LIMS configuration versus customization remains an issue after many years of products and implementations. Here, we will discuss the confusion behind these terms,. In addition, we will examine the decision-making process that goes on during implementations regarding these.
Decades of Confusion of LIMS Configuration vs Customization
For decades, we have had confusion about what “configuration” and “customization” mean. And, now, it’s decades that I’ve been trying to convince people not to even use those words.
Here’s the bottom line: after all this time, if these words are still being bandied about in a random and confusing manner, where each segment of our industry uses them in their own manner, then let’s just admit it’s not going to change. Then, we have two choices: either stop using them, entirely or make sure we define what we mean in every situation.
Every project should have a project dictionary. This is the place where terms are defined so that everyone on the project team understands what they mean. Some are internal acronyms and definitions that the software vendor and even some internal people might not know about. Others are coming from the software vendor’s side. These terms that are specific to the way they define their product and its manner of processing.
If we do this for the implementation project then we can do it as part of our RFP (Request For Proposal)/RFQ (Request for Quote) process. We’re putting together a document to send out to the vendor, anyway,. Adding our definitions to it to make sure everyone is on the same page won’t take much more time or space.
The Basic Process
Recently, I rebuilt the GeoMetrick Enterprises company web-site. I used the WordPress platform for this. The skills to do this translate on a high-level as it’s a bit like implementing a LabWare LIMS, of which we at GeoMetrick Enterprises are experts.
Here are the steps:
- Start with something basic.
- Depending what you’re doing, possibly pick a template.
- Look for modules/plug-ins to add for missing functionality.
And, of course, if what you’ve plugged together has issues, you have to “unbind” and figure out what it is that’s causing the problem. And, no, it’s not called “unbinding” in WordPress, but it’s the same thing.
The process looks simple when stated, this way, but we all know how complex it is. One thing most projects will do to keep the scope creep out of this is to set goals. Most of us are going to set this goal:
The goal of this project is to use modules/plugins as much as possible and write as little additional programming as is reasonable, which maximizing the top-ranked featured delivered.
Just as with any project for a customer, that was the same goal I set for my WordPress web-site project. Think of this – web-sites have many, many more tools available and are usually simpler projects than a big LIMS, ELN or LES project. You would think you’d be able to do everything you need without writing a line of code. That’s sort of true but a little more complicated than you might think.
In any case, I set my goal for my web-site to have no programming, this round, if remotely possible. And, for it’s first version, I met that goal. I got it implemented and it does all the basic things I need it to do. In addition, I accomplished it without writing one line of code. It wasn’t without great pain, but not programming. Let’s just be clear that “configuration” is still significant work.
Of course, just as in our LIMS, ELN or LES projects, this isn’t the end of the story. Even in my simplified web-site example, in my next iteration, to get the last few important features I need, I’m going to write some code.
Being able to deliver something that maximizes the benefit is based on having prioritized your needs. You have to have a clear understanding of what’s important and what you can’t live without in the first go-round. Notice that I didn’t suggest that you get everything you can’t live without into the first phase of the delivery. You should never deliver a project in one phase. The larger the projects, the more phases it will have.
In my case, and just as I do on customer projects, I clearly defined what I needed and fiddled with the plugins/modules until I maximized the benefits and features for my top items.
And, while “fiddled” seems like such a non-expert type of word, even when we’re experts in something like the LabWare system, where customers need a variety of combinations of features plugged-together, some of what us technical experts will do is to just try things together. We know what to try and what the issues we need to model will be, which is what makes us experts, but no-one actually knows how every combination will turn-out.
system, where customers need a variety of combinations of features plugged-together, some of what us technical experts will do is to just try things together. We know what to try and what the issues we need to model will be, which is what makes us experts, but no-one actually knows how every combination will turn-out.
LIMS Configuration Versus Customization
There are many similarities in the WordPress web-site example compared to the LIMS configuration versus customization. So, I give this web-site example as a way to think a little differently about the issues. When we think of a web-site, some of us are thinking purely of programming. Others are thinking they’ll get some template and just fill things in. But the truth of the matter is that it’s still an issue that there are combinations out there.
And, with that, think of it, this way. Tools such as WordPress make adding content (such as these blog posts), fairly easy. I do no programming, at all, when I’m adding these blog posts.
On the other hand, the creation and management of the layout is a different story. Just like with a LIMS, whether you see a carousel of topics on the web-site home page or whether it’s just a menu with a bunch of text – that is based somewhat on what tools you select and what options they have.
And, if you can imagine that some tools give you more options, you can imagine this is true, as well, of any LIMS, ELN or LES. So, imagine that you’re creating a web-site and tool you’ve selected doesn’t offer the layout you think you need. Do you pick a different tool? Do you write some code? These are basically the same questions we ask when we implement any system.
The Main Difference of LIMS Configuration vs Customization
However, the anology to LIMS configuration versus customization stops there. So, where our main difference really does come in is that, at the point you know exactly what gaps you have in a LIMS, ELN or LES project is usually not at a time when you could select a different product so easily. At that point, you’ve typically spent enough money and time on the project that you wouldn’t switch to another product.
And, in fact, in most projects, you probably saw enough gaps in other products that you would know that you wouldn’t want to switch – that you might end up with the same issues, regardless the product you’d selected.
So, this is where it is unlike my WordPress example In that, when I see a big gap I can just pick some other template. Then, it’s just my own time lost to whatever work I’d finished. That’s not the case when we’re working on larger systems. The rest of the analogy works from a high-level, though and hopefully gets you thinking about this in a different manner.
2 Thoughts to “LIMS Configuration Versus Customization: Still Confusing”
WordPress is an excellent example of the differences between the 2 concepts. WordPress accommodates both concepts and we regularly build custom plugins for WordPress that are then end user configurable with fill in the blank settings. The LIMS is exactly the same way. In the WordPress world, this discussion between the two concepts has become irrelevant because of the robust architecture. LIMS must become equally sophisticated to WordPress in its architecture so the discussion of config vs custom becomes moot. In the end, it boils down to speed of implementation, cost and quality. Splitting hairs on config vs customization risks losing the point about what is actually important.
I’m a bit on the fence about John’s point about WordPress being more robust than some of the LIMS. I’m not arguing the point, necessarily, just not convinced. After all, there are still odd things that happen in WordPress if you don’t take your latest updates and, if you don’t have time to check their effects, you don’t necessarily want to automatically just accept the latest update. With plusings/modules where there is less importance or fewer features, it’s usually pretty quick to try them out and roll-back, if you’ve set yourself up to roll-back. But the bigger plugins can be time-consuming to double-check. And I definitely have had things break upon accepting updates, even with trying to ensure I’m using plugins tested with the latest version and yada, yada, yada. So, similar to LIMS, it’s still not entirely clear-cut.
AND, if you do have a problem, especially if it’s one that shows up down the line, long after you’ve taken specific updates, is to start pulling them out and retesting, one-by-one. And, that’s exactly like using the LIMS that are of this same type of delivery model.
So, I see John’s point but I wouldn’t say that the discussion of writing code versus using pre-written plugins is trivial.
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