Years ago, I had a customer implementing a Fisons (now, Thermo Fisher Scientific Informatics) Sample Manager system that was using freezers with boxes full of small samples. At the time, these freezers were custom-built. Being special freezers, there was no software available to manage them. There were many, many boxes full of many, many samples, and there were several freezers in various locations. Storing and finding samples was a huge issue. And so, the customer had me write a program within Sample Manager that would manage these boxes of samples.
You can imagine there was a lot of code involved in this. It took me awhile to write and test it, even without the issues of user testing and acceptance and validation testing. However, managing their samples was the entire reason they bought a system and managing these freezers was a major portion of managing their samples.
Recently, with the biobanking initiatives many software vendors have, more systems appear to be including this sort of functionality. At the Boston LIMS/Laboratory Informatics meetings, I’ve had a couple occasions to see how a vendor has incorporated this functionality into their system or is providing a good plug-in for it.
The solutions available for the biobanking industry have grown considerably and there appear to be quite a number of commercial options available. As usual, the most flexible pieces of software probably also require the most work to implement.
Also, these commercial solutions, being built by a team of people for an industry of potential customers, have many more features than the software I wrote for a specific customer and are much more flexible, too. There’s often a point in the lifecycle of a particular “need” where we should no longer be writing programs to solve it. Stability study management passed that point years ago. Biobanking solutions are probably close or possibly even at that point, right now.