LIMS Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): A Guide

Every successful laboratory operates at the border of talent and technology: the right people with the most advanced, streamlined tools to carry out research, measure quality, meet compliance and accomplish all scientific and business goals.

To assist that winning formula, access to a state-of-the-art informatics suite is key, either on-site or as a cloud-based solution. This article evaluates a third option that is taking off across laboratories of all sizes, from entry-level to enterprise: Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

A subscription-based Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), hosted in the cloud and accessed via the internet, can be a secure, scalable, and cost-effective alternative to conventional software licensing, installation, validation, management, and maintenance. It is therefore crucial to know how to determine if the software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model for a LIMS is right for your organization.

If reducing complexity and upfront expense is a priority, then SaaS is well worth considering. This desire -- for simplicity and a smooth-running experience -- is behind the ever-growing trend to provide cloud-based, software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, including those that many of us depend on daily. Think Microsoft Office 365, Google Apps, Dropbox, and Slack, to name just a few omnipresent SaaS brands.

Increasingly, the laboratory informatics space is also seeing a shift toward the cloud, and not just for hosting a purchased LIMS solution or subsequent data storage.

There’s an eagerness to renounce conventional models of licensing, installing, managing, and maintaining software in favor of using a web-based service provider to acquire the right-sized application and, at the same time, shift the responsibility for back-end security, availability, and performance.

Traditional Challenges

To get to the heart of the growing appeal of a SaaS LIMS, a sense of why some organizations prefer to continue with their existing protocols is needed. For those purchasing software to meet their specific needs with the support of strong IT departments, a LIMS on-site has some captivating advantages.

Companies that are especially risk-averse may want more control over their data with in-house retention.

The necessity for a stable, predictable LIMS, with the potential for additional components such as Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN), Lab Execution System (LES), and Scientific Data Management System (SDMS), exceeds other considerations; such as sedate upgrade cycles and the maintenance interruptions during hardware or software risk of service. But those principles underscore the challenges that are at the foundations of purchasing a LIMS.

There could be considerable expenses up-front with regards to acquiring a permanent software license. While for a large global enterprise, it may be of little concern, it could be prohibitive for many smaller companies and laboratories with stringent operating budgets.

Hardware, appropriate IT-support staffing, and the maintenance costs associated with sustaining a secure data center require large budgets. However, a managed cloud solution can limit many concerns for large and small organizations alike.

In an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) model, the LIMS software is purchased, but subsequent installation and hosting takes place across virtual servers at remote facilities, for a fee or through a subscription-based arrangement.

The customer can access the LIMS via a secure connection and a web browser while being free from infrastructure management. Service level agreements offer additional layers of assurance insofar as availability is concerned.

However, the customer still has the responsibilities of software administration and maintenance. In that context, it’s clear to see why a SaaS-based LIMS might be an attractive prospect for many organizations.

A Web-Based Alternative

With a SaaS model, companies can access a state-of-the-art informatics suite without any considerable upfront capital investment concerning licensing and infrastructure or paying for unnecessary features.

Simply put, they’re renting access to cloud-based applications and the necessary features, along with storage for LIMS and other data. Servers, security, networking, load balancing, auto-failover, and backups are all included in the subscription package.

Whether they are in the same lab, a different building or another part of the world, users have persistent access to the latest version via their web browser of choice and because the vendor looks after all software updates.

There’s no additional need for additional installation or validation on a workstation, laptop, or mobile device. Access to particular features can be switched on or off, a feature common across SaaS applications developed for personal and professional use.

Subscribers can often choose from a selection of plans, such as Standard, Advanced, and Enhanced, each with unique price-points, based on the necessity to support a certain number of users and/or get access to increased storage, load balancing, testing parameters, failover and disaster recovery, or other features.

That flexibility can also be receptive to an organization’s ever-changing requirements. In fact, instant scalability to meet the demands of business is a key benefit when considering a subscription-based model.

A vendor can configure its SaaS offering as pre-packaged, industry-specific solutions that cope with unique workflows in biobanking, cancer research, diagnostics, health care, contract testing, quality assurance, the food and beverage industry, and oil and gas sectors, for example.

Thus, facilitating the appropriate LIMS solution for any organization while eliminating the need for customizations, accelerating adoption and deployment, and reducing costs. Vendor validation of the SaaS environment is critical for LIMS customers in regulated industries.

Benefits of SaaS Validation

Pharmaceutical, healthcare, food and beverage, and like industries can now take advantage of validated SaaS, in which the vendor ensures the delivered system is managed and maintained in a controlled, risk-aware manner.

The vendor assumes responsibility for changes made to the delivered software during feature enhancements, software upgrades, and updates made to the LIMS, where every alteration is fully documented, tested, and reported to the user.

That evidence of validated control is essential when a company must report to the FDA or similar regulatory body. Such vendor support guarantees the system is held to the highest possible standard in terms of data integrity and system control, and the responsibility for maintaining those issues rests with the vendor.

In a large – or growing – organization, validated SaaS is essential because it allows the LIMS to be deployed with confidence and even expand to other locations, subsidiaries, and partners.

Common Scenarios

Pricing is one of the leading concerns when a laboratory considers the options for LIMS.

According to a recent investigation conducted by LabVantage, if one considers that most LIMS are in use for around seven years before they are significantly upgraded or replaced, alongside the average annual costs related to hardware and IT resources, a SaaS-based LIMS could lead to a saving up to 32 percent in contrast to the expense of an on-site solution.1

However, budget alone should not be a leading factor. One of the early questions a decisionmaker should ask is, “What’s needed?” followed by, “And why?”

This is directive toward a number of scenarios in which a SaaS-based LIMS could make the most sense.

  • For a tech-savvy organization already using the cloud, or in which the C-suite has decided to transition to a cloud-first strategy, the answer to “why” could lead the way. Others that don’t have strong IT and financial resources to draw upon might also see a cloud-based solution as a legitimate fit for their needs.
  • Labs of all sizes that have simple or common routines and don’t need a full-featured or fully configured informatics suite fit another category for which the SaaS model is appropriate.
  • Mergers and acquisitions, contract or off-shore projects, and other circumstances in which a temporary solution might be needed during a transition period or where the clarity around the feature set required for long-term use is not known. Such instances could take advantage of the built-in security, flexibility, scalability, and ease of adoption that a subscription-based LIMS offers.

LIMS Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): A Guide

Image Credit: LabVantage Solutions, Inc.

The Path to SaaS

Choosing between an on-site, managed cloud, or SaaS solution (validated or not) necessitates a number of decision points. One way to evaluate the decision-making process is using a decision tree. (see page 4).

For an organization that wants to keep its LIMS on-site or is intent on customizing one, there isn’t a path to SaaS. And if purchasing a permanent license is also preferential, the only options are an on-site installation or a cloud-based solution with or without a managed services contract.

But for those that seek out an approach with less of a burden and know the value of effortless and cost-effective access to a consistently up-to-date laboratory informatics suite, with wholly integrated LIMS, ELN, LES, and SDMS, SaaS is a good alternative.

And with vendor validation,  it is accessible to industries subjected to regulation. Labs of all sizes – from entry-level to enterprise – can reap the rewards of eliminating the expensive overheads associated with conventional systems and just pay for what is necessary when using SaaS-based LIMS.

References

1. “LIMS Total Cost of Ownership: Cloud Hosting versus On-Premises,” LabVantage Solutions, February 6th, 2020, https://www.labvantage.com/lims-total-cost-of-ownership-cloud-hosting-versus-on-premises/.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by LabVantage Solutions, Inc.

For more information on this source, please visit LabVantage Solutions, Inc.

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