LIMS (laboratory information management systems) and resource scheduling software like BINOCS are complementary solutions that, when optimally integrated, should enhance one another’s core functionalities. However, some LIMS vendors have started offering scheduling add-ons that may seem appealing as an alternative to a dedicated system. In this short blog, our VP of Product, Joachim Lasoen, outlines some reasons why this might not be a good idea.
LIMS in the lab
It is almost inconceivable for a modern pharmaceutical lab not to use a dedicated Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS). Indeed for most labs, implementing a LIMS has been key to their digital transformation strategy and, today, such systems typically exist at the heart of the wider laboratory information ecosystem.
As the leading LIMS solutions have developed, many have also successfully incorporated a wider range of related functionalities, such as providing dedicated add-on modules to serve as Lab Execution Systems (LES), Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN) and Scientific Data Management Systems (SDMS).
LIMS and BINOCS lab scheduling
It is unsurprising, then, that laboratory resource scheduling has also started to feature as a promised add-on to existing LIMS solutions. As a result, we are occasionally asked why labs should consider investing in a dedicated scheduling system like BINOCS, when they could instead simply rely on an existing LIMS solution for their resource planning and scheduling needs.
From our perspective, resource planning solutions and LIMS solutions are very different creatures whose respective roles should be seen as complementary, rather than competitive. Indeed, for all our existing clients, BINOCS is a distinct and critical aspect of their information ecosystem that works with their LIMS by playing to their respective strengths. In fact, more than 95% of our clients have BINOCS directly connected to a LIMS as their most important source of demand. The two platforms go together like salt and pepper!
Lab scheduling, however, requires specialized features and functions that LIMS solutions simply aren’t equipped to deliver. Below we provide some key examples drawn from our experience of working with market leaders in the life sciences industry.
A connected demand hub
LIMS may represent the core of many labs’ informatics, however, it is rarely the only source of demand that analysts and technicians need to work with. With BINOCS, users can bring together all demand requests – including from LIMS – into one repository, as a single source of truth for all planned work.
For example, analyses on request, media preparations, device calibrations, personnel training, team meetings, ad hoc work, and many more can be introduced to BINOCS via our intuitive user interface or automatically with zero-code integrations. A cross-platform connection can be set up by our team in just a couple of days and can be easily adapted by the business users.
Unlike LIMS scheduling add-ons, where the team calendar has to be manually populated and updated, BINOCS uses state-of-the-art algorithms to automatically schedule people and equipment based on training, availabilities, and assignment or dependency constraints.
Automated scheduling not only increases efficiency and service levels but also significantly reduces the time it takes to create or adapt the schedule. Planners in labs that have switched to BINOCS automated scheduling typically see a dramatic reduction in the time they spend actively planning work across their team – from 20 hours each week before implementation to just 2 hours a week afterwards!
But this doesn’t mean that the Planner is handing control over to a machine – they’re still in charge and can override any proposal from the algorithm or lock certain activities in place manually before the algorithm runs.
Executable tasks and sample campaigning
LIMS typically divides inspection lots into batches, samples and tests, with individual activities defined according to the results that need to be tracked; for instance, a single test might be split into 3 activities with the status of “receipt”, “analysed” and “reviewed” respectively. This is great for tracking key milestones for individual samples or batches and communicating the results back to the lab’s ERP (enterprise resource planning) system, however, it is not well-suited for assigning tasks to people and equipment.
BINOCS, on the other hand, represents a digital twin of the lab. Work is split into user-defined activities that can be scheduled in a way that reflects the reality of the practical tasks that must be executed (e.g. preparation, execution day 1, execution day 2, documentation, double-check), and constraints can be defined in between those tasks to better reproduce the actual timings and limitations experienced in real-world laboratory settings.
Similarly, while many LIMS do have some limited functionality for creating worklists that can group samples by test method for campaigning, this doesn’t generally translate to optimized planning. BINOCS, however, has been specifically designed to intelligently (and automatically) campaign samples based on real-world factors such as maximum campaign size, must start dates, priorities, queuing, and a range of user-configurable campaigning rules. This allows for the most efficient batched test runs, reducing wastage and improving both team and equipment utilization.
Labs are dynamic and complex environments with lots of moving parts that require organization at the short-, medium- and long terms. The strength of a LIMS system is in its (near) real-time management of the information passing through the laboratory, with a release window that rarely extends beyond 1 or 2 months into the future. Knowing where your samples are and what their status is can be critical for firefighting last-minute problems, however, it does not help if there are structural capacity issues (e.g. not enough trained analysts, equipment bottlenecks, long test lead times, etc).
To properly address such medium-to-long-term issues, one needs a system developed to look into the future, forecast demand requirements, and anticipate complications. BINOCS performs automated capacity planning for the coming weeks, months, and years, and provides capacity managers with what-if scenario analyses to compare potential outcomes. By resolving problems long before they occur, BINOCS significantly reduces the need for last-minute firefighting on the laboratory floor.
All software vendors need to prioritize features and enhancements that reflect their central business offering. LIMS platforms are fundamentally about results management and, therefore, their offering pivots around test results: reporting is mainly focused on samples, their business case centers on GxP compliance, and their investments are concentrated on upgrading their solutions to make results entry easier and less error-prone (e.g. via increasingly diverse instrument integrations). Planning and scheduling features in LIMS will never be more than add-ons next to that core product.
Unlike LIMS, BINOCS is focused on resource planning. We constantly hone the scheduling algorithms and user interface and, because we do not handle test results, we do not require GxP validation. That means that BINOCS implementation can happen in a much faster and more agile way that also allows features and enhancements to be rapidly deployed.
This is how we are able to constantly develop and release new, out-of-the-box solutions, such as dashboards that report on a range of real-world KPIs (e.g. due date adherence and resource utilization). And, since BINOCS contains all of the information about a lab’s activities and availabilities, it can instantly produce meaningful visualizations that outline tangible aspects of completed and planned work (e.g. proportion of tasks that are value-added vs non-value added or testing vs non-testing, etc).
To reiterate: a good LIMS system is indispensable in any modern lab and rightly deserves its place at the heart of the laboratory information ecosystem. That’s exactly why almost all our clients integrate BINOCS with LIMS as one of the main sources of demand. However, LIMS platforms are sample management systems first and foremost and will never provide dynamic and optimized resource scheduling that can compete with a dedicated solution like BINOCS.
Don’t believe us? Why not book a demo to find out even more about what BINOCS has to offer?!