digital format. This might also include holding informed consent data such as opt-ins. Plus, its inbuilt formatting and data validation capabilities improve your overall data quality.
It can also support your lab processes by automating repetitive tasks. Some systems also send and receive test result data automatically from your lab instruments. This not only saves you time by not having to manually re-key data but also improves data accuracy by avoiding data entry errors.
And if you choose a configurable LIMS, you can make changes to the software to meet your new or updated requirements. Plus, any built-in auditing capabilities will help you meet regulatory compliance as well as provide complete traceability.
Some advanced LIMS also provide integrated data analytics tools so now you’re not just capturing data you’re able to analyse and use it.
Finally, if you don’t have the technical infrastructure to support the software there are secure cloud solutions available.
Thinking about lab digital transformation
Lab digital transformation is not as scary as it seems. It’s not just for large scale labs with huge budgets. Every lab can benefit from the right technology supporting its individual needs and goals.
And it’s not just one-hit and you’re done. You should regularly review how your lab is operating and the performance of its supporting systems. This helps you make sure you’re still gaining benefits and if you’re not, then you can make the adjustments as part of a considered strategy rather than perhaps an enforced one.
- Wikipedia ‘Digital Transformation