Trends in the lab informatics landscape in 2023?

With our sponsorship of SmartLab Exchange Europe and US earlier in 2023, and our sponsorship of FutureLabs this week, we’ve developed a view of key insights on what is happening across the lab informatics industry, and where priorities lie for lab-centred organisations globally. We have also provided insight into the areas budget-holders are looking to invest in new technologies.

Investment priorities for the modern lab

Attending conferences globally means that our team can provide key insight to share with fellow informatics peers. Face-to-face interactions provide an opportunity to receive instant feedback and insight into lab informatics trends, which we can extract valuable data from.

Having spoken to delegates in North America and Europe this year already, we have identified some of the high priority investment areas for lab informatics in 2023 by comparing what is important to event attendees, who include representatives from leading pharma, biotech, material science, crop science, FMCG, and food companies. Of the global companies who attended, more than 120 people were polled:

Figure 1 represents the data from both SmartLab Exchange Europe and US, to give an overall view of lab informatics priorities across the entirety of 2023 thus far:

The graph also demonstrates other key lab informatics investment priorities (from the EU and US summits), and these include:

We can see a real trend towards intelligent systems this year, as data consolidation and reusability take centre stage and budget-holders looks towards automation, both physical and within software systems, to reduce the risks of human and manual errors. This isn’t a trend that’s isolated to a particular lab sector either – we’re seeing similar trends across all sectors.

What other areas of lab informatics innovation are taking centre stage?

Extracting feedback from delegates at conferences in all geographies means we can identify patterns in the data in order of priority. While Figure 1 highlights high priority investment areas, Figure 2 shows exactly what delegates at SmartLab Exchange Europe and US are planning to assign budget to in the next 12 months:

From Figure 2, we can see that immediate investment priorities for SmartLab Exchange Europe and US attendees are as follows:

What does this mean for lab informatics in 2023?

From both events in both geographies, we can see that automation and digitalisation rank highly in terms of investment priorities for 2023. Laboratories are technologically innovating to suit growing capacity and speed to market. Automation also substantially reduces the risk of human error, as repetitive and manual tasks can be carried out with ease using automated solutions.

We also learn that lab users are prioritising areas such as lab scheduling, method development, data governance, connectivity, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML). As throughput expectations increase for labs around the world, the need to digitalise and streamline operations is more prevalent than ever. The aim of many laboratories is to increase efficiency within the lab, and digitalisation acts as a catalyst in this process.

You can find our team between Wednesday 31st May – Friday 2nd June at FutureLabs Live, where we’ll be developing more lab informatics insights from fellow sponsors and guests. Stay up to date with our LinkedIn, to be notified of other tradeshows Scimcon is attending this year.

Visit Scimcon at the event and contact us directly to book a conversation, to learn more about how we can support your lab informatics projects.

Meet Scimcon: Lynda Weller?

Profile

How long have you been involved with Scimcon, and what does your role involve?

My journey with Scimcon began in 2021, as an Informatics Project Manager. I was approached by Scimcon’s recruitment consultant regarding a must-see role for the business. This arrived at what felt like an inopportune time for me, as I was relocating to Cornwall with my family.

After completing several interviews and meetings, I secured the project management position. My first project at Scimcon was managing a laboratory information management systems (LIMS) deployment to the UK government Lighthouse Covid-testing laboratories for a major life science instrumentation vendor.

The Lighthouse LIMS project lasted for around a year. The Scimcon Co-Founder, Geoff Parker, then presented another project opportunity to me, which began around a month later, in May 2022. My role involved providing Information Systems project management, business analysis, as well as client engagement and consultancy to a major biotech based in the Netherlands.

What do you enjoy the most about working at Scimcon?

I enjoy the continuity that Scimcon offers. I like to work on longer assignments and, although I work remotely, being part of a team of like-minded people is a refreshing bonus. In my previous roles, I have worked independently at different locations with no company support. At Scimcon I’ve been able to form lasting work relationships.

The current project I’m working on is scheduled to be completed next year (2024), we have carried out the work in phases to ensure that each aspect of the client brief is being met. Working from my home office with visits to the client’s site as required means that I can work flexibly, and I am supported by the Scimcon team of experts who can be contacted when I need some extra help.

Tell us more about your background, and what lead you up to this point in your career.

My background is in software and programming, working with life science organisations to roll out informatics projects and IT services. Prior to working with Scimcon, I had been an independent contractor since 2009, helping an array of companies to meet their software goals. My first contract was with Johnson & Johnson, which took around twelve months to complete. It was very structured; the client already knew what documentation and training consultancy they required. I then moved on to Takeda, which progressed from a three-month initial contract to a longer contract, and eventually for a couple of years as a permanent employee. My time with the company came to an end as they closed the offices I was employed in.

How has remote working impacted your role and how you deliver it?

Remote working is something that has benefitted my new lifestyle in Cornwall. Home-office working has become much more acceptable – especially now we have the appropriate technology at our fingertips to ensure that work is carried out efficiently without sacrificing the personal touch. I visit the client’s site at regular intervals, as needs arise, and it makes a refreshing change to meet the remote team face-to-face.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

We moved to Cornwall to be closer to our family and we spend a lot more time with them enjoying the fantastic area we now call home.

Our house was a couple of miners’ cottages and dates back to the 19th century. It has been renovated previously but we have continued with them and now turn our attention to the garden.

My husband and I love motorcycle touring. You could say we took our gap year later in life, touring Europe, the United States and many other destinations. We also take part in long distance rallies which has enabled us to travel to some of the most scenic places of the world, capturing authentic photography along the way. I ride pillion and to help us remember our adventures we document them on our website.

I love to read on my kindle, my favourite genre is fantasy and I enjoy reading personal stories such as biographies (motorcyclists, pop stars, even the rogue Ronnie Biggs). I went to see Miriam Margolyes in her Dickens women’s production, and she set me the challenge of reading the entire Dickens collection. It took me a year but I succeeded, though it’s something I wouldn’t want to do again!

What is your favourite travel destination?

My favourite travel destination is New Zealand. During our ‘gap year’ we went with one of our friends, hired motorbikes and just rode round, booking accommodation as we went. We had fantastic weather (which I understand might be unusual!) and really enjoyed riding in the beautiful scenery.

Scimcon as a business is deeply rooted in technology – but how technology-oriented are you? What devices do you use?

Ironically, I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly tech-oriented person. I am one of those people that needs to do something three or four times, then it sticks. I can pick things up when it comes to software, as I started my career as a programmer. I use my PC and headset for daily work duties. My phone also stays with me for mundane activities.

Does your use of technology differ outside of work?

I have a lot of technology throughout my home, including a large television with surround-sound speakers, an Xbox, Firestick, a Shield, and numerous Sonos speakers around the house. The best part is that we have a universal remote control for all our TV devices. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop me from clicking the wrong button now and then, especially where it’s a touch screen.

Nonetheless, I do love tech. I use a kindle to read, which goes everywhere with me. As soon as the pre-Kindle e-readers came out we started using them on our bike tours – imagine trying to fit 30-40 books in the panniers! I love that I can read in bed without a light and have the text as big or small as I like.

Working alongside Scimcon has enabled me to implement my skills and industry experience, to provide the highest quality information systems (IS) consultancy for our clients and customers. My longstanding relationship with Scimcon is one that I am proud of, pioneering the way to make science more connected.

For more company news and updates, follow Scimcon on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/scimcon/

How to choose the right informatics consultant for your organisation?

With 20 years’ experience in the Biotech and Life Sciences industry, Micah Rimer’s success has been primarily due to his ability to read organisations, frame the problems and identify the best path to bring people together to achieve the desired goals. During Micah’s time working in Biotech and at big pharma he has successfully deployed consultancy groups within lab informatics and clinical projects.

Scimcon has supported Micah and his teams extensively on high profile projects in big pharma and Biotech. In this blog, Micah draws on his valuable experience to provide insight and tips on how to best to engage and work with consultancy groups.


Deciding on the right Informatics Consultant for your pharma or Biotech company is not a simple task, despite the various vendors available. Informatics in the Life Sciences industry covers a wide scope, so it is unlikely you will find an appropriate consultant through Google’s search algorithms. To find the best fit, you should consider what the key priorities are for your engagement, find a partner that you can trust and work well with and one that can bring a unique perspective to your collaboration.

Identifying the right Informatics Consultant for you

Starting out with the key skills and contributions that are needed, as in any selection process, is the first step in identifying the right Informatics Consultant.

While technology is constantly advancing, I would encourage you to think hard if the tech skills are really the most important aspect for a successful collaboration. From my experience, while an understanding of the underlying technology and what it is capable of is important (be that LIMS, ELN, eCOA, eDiaries, PV software etc), what is of more importance is someone who can both communicate and partner with the organisation. A successful computerised system consists not just of the software, but also the people that will use it and the processes they will follow. All of those components must be balanced for a successful implementation, so while the technology piece may feel like the most obvious area to address, do not underestimate the work with the people and processes.

For example, there was a point in my career where I was asked to implement a Pharmacovigilance (PV) signal detection system for an organisation I was employed by. This had been a critical gap in the organisation for a long period of time, and there were several options on how to proceed, but no easily defined right answer. We could look to either evaluate and buy something off the shelf, hire a company to build a custom-designed tool, or alternately we could try to finalise a prototype that a programmer in the department had been playing around with for a while. (His tool had nice features, but still some technical gaps and no clear path forward to make it robust enough to use in such a highly regulated environment). In looking for external help, some may have favoured looking to recruit Informatics Consultants with a background in Pharmacovigilance, or perhaps with the technology skills to leverage the drug safety system platform. But in choosing Scimcon, I went with the partner I trusted to help evaluate the options and lead a successful implementation in that particular organisation. A fantastic off-the-shelf tool would never have been a success if people did not want to use it because they preferred the home grown highly customized (but invalidated) prototype.

What can an informatics consultancy bring to the table?

With Scimcon on board, we were able to evaluate the pharma and drug safety landscape and determined that there could be a good path forward with the prototype that had already been developed. We were able to establish an effective team, drawing upon the Pharmacovigilance expertise in the department to address business process and usage questions. The programmer who built the prototype had the vision for how the software should work and what needed to be done from a technical perspective. Scimcon was able provide the knowledge and experience of how to move a prototype to a production system and validate a custom-defined tool that had been built by a programmer who does not have expertise in documentation. The output was widely recognised as a huge success.

It is important to keep in mind what gaps you are trying to close and what capabilities are needed to fill them: – Maybe you need the knowhow to get a project completed in a challenging environment; the technical skills to do the programming; the expertise with documentation; or you need to access people who have exceptional attention to detail to make sure a system is appropriately qualified and works as intended.

Whatever your challenge, you should ensure that the skillsets available from your informatics consultancy match the challenges you are facing.

How to evaluate informatics consultancy candidates

As with many relationships, the more time you work together, the more trust you build up. This just proves that the importance of having established relationships and ways of working cannot be understated. No one is perfect, but the devil you know may indeed be a better fit than someone new to you. Always think about building up relationships for the future; it is a small world.

Dealing with adversity


With this in mind, when looking for life science Informatics Consultants to partner with, one key consideration is to determine how they will be able to deal with adversity. What are they prepared to do if they see that a project is starting to go sideways? When speaking with them, ask them about projects that did not go according to plan or did not work out, and how did they manage that situation? What did they learn from that? Do they do anything differently from those lessons learned? Consultants, and Informatics Consultants especially, have all been thrown into projects where the requirements and expectations were not appropriately set in the beginning, which lead to problems later. Good consultants always learn from these situations and avoid repeating the mistakes that led them down that path.

The quality of their questions

Another key consideration for the interviewing and recruitment process is the quality of the questions the consultants ask and how well they listen.

Before you speak with them, think about what questions you would ask if you were in their shoes, and not having access to all the internal information you have: – Do they ask the right questions? Maybe they ask some questions you had not thought of? And how well are they able to play back what you have told them? 

Often sales or account managers are very focused on telling you how easy it is for their teams to deliver, and how they will be able to deliver no matter what restrictions and conditions you add into the situation. Are there any conditions of the setup that would prevent the consultants from accepting the assignment? If there is nothing you can state that would cause them to be concerned, then maybe they are too good to be true! Look for their understanding that implementing systems is not usually a walk in the park. A truthful consultant is extraordinarily valuable.

Hands-on experience

Of course, it is always good to check the references as well. Does the life science informatics consultant have customers that have worked with them over a long period of time at different companies?

Bringing in consultants is typically not so easy, so numerous long-term engagements at different stops can itself also be a sign of delivering quality.

You should also look for feedback on the work the consultants delivered. There is a huge business out there for the larger agencies which spend time and resources selling at the executive level, but then use more junior resources to do the work.  Having senior people presenting and being able to provide a concise message is important, but by and large you typically want to find people who are getting the work done. You must never lose sight of the goals to deliver projects on time and the overall drive for results.

Consider all of these aspects and listen to your instincts. Typically, these are not small or unimportant investments in the first place. Taking time to ensure you have the right fit is important. At the end of the day, you need to feel comfortable and confident that the people you choose can be counted on to deliver for you. 

The most valuable skills to look out for

To me, one of the most valuable skills I look for with Informatics Consultants is the ability to bring a unique perspective. In a management training course I once took, the advisor summed it up this way: “Look, you are all smart people. If you come to a situation where you do not see a solution, it is probably because there is not just one solution. When you arrive at a situation like that you will have to find some way to balance and continually adjust, as there is likely no one right answer.” When I am bringing people in to support me on projects, I am looking for that ability to connect the dots and leverage previous experiences to help find the best solution.

One of the valuable parts of working as a consultant is that you get to see a variety of companies, all with different setups. While some people find that lifestyle stressful or challenging, there is an inherent value in being exposed to so many alternative organisational environments. If you can synthesize new information and learn rapidly, all these experiences add up to quite some knowledge. The more you can see things repeated with modified parameters, the easier you can find what works and what does not work, which is why we look to simulations to find some solutions. Informatics Consultants that have worked in different Biotech and big pharma settings with a wide exposure to different projects can help bring that knowledge to your organisation.

Finding consultants who have worked in various parts of life sciences or in other fields can also help to provide a more well-rounded view.  At times, that enables seeing solutions in places you might not expect. They can also recognise patterns in the organisation you may be too close to see. The combination of being able to share these insights, as well having seen so many challenges and varying situations, can allow consultants to provide services to you that you simply are not able to manage internally.

Final thoughts

Finding the right Informatics Consultant for your life sciences organisation is not an easy task; you need to make sure that you are bringing in the right skillset to match your situation.

The priority is to find people you can trust and who you feel confident can work in your environment. While the technology of course plays a role, do not overstate the importance of it and dismiss the (not insignificant) people and the processes aspect to our work. The system in itself will not be considered successful if people are not comfortably using it. Look for companies that can adjust to your needs and find solutions to your challenges as the landscape continues to change. In the end, that is what counts, finding a way to get the job done.

Scimcon is proud to offer its consultancy services to Biotech and big pharma companies around the world. To find out how we can help you achieve success in your implementation project, contact us.

The role of AI and ML in the future of lab informatics?

A few months ago I read an article on bioprocess 4.0, which discusses how combining AI and ML with extensive sensor data collected during biopharmaceutical manufacturing could deliver constant real-time adjustments, promising better process consistency, quality and safety.

This led to a discussion with some of my colleagues about what the future of Lab Informatics could look like when vendors start to integrate AI and ML into products such as lab information management systems (LIMS), electronic lab notebooks (ELN) and others.

What is AI and ML?

AI:  In simple terms, AI (artificial intelligence) makes decisions or suggestions based on datasets with the ultimate aim of creating truly instinctive system interfaces, that appear like you are interacting with a person.

ML: ML (machine learning) is one of the methods used to create and analyse the datasets used by AI and other system modules. Crucially machine learning does not rely on a programmer to specify the equations used to analyse data. ML looks for patterns and can ‘learn’ how to process data by examining data sets and expected outcomes.

How does ML work?

The following example is extremely simple, but it helps to illustrate the basic principles of ML. The traditional approach to adding two values together is to include the exact way the data should be treated within the system’s configuration.

Graphical user interface, text, application
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By using ML, the system is given examples, from which it learns how the data should be processed.

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Once the system has seen enough datasets, the ML learning functions learn that A & B should be added together to give the result. The key advantage of ML is its powerful flexibility. If we feed our example system with new datasets, the same configuration could be used to subtract, multiply, divide or calculate sequences all without the need for specific equations.

Where can we see examples of how ML and AI are used in everyday life?

Possibly without realising it, we already see ML in everyday life. When you open Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Apple TV+ the recommended selections you are presented with are derived using ML. The systems learn the types of content each of us enjoy by interpreting our previous behaviour.

Most of us also have experience of personal assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri. These systems are excellent examples of AI using natural speech to both understand our instructions and then communicate answers, or results of actions. ML not only powers the understanding of language but also provides many of the answers to our questions.

The fact that we all can recognise such an effective and powerful everyday example shows just how far AI and ML have come since their inception in the 1950s.

How will AI and ML affect the day-to-day operations of the lab?

Voice recognition software has been available for decades; however, it has not made large inroads into the lab. It has been used in areas where extensive notes are taken, areas such as pathology labs or for ELN experiment write ups. These are the obvious ‘big win’ areas because of the volume of text that is traditionally typed, the narrow scope of AI functionality needed, and the limited need to interface to other systems.

However, companies such as LabTwin and LabVoice are pushing us to consider the widespread use of not just voice recognition, but natural language voice commands across the lab. Logging samples into LIMS, for example, is generally a manual entry, with the exception of barcode scanners and pre-created sample templates, where possible. Commands such as “log sample type plasma, seals intact, volume sufficient, from clinic XYZ” is much simpler than typing and selecting from drop downs. Other functions such as “List CofAs due for approval”, “Show me this morning’s Mass Spec run” would streamline the process of finding the information you need.

Opportunities to take advantage of AI and ML within lab systems.

Take stability studies where samples are stored in various conditions (such as temperature, humidity, and UV light) for several years and ‘pulled’ for analysis at various set points throughout the study.

The samples are analysed for decomposition across a matrix of conditions, time points and potentially product formulations or packaging types. Statistics are produced for each time point and used to predict shelf life using traditional statistics and graphs.

Stability studies are expensive to run and can take several years to reach final conclusions.

AI and ML could, with access to historical data, begin to be used to limit the size of studies so they can focus on a ‘sweet spot’ of critical study attributes.    Ultimately, this could dramatically reduce study length by detecting issues earlier and predicting when failure will occur.

Moving on to lab instrumentation

Instrument downtime, particularly unscheduled, is a significant cost to laboratories. Using ML to review each new run, comparing it with previous runs and correlating with system failures, could predict the need for preventative maintenance.

AI/ML interventions such as these could significantly reduce the cost of downtime. This type of functionality could be built into the instruments themselves, systems such as LIMS, ELN, Scientific Data Management Systems (SDMS) or instrument control software. If this was combined with instrument telemetry data such as oven temperature, pump pressure or detector sensitivity we have the potential to eliminate most unplanned maintenance.  

Another major concern with instrumentation in labs today is scheduling and utilisation rates. It is not uncommon for instruments to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros, and getting the highest utilisation rates without obstructing critical lab workflows is a key objective for labs. However, going beyond the use of instrument booking systems and rudimentary task planning is difficult. Although it is not hard to imagine AI and ML monitoring systems such as LIMS and ELN, there is far more that can be done to ensure this functionality can go even further. Tasks such as predicting workload; referring to previous instrument run times; calculating sample / test priority; and even checking for scientist’s free diary slots are all tasks that can be optimised to improve the scheduling of day-to-day laboratory work. The resulting optimisation would not only reduce costs and speed up workflows, but would dramatically reduce scientists’ frustration in finding available instruments.

Data integrity

Over the last few years, there has been a massive focus on data integrity within regulated labs. However, many of the control mechanisms that are put in place to improve integrity or mitigate issues are not real-time. For instance, audit trail review is often done monthly at best, and generally quarterly. Not only is it tedious, it is all too easy to miss discrepancies when reviewing line upon line of system changes.

ML could be used to monitor the audit trails of informatics systems and instrument systems in real-time and AI could report any out of the ordinary actions or result trends that do not ‘look’ normal to managers. Where appropriate, the system could interact with the corporate training platform and assign specific data integrity training to applicable teams. The potential increase in integrity of data while reducing the headcount needed to do so could be significant.

Final Thoughts

Lab directors, IT professional and the Lab Informatics industry are quite rightly focusing on the digital lab and digital lab transformations. Done right, this will form and excellent platform for the next level of informatics development using AI and ML to propel not just digital science forward, but to revolutionise the everyday life of scientists. Personally, I cannot wait!

To find out more about how Scimcon can support your informatics project, contact us today.

How to work effectively with informatics consultants in life sciences?

As a leader in a pharmaceutical or life sciences organisation, getting the most out of your team and resources is always a top priority. After making the decision to proceed with a critical investment in consulting services, there may even be more pressure to find the optimal use of these time-limited external resources. So, how can you make sure you are using these resources to their full potential? In this blog, our industry expert Micah Rimer will show you how.

During Micah’s 20 years’ working at big pharma & vaccines corporations, including Bayer, Chiron, Novartis and GSK, he has successfully deployed consultancy groups within lab informatics and clinical projects. Micah has worked with Scimcon to support his teams on high profile critical projects

Frame the problem – what does your implementation project need to achieve?

As with any business situation, it is important that there is a common goal that everyone is aligned around.

It is essential that you do not waste valuable time revisiting the same conversations. Ask yourself: “Is it obvious what problem we are trying to solve?” Often, issues can arise when people are arguing about implementing a solution, whilst losing sight of the challenge at hand. 

Take the example of Remote Clinical Monitoring: You might decide that it would be beneficial to have your Clinical Research Associates (CRAs) track and monitor the progress of a clinical study without traveling to clinical sites. That sounds like it could be very promising, but what is the problem that needs to be solved?

Without clear goals on what you want to accomplish with Remote Clinical Monitoring, it will be difficult to declare an implementation a success. In addition, if you and your organisation do not know what you are trying to achieve with a particular technical solution, it will be impossible to give your informatics consultants a clear set of deliverables.

So, first things first, agree on the problem statement!

One of the first times I hired Scimcon to support me with an informatics project, I had recently joined a pharma company and found myself in the middle of conflicting department objectives, with what seemed to be no clear path out of the mess I had inherited. The organisation had purchased an expensive new software system that had already become a failed implementation. After spending a year continuously configuring and programming it, it was no closer to meeting the business needs than when the project had started. There were two loud criticisms to address on that point:

This also highlighted a far wider range of issues, such as some people who felt their skills were not being properly utilised while problems went unsolved, and that the bioinformatics department might not have the right goals to begin with.

To solve this challenge, we sat down with Scimcon to identify all the different problems associated with the inherited project, and to clarify what we needed to do to turn it into a success. In taking time to review the situation and without too much effort, we were able to come up with four key areas to address: 

  1. Understand how bioinformatics/ IT priorities should map to the organisation’s priorities – before we spent any more time and money, what did the organisation actually need?
  2. Solve the bioinformatics problem that the software had been purchased for (assuming that was indeed a verified need).  
  3. Determine how roles and work could be shifted and changed so that we were utilising the talents and the resources in the department.
  4. If possible, put the purchased software to use! 

With the help of Scimcon, we were able to define these problems and then focus on finding answers to each of the questions. In the end it turned out to be one of our most successful engagements together, award winning even. By just asking senior management what their biggest challenge was, we found their overriding priority was to have an overview of all the R&D projects going on. And while the new software was not particularly well suited for solving the bioinformatics problem that it had been acquired for, it could easily be used to map out the R&D process for portfolio tracking. Then, we turned our attention to the bioinformatics problem, which was easily solved by a bit of custom code from one of the bioinformatics programmers who felt that previously his skills were not being properly utilised.

Once we knew where we were, and where we wanted to get to, all we had to do was get there one challenge at a time.

Manage internal expectations – how will the informatics consultants work with your clincial/analytical teams?

Once you have identified and agreed on the problem that you want to solve, the next step is making sure the organisation is ready to work with your consultants. As with all relationships, business or otherwise, a crucial step is to make sure that everyone has the same expectations, and that all the relevant stakeholders are on the same page.

People have many different perspectives on why consultants are brought in.

As there can be so many different roles and perspectives on the use of consultants, you need to make sure that you address all the different stakeholder perspectives. It is important to establish a positive situation, as you want the consultants to be able to work with your teams without unnecessary tension.

When I was just starting out with my first LIMS implementation (Laboratory Information Management System), I remember being impressed that you could hire someone who had the specific experience and expertise to guide you on something they had done before but that was new to you. I wondered, “why was that not done all the time? Why do so many implementation projects fail when you can bring people in who had solved that particular problem before?” When I asked Russell Hall, a consultant at Scimcon for us on that first project, he said that not everyone is comfortable admitting they need help. As my career has progressed, I have come to value that feedback more and more. There are many people who are highly competent and effective in their jobs, but are not comfortable with the appearance that they are not sufficient on their own. It is always important to manage for those situations, rather than assuming that everyone will welcome external help.

Lastly, it is also critical to manage expectations, regarding the use of consultants. Your boss may need to defend the budget, or be prepared to stand behind recommendations or conclusions that are delivered from people outside of the organisation. It should also be considered that management might not readily accept something that might seem obvious to employees working at a different level. By liaising with senior leaders from the outset, you can make sure both parties are aligned how the consultants will interact with people in the company, and what their role will be. This is important both to achieve what you want internally and also to make sure the consultants have a proper expectation of how their efforts will be utilised. 

Communicate and adjust – how is your information managed between your team and consultants?

While it can be very tempting to feel that you can leave the majority of the project to the experts, the reality is things rarely go as smoothly as planned. As the life science business and information management have advanced over the last few decades, the amount of complexity and details has grown tremendously. It is more and more difficult for a single person to maintain an overview of all the relevant facts. The only way to be successful is to communicate and make sure that the right people have the right information at the right time. Your consultants are no different. 

Many organisations have challenges in terms of taking decisions and communicating them effectively. For your consultants who do not typically have all the same access and networks in the organisation that internal staff do, it is imperative that you make sure they are kept up to date. You want to avoid them spending valuable time on focusing on areas and deliverables that have shifted to being less important. Finding ways to keep consultants informed on all the latest developments is absolutely necessary for them to be able to deliver successfully. Figure out what makes sense by considering the organisation culture and the consulting engagement setup. Whether it is by use of frequent check-ins or online collaboration, be prepared to put in additional efforts to make sure that the information gets to where it needs to go.

As well as good communication, organisations have to be able to adjust as needed. Occasionally everything does work out according to plan, but that is more the exception than the rule when it comes to complex life science informatics projects. While timelines and commitments are critical, it is important to view any project as a collaboration. There will be unexpected software issues. There will be unplanned organisational changes and problems. People get sick, life happens. By having open and continuous dialogue, you can be best prepared to make the adjustments needed to find solutions together to unexpected problems.

Ensuring success in your informatics projects

Consultants can be hugely valuable to you and your organisation.

But you have to setup the right conditions for everything to work out well.

  1. Know what the problem you are trying to solve is, and make sure you have as much alignment around the problem statement as possible.  
  2. Make sure the organisation is ready for the collaboration by ensuring that your team and management know what to expect out of the engagement, and that your consultants similarly know the scope and what their mission is.
  3. Lastly, you need to keep in constant communication and make sure that you are ready to work together to adjust to the inevitable bumps that will come up on the road.

Working together, you can get to where you need to go.

If you’re interested in working with Scimcon on your upcoming informatics project, contact us today for a no-commitment chat about how we can help you succeed.

Meet Scimcon: Geoff Parker?

Profile

  • Name: Geoff Parker
  • Job title: Co-Founder of Scimcon
  • Pets: A Chocolate Labrador, who eats enough for 10
  • Favourite animal: Red squirrel
  • Favourite food: Sushi
  • Favourite film: Forbidden Planet
  • Fun fact: I played Angel Gabriel in the school nativity.

What do you enjoy the most about working at Scimcon?

That’s an easy question, I love the constantly changing challenges that informatics consultancy throws up and helping customers and our own internal teams to creatively meet those challenges.

We help customers in pharma, biopharma, and clinical trials to identify and evaluate the goals and challenges ahead and use this to influence information system strategies. We assist with programme and project direction; vendor and product selection (of LIMS, SDMS, ELNs and ePRO solutions); and to drive successful software implementations.

The works is often equal parts frustrating, challenging, and exciting but as people who have been involved in this type of work will recognise, it is ultimately extremely rewarding.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I am somewhat cursed by having multiple passions to fit into my spare time. Being a keen mountain biker, avid photographer and relentless traveller does present some time-management dilemmas.

Photography is something I have been fascinated by since I was at school, and is something that I have picked up and put down intermittently since then. However, three years ago I was lucky enough to spend a week riding bikes with a professional photographer and this really inspired me to develop my skills and style. You can view some of my results of my photography journey on my portfolio site.

My addiction to mountain biking started when I moved to Scotland ten years ago, as there is some of the best riding in the world, right here. The mixture of physical demands, technical riding skills and the pure pleasure of being surrounded by forest and mountains has proved irresistible. Not that the abundance of local riding has stopped me traveling with my bike. Ten years of truly amazing riding has taken me to some of the best trails in Morocco, Nepal, USA, New Zealand, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Chile! Like most people, I am looking forward to when travel once again becomes possible, then maybe I can put my planned trips to Kyrgyzstan and Bhutan into action.

What is your favourite travel destination?

I’m not sure I can pick a favourite, as it depends on the activity involved. For a chilled afternoon walk drinking coffee, I would have to say San Francisco. Relaxed attitude, wide open streets and great culture make it a hard place to beat.

For mountain biking, it could be any of those places I mentioned above. My trip spending a week on HMS Gassten, a converted World War Two minesweeper, with a group of good friends riding high above the fjords in Norway deserves special mention.  Also, I think Nepal’s Mustang Valley was a special trip. Amazing culture, fantastic people, and as for those mountains – they build them big over there!

2020/21 has been an interesting year – how has it impacted you outside of work?

The biggest difference is that I have been at home for the longest period in about 22 years! In the last 12 months, I have only managed to travel down to our office in Newmarket twice (from my home in Scotland). I would normally travel 2 or 3 weeks out of 4, so it has been a big change.

Distancing from family and friends has also been difficult, as it has for most. I have stayed in touch as much as possible with family and friends the same way anyone else has; telephone calls, meeting in car parks and standing 4 metres apart, in addition to several Zoom quizzes!

Scimcon as a business is deeply rooted in technology – but how technology-oriented are you? What devices do you use?

I have had a long fascination with technology, which of course in part has led to my role at Scimcon. We have obviously come a long way since I first became involved in technology. I started programming on home computers during the explosion of affordable devices in the UK during the early 1980s.

Everything has continued to stem from there, to a point where I’m now the co-founder of a scientific technology consultancy, using technology to drive change and deliver scientific value.

In terms of devices, I use pretty much anything you can imagine. I have electronic shifting on a couple of my bikes, and I have some amazing camera equipment that even five years ago would have been inconceivable.

Does your use of technology differ outside of work?

I don’t think my use of technology in my everyday is too different to how I would use it at work. At Scimcon we try to use technology in a way that enhances people’s work lives, so that they can focus on what is important. If I look at technology in bikes and cameras, what excites me is the same thing – not the technology itself, but what it allows you to do.

For example, when I started photography at school, the process was incredibly different to how it is now. You tried different methods of taking photographs and would be left with a roll of film afterwards that if you were lucky, you’d get developed a week later. Of course, you could guarantee that you would get the photos back after all that time and wonder “what on earth was I trying to do?” Nowadays, we have digital cameras, so you take the photo, see the result, and if it does not work you can just try again instantly.

That’s exactly how we try to use technology at Scimcon. We don’t want technology to get in the way or slow down the result you want to achieve, we want it to enable you to do the work you are trying to do – whether that’s riding bikes, taking photographs, or integrating your LIMS to streamline your workflow.

Industry leader interviews – Ajit Nagral. An insight into the world of scientific entrepreneurship?

Ajit, please introduce yourself. 

My career history is uncomplicated because straight out of college I started working for myself, and it has been that way for my entire career. I graduated in the US with a background in computing science and I decided I did not want to take the traditional path of finding a job and building a career that way. I always liked to be doing things differently. Coming out of college with very little money and a limited skillset, the reasonable thing to do was to get into software consulting because that did not require a whole lot of capital. Since then, I have founded four companies in the life science sector.

What led you to the science industry?

I ended up in the pharma and life science industry very early on by chance. After I graduated, I was in Boston with database and computing skills, and I started a small consulting company called Megaware. I found out there was a large life science vendor in Massachusetts which had some opportunities around a new life science product they were building. After a lot of persistence, the CIO reluctantly gave me 15 minutes to speak with him. I told him about my background and what I was attempting to do – he said they didn’t have anything for me within his organisation, but he would connect me to his counterpart at their analytical instrument division. I then got a contract to help this analytical instrument company build a part of their (then) new product, the first database driven instrument software, and that was my entry into the pharma world. That seems simple, but it was fortuitous and persistence more than anything else.

Can you give us a potted history of each of your companies? 

My first company was Megaware. Back in those days labs were making the transition from VAX.VMS-based systems to PC-based systems. Enterprises had huge investments in VAX.VMS systems and in HP printers. We produced a product to be able to print from a VAX.VMS system onto a HP printer. It seems straightforward (but it was not!) because you are printing to a Windows-based printer but from a non-Windows system. We built a whole system to rectify this issue. I ran and built Megaware for 4 – 5 years and it was then sold to a boutique consulting company.

NuGenesis was my second company. We identified the issue that labs had several different instruments, from different vendors, but they did not talk to each other. You had large pharma companies, printing reams of paper, spending $millions of dollars on running labs across the globe and eventually all of that intellectual property ended up on paper! In those times when they submitted a new drug application, those applications were on tens of hundreds of pieces of paper which were carried to the regulatory agencies on trucks for review! It made no sense that something started out electronically and ended up on paper to be read by somebody manually. We were able to intercept print streams and capture a lot of information to make the data live. It is remarkable that 20 years later it is still being used – that says a lot about the value and sustainability of NuGenesis. I sold the business to Waters in 2004.

After I sold NuGenesis I was clear I wanted to stay in life sciences but do something different. I went back to many of my clients and ask what problems they are facing – that is when I landed into outsourcing in the area of drug safety, clinical and regulatory.

What was new and different was an area called pharmacovigilance. If you recall, there were a couple of landmark cases related to drugs in the market that had caused deaths. That is when the regulatory agencies realised they do not have a handle around adverse events. They approve drugs, they come to market and years later you start seeing adverse reactions that you did not see during the trial period. The regulatory agencies started mandating reporting of all adverse effects. With the visibility and potential liability, the biopharma industry sprang into action and the flood gates opened to drug safety outsourcing. This was when we launched Sciformix – a scientific knowledge-based outsourcing provider for the life science industry. Any given year when we got to the maturity stage we were doing around 1 million cases. We did everything from cancer drugs to consumer products, from cancer medication to sunscreen lotion. Our success at Sciformix was due to our ability to combine enough science and a very good process. Again, the company grew very rapidly to over 1300-1400 people globally, and it came to a point where it felt like the time was right to divest in 2018. Sciformix was acquired by LabCorp/Covance, a top three CRO (and currently a leader in COVID19 diagnostic testing).

What was the motivation behind the launch of Scitara? 

Having done tech, services and global delivery, I thought I should combine these skills and focus on my finale!

Our core team believes Scitara is more than just a business, it is a goal of ours to solve a major problem that still exists in the scientific laboratory: data connectivity. We are pioneering a new digital revolution when it comes to lab data connectivity. We have invented a platform called Scitara DLX (data lab exchange), and our goal with this platform is to connect your instrument, application, or anything else you use in the lab to our platform and we guarantee they can talk to each other.

Our goal is that science labs can log into any system that they are currently using and can access data from any other system that is in the lab. We have a mantra of ‘no application or instrument left behind’. For us to achieve this goal we need cooperation from the industry, which is why I am calling this a finale. It will require all our connections we have made over the years and the reputation we have built to reach out to everyone in the ecosystem. Companies are making significant headway in their digital transformation initiatives, except they do not know how to get their lab data onto their digital platforms, and that is where we come in.

How did you find your entrepreneurial drive?

I am very driven to be independent. I am useless when it comes to working for someone else and fortunately, I have never had to. My personality drives me to try new things and dive into uncertainty and this has always pushed me into something completely new.

The building of my companies motivated me. What excites me is the building from the ground up. Each time the building is easier, but the expectations are higher. I do not build to divest – I build to create value, disrupt, and hopefully deliver a meaningful impact, and the rest takes care of itself.

If anyone comes to me for advice or mentoring, I ask them why? Why do you want to do it? Why you? What is the motivation? That tells a lot very early on about the chances of success that a person may or may not achieve. It does not guarantee success, but if you have a good understanding of the ‘why’ it helps you go a long way. Beyond that I’d say it is important to find a mentor from the industry – people need to recognise that investments happen in teams not necessarily ideas. Do not latch onto an idea too much because things can change.

Create a loyal fanbase, people often think I have 500+ clients, but it is not the number that counts, it is whether you have a handful of loyal clients who make a lot of noise and reopen doors. That becomes exceedingly important.

What would you say makes you a successful entrepreneur? 

We do not rely on big sales engines in our industry. It is about building solid connections and networks. When clients learn that I created the concept behind several successful companies, people admire that. There is no better way to connect with a client than something that they are fond of and that I am proud of.

I have learnt the hard way; you build the best partnerships in tough times. When things do not go right, it is how you react that defines not only your relationship but your career as an entrepreneur. I have sold to the same clients across multiple companies. Most of those clients I have had difficult moments with, and it has made our relationship much more resilient.

Having a non-scientific viewpoint has also really helped, particularly when it comes to products. To be able to look at the consumer world, or industrial world or finance world and understand how technology has evolved there and bring those learnings into the scientific world is invaluable.

What does the future hold for Ajit Nagral? 

This is the first time after having done this for 20+ years that I have the liberty and luxury to say if this part of my journey were to end, what would be my new journey? It is the first time I have thought about it, and I think it comes with experience and the safety net I have built for me and my family. I am eternally grateful to my customer, employees and investors to put me in this position.

Hopefully Scitara is my last company, as an operating founder. There are many other things I want to do. In addition to being a tech guy I am also a musician. There are things I am doing in music production that I have started already – hopefully in a few years once I am done with Scitara, that is where I will end up!

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