In these days where it seems that every feature is available in some of the LIMS, can LIMS (or ELN or LES) vendors compete with features?
Can LIMS Compete With Features, These Days
Somewhere, I recently read something someone wrote about how LIMS can no longer compete with features. I don’t think that’s actually true and I have several reasons for thinking that.
More Features Coming
There are always more features coming that customers want. Let’s consider a few special topics, such as genomics, biobanking and veterinary systems. Even though these aren’t new needs for our industry, they’re still not as fully-served as many other sectors of the LIMS, ELN and LES industry.
For the largest systems, where customers think they can use these systems for every need, these systems don’t necessarily have complete solutions for these industries. Look at systems such as LabWare or LabVantage, for example. Even though they might have solutions that fit into the industries I’ve just mentioned, they typically have big gaps in features.
Now, let’s consider some of the more specific software to apply to these industries. Even with these, many of them have large functionality gaps, as well.
My point is merely that there’s still room for competition with features among these software products.
Let’s suppose that a software vendor has specific features that meet a customer’s needs. Even then, the gaps are often in the delivery of the solution.
For example, even though we see many “QC Pharma” solutions out on the market, there is no customer who takes these solutions as they are. Every customer ends up with modifications even though we think of QC Pharma as a fairly mature solution set.
One reason for this is that some of the solutions are heavily code-based and changing them isn’t a matter of changing some dropdowns and clicking some radio buttons. Instead, the bulk of the changes require actual programming work.
Another reason is that these solutions might be aimed at the “average” customer but that customer doesn’t exist any more than the average person actually exists.
Top all this off with the fact that many customers have a wide variety of needs. Some customers need the QC Pharma features PLUS if they’re a contract lab, they probably need the contract lab features. Now, we’ve started to narrow the field greatly among how many product choices have both.
In addition, just because a software vendor has all the features, it doesn’t mean they’ll have the shortest implementation time. If each feature requires a great deal of programming, then it can quickly outweigh the fact that all the features are actually present.
LIMS Doing Other Things
All our software seems to have more features than we thought they should have. LIMS have ELN features. ELNs have LIMS features. All of them have features we wouldn’t even consider as “true” LIMS or ELN features.
As such, some systems compete based on the fact that it’s easier to add more of the additional features. They provide more options to do one of these, based on the process and technical needs:
- Build the new feature within the LIMS, ELN or LES.
- Build the new feature outside the LIMS, ELN or LES.
- Link with another system that provides those features.
An Example: Resource Planning and Scheduling
Years ago, I mentioned getting involved with a system called BINOCS, which does resource planning and scheduling. At the time, it was heavily integrating with the LabWare LIMS. In speaking with some of my own customers about the BINOCS software, it happens that LabWare was announcing their new schedule module, at the time. Many customers felt they would use what they’d already paid-for, which was the module that LabWare would release.
That’s a valid initial thought, by the way. If you’re scheduling and planning only for your own labs, using something provided by your software vendor that’s included in your annual maintenance costs is a good start. With that, though, there’s a LOT of programming and configuration that goes along with it. It’s still not trivial.
But let’s consider those companies that want an integrated solution that would plan whether the labs have the capacity to accept the samples from an increased production schedule. The modules that are included with a LIMS, ELN or LES aren’t probably going to work.
Then, customers are looking for software that specializes in handling the entire “big picture” and that comes from specialized software such as BINOCS. And, of course, none of this is trivial, either, as something like the BINOCS software has to have the right type of access and interfaces to do all this. But the advantage is that the features it provides are specific to doing this type of work – work that a LIMS, ELN or LES aren’t primarily meant to do.
Note: I’ve speaking here of the BINOCS software as it was some years ago. Since then, it now integrates with other brands. In addition, in 2019 won an award from Garner relating to the “Lab of the Future.”
My point in all this is that there are still features that will be added to LIMS, ELN or LES software. It’s either because it’s for a still-undeserved industry or because it seems to fit. It doesn’t mean that feature belongs in this type of software.
In addition, just because a feature exist doesn’t mean it will be easy to implement nor feature-rich.
4 Thoughts to “Can LIMS Compete With Features?”
I think a Laboratory Informatics Platform is the answer to the constant evolving needs conundrum. The lab market is dynamic, competitive and basically constantly changing in certain industries like healthcare and life science research. This leads to a lot of new platform startups like Benchling that has raised 30+ million in VC funding in their round C. So what is a platform? There is a pretty nice article in Forbes on this topic: https://www.forbes.com/sites/adrianbridgwater/2015/03/17/whats-the-difference-between-a-software-product-and-a-platform/#1c5fd9c856a6
Labware and Labvantage are monolithic LIMS products that do not have any sort of real ecosystem of plugins, apps or add-ons . WordPress on the other hand is a Content Management System Platform that has an absolutely enormous ecosystem of add-ons that allow you to build essentially most anything. Salesforce is another example of a platform but is a sales and marketing app focused platform. Odoo is an example of an ERP/Business App platform with a very large ecosystem of add-ons as well. BTW, there is a LIMS offering built on the Salesforce platform and a LIMS built on the Odoo platform. That just shows how flexible a platform approach is.
I have seen nothing that even remotely compares to these platforms in the lab informatics world but then our industry is traditionally very, very slow to change. I think the vendors in the LI world will eventually get there but it may take another 10 years for them to latch on to the idea. It took Starlims until 2008 to catch on to a browser based LIMS and then they acted as if they had invented it. The same thing will happen with the platform approach. A platform approach will give tons of opportunities to a diverse group of developers and the solutions will no longer be vendor centric but will be centered around a diverse ecosystem that delivers very lab specific solutions.
One other example of a platform that we can all relate to for the holidays is Amazon. Amazon is a platform that has 1000’s of vendors that sell their products through Amazon and they are one of the worlds largest ecosystems made up on 1000’s of small businesses built entirely around the platform and we all know how successful that Amazon platform is. There are challenges because of the ecosystem size but I doubt Lab Informatics will have those scale problems.
In a way, though, the way the LabWare LIMS modules come out actually makes it easier for me to administer my WordPress. Whether it’s a WordPress plugin or a LabWare module, the act of adding it is about the same. You add it, test it, and if you run into bugs, you start pulling them out, one-by-one, in order to figure out where the issue comes from.
This is just one example but there are some similarities with regard to the way we work with these.
But, overall, I do see your point.
There is a major difference between a true platform like WordPress and a monolithic app like labware… WordPress has an ecosystem of add-ons from literally thousands of developers and consultants independent of the company that develops and maintains wordpress and there is a huge independent community around wordpress. What has labware got? Less than 10 companies building add-ons for labware, if that? Size of an ecosystem does make a big difference but you have to have one in order to really be considered a platform. At best, Labware has an ecosystem of consultants and staffing agencies to provide services implementing labware. That does count and is very important but let’s hope that all LI vendors see the value in providing an open platform that allows for an approach like WordPress.
I just want to make it clear to anyone reading that I’m not suggesting LabWWare’s software is a “platform” but merely trying to illustrate that there are like skills LabWare folks can use with WordPress that would help them add that to their personal toolkit.
Comments are closed.