The Same Old, Same Old?

Today, I was watching a new user of mine demo their LIMS and I recognized it. Yet, I had never seen it, before.

I realized that many of the customizations they had created were ones I had written for my other customers, as well. As the user demoed the software, I saw more and more functions that were similar to those I had written. By the end of the demo, I felt as if I’d reunited with a long-lost friend. This led me to wonder, yet again, if there aren’t features we should have as standard in our systems that aren’t currently provided, rather than programming them time and time, again.

Unfortunately, it’s not always so easy. Here are some reasons why we we’re doomed to writing the same features over and over (and over and over…):
1. Lack of resources: Software vendors only have so many resources. They are unlikely to be able to create every feature and fix every bug.
2. Lack of importance: While these features might be recreated by us many, many times, it doesn’t necessarily make the feature important to the software vendors. This could be because the users haven’t clearly identified the feature that they want. It could be because the feature isn’t as important as something that just sounds better in the software vendor’s marketing brochure.
3. Differences: When we get down into what same of these similiar-looking features do, it’s not unusual to find that they do entirely different things. Sometimes, they’re actually just too different to be handled by some standard feature that others might be using.

So, yes, we remained doomed to keep recreating these features. Doomed, I say, DOOMED!!!

Gloria Metrick
GeoMetrick Enterprises

5 responses on “The Same Old, Same Old?

  1. Gloria, my observation about most all of the LIMS industry is that it is a bit behind the times and inbred. It is closed and is slow to change and are not industry leaders but industry followers. Innovation does not drive this group.

    The things you bring up are just an example symptom of the larger problem within our industry. I will use a few examples of companies that are doing it right. By the way, they are not in the LIMS industry (oh what a surprise).

    LIMS is an enterprise class piece of software. As such, the most successful enterprise software has a few common characteristics that are critically lacking in the LIMS industry.

    1.) They are open to anyone and everyone getting access to their software (even competitors). This does not mean they have to be open source. Many are closed, proprietary systems.

    2.) They have developed a thriving ecosystem that allows a community of users, developer, consultants, competitors and more to build add-ons to their products and to put those into an exchange to share and sell. In order to have a thriving ecosystem you have to be open as described in my first point

    There are nearly 300 LIMS / LIS / ELN vendors in the marketplace today. Can you identify 3 LIMS vendors or products that do the 2 items listed above?

    I have not found them and it certainly is not any of the major LIMS vendors.

    So given that I cannot provide any examples in our industry, I will have to go outside of our industry to give you examples of open companies with a huge ecosystem of add-ons from hundreds or thousands of individuals and companies. with their appexchange –

    Alfresco Enterprise Content Management System with their independent developer add-ons:

    DotNetNuke web content management system with their huge community of add-ons:

    One thing I will note at this point is that these examples are not small companies. They are quite substantial and the combined sales of these 3 companies are several times larger than the entire LIMS industry of 300 companies and the ecosystems that surround these companies are even bigger still.

    So all of this is not a new concept, it has been around for well over a decade but it is a stranger to the LIMS world, at least for now. Some LIMS companies will never change and feel no compelling reason to change (they say they are the leaders and actually believe it).

    That is fundamentally the reason those poor users that are on those LIMS products are DOOMED! as you say.

  2. First of all, I want to focus on your point about LIMS being “enterprise class” software. We spend much of our time avoiding the use of the word “enterprise” in the effort to distance ourselves from software for the enterprise, such as SAP. But we should note that “enterprise class” software means that it is suitable for rolling out across the enterprise and within its focus area. So, a standalone LIMS that works for a single user and cannot be expanded to handle 300 users in multiple sites would not be considered “enterprise class.” However, this phrase is an appropriate one and, to those who fear the word “enterprise” I would advise strongly that we just have to get past that.

    As for change,some of the vendors who are successful claim that they don’t need to change since they are so very successful. I would agree somewhat to the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” strategy but for the fact that it isn’t forward-looking.

    With regard to that, I would also say that I agree that our industry tends to be an industry of followers rather than leaders. I was speaking with another software vendor who loves to brag to me that they only do what their users ask for and ignore anyone else, including consultants such as myself. While I don’t think it’s a necessarily negative that they don’t listen to me, I will say that I think that the “we do only what others tell us” is a “follower” mentality. Often, customers will tell me they’d like to see more direction from us because, as they point out, they’re paying us quite a lot of money and expect us to be able to give more direction to them. With that said, that doesn’t mean I’m for “best practices” which I speak against more firmly in some of my past blogs posts and won’t get into, here.

    But as to your usage of as an example, I object. I’m not sure that’s not cheating a bit. They’re so well-known for being such a “killer app” and so entirely fantastic that, while they might be an ultimate goal to get to, they might not be at a level that any but an elite few can ever achieve. I’m just saying…

  3. The equation is simple. The more information users have about what a LIMS CAN do, the more they are likely to expect/demand it. That will of course drive the vendors to provide it if they want to compete successfully. The key is educating the users.

  4. I believe with social media and special networking efforts, some doors of communication between end users and developers have the chance to be opened. John’s reply concerning underdeveloped ecosystems is right on the money. Right now, there is no platform that I’m aware of which allows most of the ‘real’ end users to voice their ideas. I say ‘real’ end-users because the management with the responsibility of purchasing the LIMS/LIS products have not worked the bench in years. Ideas coming from the bench might go to a suggestion box conveniently located next to the shredder in many cases.

    How can the bench techs be heard in the LIMS/LIS ecosystem? Is Twitter a good platform? I am convinced that Facebook and Linked In are not because all anonymity is lost there. I have recently discovered and I think there might be some possibilities there, but have not had the time to investigate. Any suggestions?

  5. Keep in mind that “social media” doesn’t refer only to public tools such as LinkedIn, FaceBook and Twitter. More and more companies are buying and installing internal social media tools. Normally, those tools are integrated with a variety of other tools so that the tools can be used for a variety of purposes, both for individual projects as well as large efforts across the enterprise.

    Since one of the big issues for many employees is that they might be hesitant to share their thoughts in public, the internal tools help them keep their thoughts within their own company. But I’ll add that creating an internal platform for sharing these thoughts doesn’t entirely erase this fear.

    The real issue behind this type of software is that it’s still software. It still needs a plan in order to roll it out to everyone, which includes all the usual tasks you’d find on a project plan, including issues such as buy-in.

    But the bottom line on this goes back to the question of how to get the real end user to speak and that comes down to corporate culture more than anything else. Some companies don’t care to hear those people speak. Other companies say they want to hear from everyone but don’t really mean it. If the customer’s corporate culture doesn’t support openness and sharing of ideas at all levels,, then there will never really be a place to hear from all those people.

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