On the LIMS/Laboratory Informatics LinkedIn group, someone had asked about buying software to schedule samples between SAP and LIMS. While I have not worked specifically with this type of software, I did recently work with a customer where we did schedule SAP and LIMS to interface, sending samples from SAP to LIMS and a variety of other information and activities between the two systems. I’m repeating my answer, here, with a few more comments that I think weren’t relevant to that discussion but that I’d like to make to the readers of this blog. Regardless, even if you’re buying software, reading these issues might help you flush-out issues to use when you’re looking at software to purchase.

“Recently, I worked with a customer where we designed and programmed SAP to LIMS and the demand via programming. We used the database to send complex messages back-and-forth and the tools on both sides to read those messages, with a scheduler on both sides. On the LIMS side, for example, we used LIMS Basic to read and write those messages, using the usual LIMS schedulers to check those queues on a regular basis.

There are several issues to consider:
1. There’s an order to what you’re sending back-and-forth. So, when an event happens in one system, you have to make sure that you’re either sending a message complex-enough that it sends everything involved with what you’re doing that it won’t get out-of-sync in the next system OR you have to put information in the messages regarding the order to process them. What I mean is this: if one system logs a sample then updates the sample, that can’t be done in the opposite order, because you can’t update a sample that doesn’t exist.
2. Data load issues. If you’re running the clinical supply chain out of SAP, you could be talking about a large load. So large that having a single background scheduler process running isn’t enough. Somehow, you need to address the issue of handling the load.
3. With regard to data load issues, on the scheduling side, you need some flexibility. So, you need to keep in-mind that there’s a drop-dead date that you’ve probably set in SAP to get that data back but it needs to be balanced with the goals on the lab side so that you have some flexibility based on other factors on the lab side, while still enforcing the ultimate drop-dead date and while not making schedulers schedule one sample at a time when there’s possibly lots and lots of samples to schedule.

This is actually something I had been working on for this customer and I’ll tell you that, if you get into a situation with a heavy load going back-and-forth, this is where it all gets sticky. Doing the design of the fields and such going between the SAP and LIMS is quite a lot of work without the load and relatively straightforward, but when you add the heavy load you’ll be surprised how much time you’ll all spend on this. It was the first time I’d tackled this and it was truly a design challenge.

What I’m saying is this: when you’re looking at these pieces of software to select something, keep these issues in-mind during your selection process. It will make a huge difference, in my opinion.”

That’s cut-and-paste from what I’d said in the LIMS/LI LinkedIn group. But what I also wanted to mention is that, as many of you might have suspected, this was for a LabWare LIMS project (V6, if it matters to you). While I didn’t think of that when I made the post, it’s obvious both since I happen to do most of my projects for the LabWare product but also because I accidentally mentioned LIMS Basic in that response. However, I wanted to point-out that most products, LIMS, ELN or otherwise have tools to run background schedulers, accept sample login and other activities through these tools, and otherwise allow for this kind of strategy.

Since I’ve got experience with this, especially regarding high-volume situations, if you need consulting services on this matter, LabWare LIMS V6 specific or just as a high-level design issue, remember to contact me directly at GeoMetrick Enterprises where high-level consulting such as this is accessible to all customers, large or small (see the web-site for contact information).

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises