Up at 5AM: The 5AM Solutions Blog

Going Out on a LIMS (Again)

Posted on Thu, Oct 08, 2009 @ 12:53 PM

A commenter on my last blog entry, Of Life and LIMS, had a few follow up questions to my post. This was a pleasant surprise for a couple of reasons. First, this means my readership is about 100% more than I had previously estimated (no worries, Mom, you're still my favorite). Second, to answer the commenter requires a blog entry in itself - so no searching for appropriate subject matter this week. I'll leave the tutorial on posting cat videos to YouTube for another day.

Let me address one of the questions from the comment.

What would be your definition of the unmet need? Is it not describable because everyone either is or believe themselves to be so unique?

Let me remind folks that in the blog I was discussing the LIMS (laboratory information management system) needs of smaller, R&D labs and let me start with what is not their unmet need. Their unmet need is not a shrink-wrapped LIMS-in-a-box that, until this point, has remained elusive. I really don't think that software exists. Second, I don't believe that the unmet need is a scientist-friendly application that will be up and rolling after a simple install and a little configuration with an intuitive GUI. I've seen too many bench scientists struggle with just programming the instruments in their lab to think that having them set up a complex LIMS is a reasonable solution.

So what is the unmet need and is it describable? I think so. Although all LIMS are different, I believe that there are some common pieces that pretty much every LIMS needs, such as a database to record inventory, methods to control and record workflow and simple reporting and user input tools. A full LIMS will require more than just these core components, but having these pieces available in a framework would already get you well down the path of a functioning LIMS. Framework is the key word here, because that's where I think the unmet need is. Just as frameworks such as Ruby on Rails and Django have made a web developer's job much easier by setting up the core components found in many sites, I believe an open LIMS framework would greatly decrease both the time and complexity required to set up a LIMS. Having a framework will not make LIMS development tractable to bench scientists, but will easily bring it within the capabilities of a bioinformatician or engineer lacking a formal software engineering background. Finally, having an open framework is key for encouraging developers to share add-ons and instrument specific controllers and parsers that in turn will make the framework even better - the kind of positive feedback loop that takes a project from obscurity to adoption.

None of this is rocket science - in fact, a few efforts have been made before (e.g. The GnosisLIMS Project, Symphony, etc). To my knowledge, none of these have taken off, but I'm confident that eventually the right balance of architecture, functionality and marketing will be found. I only hope it comes before I have to deploy another LIMS myself.

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