LIMS Fits Labs

Improving and advancing its information management system was the primary goal for DonLevy Laboratories, a Merrillville, Ind.-based contract microbiology lab and consulting organization dedicated to the food industry. That goal was the primary focus for laboratory manager Peg Exo, who supervises DonLevy’s lab operations, including the production of sample labels, bench sheets, analytical reports and invoices. To meet customer expectations, Exo found herself maintaining an increasingly vast collection of Microsoft Excel templates for each client. The complexity of the system began escalating, and producing a bench sheet required locating the appropriate template for a customer’s specific product and entering the sample description and then transferring the sample description to the customer’s preferred final report format and entering results. Invoicing required generating the preferred template for each customer and typing the appropriate billing data. In short, the system required excessive, repetitive data entry to process each sample. DonLevy wanted to simplify its operations without disrupting business. DonLevy had invested considerable resources creating its spreadsheet-based data system. It was unwieldy, but Exo recognized its benefits. DonLevy’s commercial success proved that its customers appreciated its efforts. But the hours devoted to locating and copying formats, the repetitive data entry and its inherent risk of error were increasing. The spreadsheet system was functioning as required, but it had reached critical mass and its disadvantages began to outweigh its advantages. It was time for a change and a laboratory information management system (LIMS) was what they needed. Exo began her quest for a LIMS by discussing options with her colleagues and clients who had experience with lab automation. She searched the web, contacted LIMS providers, evaluated demos and experienced on-site demos, eventually concluding that each system offered desirable features; however, no canned package met its needs. Exo needed more control over her printed reports than was available in most off-the-shelf LIMS. “For us, a LIMS system had to maintain the flexibility which allows us to be immediately responsive to client requests,” she adds. One of DonLevy’s bigger customers referred her to Mountain States Consulting, LLC (MSC; Jackson, Wyo.), and she viewed an online LIMS product demo. “MSC-LIMS was selected because it was highly recommended by current users, was within our budget, offered many of the features we were looking for and, most importantly, MSC would provide customizations to meet our most critical requirements,” Exo says. Critical requirements included maintaining established labeling procedures and printed formats, recalls Rick Collard, founder of MSC. “DonLevy was understandably reluctant to adapt their procedures to the demands of an off-the-shelf LIMS. Our product eliminates that necessity.” Exo learned that MSC-LIMS is a replacement for homegrown Excel spreadsheets. It provides all of the traditional benefits of a LIMS, such as easily accessible, well organized and secure data, access to historical data, faster reporting and increased lab efficiency. Moreover, MSC-LIMS also provides extreme flexibility through its unique integrated Excel interface, which allows labs to leverage their existing spreadsheet reports. “LIMS users enter data just once,” Collard explains, “then they can query data to report in various formats. So we added formulas, macros and appropriate infrastructure to DonLevy’s existing Excel spreadsheets, instructing Excel to produce the reports with LIMS data.”

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