Scimcon has worked with many lab-based clients throughout our 20 years in the industry, across a vast range of projects. Here we discuss the current challenges that labs are facing in 2020, and the work that needs to be done through digital transformation to ensure that labs in the future can streamline and manage their data.
The limitations of the current laboratory information systems landscape
Today’s labs are facing similar challenges as camera companies. Camera manufacturers such as Nikon and Canon are now faced with the challenge of selling to a new generation of budding photographers, most of whom by now have grown up with increasingly higher-quality smartphone cameras. As a result of having access to technology that is designed for ease of use, this generation of users find themselves progressively more frustrated with traditional technology and methods required to operate today’s ‘real’ cameras. Where smartphones can offer instant uploads to online services; amazing results that leverage computational photography; and synchronicity between multiple devices, traditional cameras appear complicated, difficult to control and impractical. Camera companies therefore face the challenge of building usability, such as that found in smartphone cameras into their existing products, otherwise they risk losing a whole demographic of potential customers.
The analogy is that modern labs are facing a similar problem. As new generations of scientists join laboratory settings, many are finding the lack of synchronicity and usability of information management systems increasingly frustrating. Why can’t we check instruments remotely whenever we want? Why can’t data be easily transferred between devices or colleagues? Why isn’t all this information seamless? Limitations such as these can be hugely time-consuming, as well as resulting in reduced productivity and security risks for data with minimal protection. Similar to the camera makers, we are risking losing the best new talent to other areas of science. Digital transformation addresses these challenges head on, with the proficiency to make your lab more intuitive and efficient.
What is digital transformation and how can it enhance your current lab setup?
Digital transformation involves the integration of new technology and methods into existing lab technology. Although this advancement in technology is a relatively new development within the laboratory setting, lab managers are quick to realise that digital transformation is essential in optimising workflows and productivity. In 2018, 70% of labs were reported to have a digital lab strategy in place or were working towards one1– a number that we can only expect to have significantly increased since then.
Significant effort has taken place in laboratories over the past two decades or more, which has delivered substantial benefits. This effort has been focused on the key lab workflows and the matching informatics systems such as CDS, LIMS, ELN, LES and SDMS, to mention a few. The next decade needs to build on this success to create a true digital laboratory.
Digital labs of the future: what can we expect?
Digital lab transformation is more than just implementing informatics systems, it involves taking these systems and pushing them a step further. For example, a lab could connect instruments bi-directionally to LIMS or ELN, but digital lab transformation would also facilitate online monitoring of instrument status, automatic ordering of consumables, reserving instrument time, auto-tracking utilisation and the use of telemetry data to predict faults before they happen.
A digital lab may also utilise a feature rich LIMS, ELN or LES that enables collation and review of all results for an experiment, but a digitally transformed lab would also be able to collate results across potentially several LIMS and ELNs throughout an organisation. This would allow the promotion of internal and external collaborations, enabling the ‘science later’ paradigm of cross team, cross technique and cross experiment data mining. This, in turn, will progress artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Overall, a digital transformation is more than just providing scientists with the means to spend more time on actual science. It provides the complete toolset of a lab wherever a scientist may be, whether that is in the lab itself, in an off-site office, in a café or even at the kitchen table.
At present, even top laboratories face problems with a lack of modernisation, and this is a problem that is slowly trickling down to smaller labs that are starting to face similar challenges. If we continue to drive forward with the help of innovative technology, we could expect to see many labs becoming more efficient, more supportive of science and more reliable than ever before.
However, to do this, it is up to laboratory leaders to have a clear vision of where they see their lab going. It is hard to transform any business by only doing little bits, so it is up to the higher levels of lab personnel to decide what steps to take to ensure that their labs are working at optimal capacity and potential. This is where Scimcon can help.
How can Scimcon help to revolutionise your lab?
Scimcon is proud to offer a range of digital lab services to assist in digitising a lab, many of which are outlined in our introductory blog. We are also able to help labs go that step further, with our collective wealth of experience in the lab, both as scientists and project leaders. Whether it is the development of the strategy, the running of the programme, or providing resources and leadership for your projects, Scimcon can help you understand what you want to achieve, and how to reach it.
To find out more about types of projects we support, and how we can help you to transform your lab, get in touch.
1 ‘Despite steady growth in digital transformation initiatives, companies face budget and buy-in challenges’, https://www.zdnet.com/article/survey-despite-steady-growth-in-digital-transformation-initiatives-companies-face-budget-and-buy-in/