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LIMS Functions / Archtecture

Functionality requirements of a system should reflect your internal processes and capture the necessary data to effectively automate process steps. The following sections provide an overview of the main functionality covered by LIMS - laboratory information management systems, in general.


Samples arriving to the lab from various sources for testing will require management. Samples are typically given a unique ID for traceability. This ID is then used through the lifecycle of the sample. Additional details of the sample may also be recorded as part of sample management such as type of sample, time and date received, batch/lot No., batch size, source, testing required etc.


Where testing provides a support function to a manufacturing process, it will be important for your system to have functionality for product and specification management. This function will allow you to pre-populate information about the product facilitating data entry for batch testing. Specifications should allow you to enter a description, target values, upper and lower limits, and upper and lower warning limits. Critical functionality will be decimal place reporting and rounding. The system should then use the pre-populated specification to check test results and provide a pass/fail conclusion.


Management of Test Methods should allow you to configure settings for inputs and outputs. Inputs are what you expect the analyst to enter, and outputs are what you would like the system to calculate. For example, if you have a test method that requires the average of two readings, you should be able to configure two inputs, and the output will hold an average calculation of those two inputs. Other settings you should look for are name, description, units, and validation limits. Validation limits check the user’s entry to ensure they haven’t entered silly numbers such as a pH of 18. Further examples of advanced test method management functionality would be to look at variable number of inputs and using calculated results as an input for a subsequent calculation such as average weight, deliverable volumes etc.


How samples are processed may vary from lab to lab, or a lab may process different sample types differently. Having customizable workflows allows you to configure the system to work with your needs rather than changing the way you work to meet a system’s functionality. Workflow management is the ability to define the steps required to complete the analysis of a sample. For example, a lab may process both GMP and non-GMP samples. For GMP samples, the workflow may include an addition Results Validation / Review step to independently check test results whereas this step may not be required for non-GMP samples such as R&D labs, or in commercial testing labs the sampling step is required.


From Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to Invoicing Systems, third-party software integration allows you to operate seamlessly with your LIMS. Similarly to equipment integration, data can be transferred between the two systems. In addition, it is common for uni-directional communication where your LIMS accepts data from other systems for automationof step. Again, where LIMS companies do not have an ‘Off-the-shelf’ solution, they may approach these integrations as custom designed requests.


Configuring user accounts should be essential functionality for any system. This is the core function that controls system access and permissions. The ability to create new user accounts and remove and/or lock user accounts will also give you the most flexibility in controlling access. Further functionality to support user management are Roles and Groups. Roles are user account settings which can be applied and managed across multiple user accounts to facilitate administration. Groups can segregate visibility to a set of user accounts.


The end document provided to a customer or a management meeting is important to get right and data displayed accurately. The reporting functionality in a LIMS should provide you with enough flexibility to customise the layout and contents. Advanced reporting functionality would allow you to create your own queries and format reports to meet your requirements.


A web client or sometimes referred to as web portal can provide a selected user base to access functionality of a LIMS through a web-browser. This allows full portability and access to data wherever you are so long as you have internet connection.


Architecture is the fundamental structure of the software. This is typically defined for an application (or a version of an application). Most applications that are used to store and deliver large amounts of data have one of the following architectures: Thin Client, Thick Client or Smart Client. As you begin to look at sourcing the right solution for your business, it’s important that you understand the pros and cons of each architecture in order to make an informed decision.


A Thin Client communicates with a central server which does the work in processing information. This type of architecture can also be synonymous with remote access or desktop virtualisation.


Lightweight and low cost. Easy to deploy. Critical data is not stored locally on the client. Reduced security threat.


High performing server required. The host server becomes a single point of failure – e.g. if the host server crashes, users may lose their session. This risk is usually mitigated with a predefined fail-over process by building redundancies such as load balancing. Network bandwidth and performance is critical to maintain productivity.


A thick client is also a client-server architecture that provides functionality independent of the server. This means that processing occurs on the end-user PC. The thick client will still require a connection to a network or central server, but it does not rely on access to the server each time data is input or retrieved.


Server is not required to be high-performing as required by a thin-client. ECan work offline by storing files locally.


HCostly to source hardware for each thick client required in the operational environment. Maintenance required on all components, not just the server. Increased security threat.


A smart client uses the internet to communicate with a server-based application through the use of web services.


Can work offline. Can work outside local network. Cost-effective.


Requires users to install or deploy a runtime (a library that is bound to the program during execution).


A browser-based application is similar to a Smart Client in that it uses the internet to communicate with a server-based application through the use of web services. However, the application must have internet connectivity to process data.


Can work outside local network. Cost-effective.


Cannot work offline – relies on internet connectivity. Requires users to install or deploy a runtime (a library that is bound to the program during execution).