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                         Laboratory Informatics                                                      & Instr umentation TM

                  Time to Replace your LIMS?

                  Ray Stonecipher

                      Replacing a legacy LIMS                  in Figure 1). These investments have a                        ber of vendors regarded as early domi-
                                                               significant impact on the LIMS’ total                         nators of this marketplace have refo-
                      system is no small matter                cost of ownership (TCO) and make it                           cused their LIMS development to a lim-
                                                               difficult to project a positive return on                     ited number of defined industries.
                     Owing to ongoing global consolida-        the investment.                                               These trends are clearly recognized
                  tion, stricter regulatory environments                                                                     through some of the vendor’s marketing
                  and maturity of Laboratory Information       s Loss of key personnel                                       messages emphasizing their new focal
                  Management System (LIMS) technolo-              Strict development and validation                          point. More important is the lack of
                  gy, companies are opting to replace          procedures adhering to industry stan-                         ongoing industry-specific enhance-
                  their existing legacy systems with lead-     dard methodologies pose an extremely                          ments to some of the LIMS products
                  ing commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS)          heavy burden on in-house develop-                             that may be regarded as driven by
                  LIMS solutions. According to the lat-        ment teams. As such, homegrown                                users from the now “non strategic”
                  est study by the ARC Advisory Group,
                  the demand for LIMS replacements
                  will be at least as large as that for new
                  LIMS systems. Replacing a legacy
                  LIMS system is no small matter. Many
                  companies have years of know-how
                  and historical data stored in their exist-
                  ing system and this information cannot
                  be discarded, it must be migrated to
                  the new implementation.

                  Why replace?
                  s  Highly customized implementation
                     In most legacy and first-generation
                  LIMS systems, the technology and the
                  business rules components are com-
                  piled together and can not be separat-
                  ed. Due to the dynamic nature of busi-
                  ness, users have required their ven-
                  dors to customize the program code in
                  order to meet the new business
                  requirements. In parallel to this, the
                  vendor makes modifications to the
                  code in order to incorporate new IT
                     These two independent develop-            F i g u r e 1 : Total cost of ownership of a legacy LIMS
                  ments are incompatible with each other,
                  thus preventing the user from upgrad-        information systems are aptly recog-                          industries. As a result, many of these
                  ing to the latest technology while losing    nized as no longer cost-effective. A                          customers face the alternative of further
                  touch with IT trends (blue line in Figure    turnover of key personnel instrumental                        customizing their already highly tailored
                  1). Separation from the vendor’s direc-      in the original establishment of the                          system, or opting for a COTS LIMS
                  tion makes it more and more difficult to     legacy system leaves the company                              from a vendor with a proven track
                  modify business rules. So, in time, the      seriously exposed. Legacy systems                             record of “future proofing” their
                  system not only loses touch with tech-       often lack ample documentation and                            installed base.
                  nology but with the lab’s own require-       “future proofing” mechanisms that will
                  ments as well (red line in Figure 1). This   allow the company to continue trusting                        s  Globalization and company
                  episodic pattern is very common with         it with its most critical quality data.                       consolidation
                  legacy and highly customized systems                                                                           Globalization and reorganization in
                  requiring periodic investments in major      s   Vendor refocused on other industries                      all manufacturing industries are driven
                  upgrades (as reflected by the green line          As the LIMS market matures, a num-                       by the need to improve the bottom line
                                      LIMS          Laboratory Informatics                      & I n s t r u m e n t a t i o n TM


F i g u r e 2 : STARLIMS Life Cycle

and proximity to markets which have                implemented at the disparate sites        legacy systems. Its multi-tiered archi-
led to consolidation and mergers of                posing them with yet another opportu-     tecture completely separates the tech-
multinational companies such as Exxon              nity for cost savings and unification.    nology, business rules and database
and Mobil, Chevron and Texaco,                                                               components from each other.
Total.Petrofina and Elf, Glaxo                     A migration platform                          The independence of components
Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham,                      One example of a migration plat-       in multi-tier systems facilitates a com-
to name a few. QA and IT executives                form is STARLIMS. From its very           plete partition of development and
of the newly consolidated operation                beginnings in the late ‘80s, it poised    maintenance tasks. The vendor can
often will find several LIMS systems               itself as a platform for conversions of   supply new advanced features to the
                                                                                             technology tier. These enhanced fea-
                                                                                             tures can be quickly validated and dis-
                                                                                             tributed throughout the enterprise
                                                                                             without compromising the business
                                                                                             rules or database components. This
                                                                                             assures that the application reflects a
                                                                                             high level of technological adoption
                                                                                             (blue line in Figure 3). Similarly, users
                                                                                             can modify the business rules compo-
                                                                                             nent to meet the needs of a dynamic
                                                                                             work environment without parting from
                                                                                             the vendor’s general development
                                                                                             leading to a proficient match to the
                                                                                             business needs (red line in Figure 3).
                                                                                             Dollar wise at this stage, the TCO
                                                                                             (green line in Figure 3) declines to the
                                                                                             level of ongoing maintenance costs.

                                                                                             The migration process
                                                                                               1. Developing the “To Be”
                                                                                             implementation based on current
                                                                                             business rules
                                                                                             The new LIMS implementation
                                                                                             should not be hampered by legacy
                                                                                             business rules as these could be
                                                                                             migrated and enhanced within the
F i g u r e 3 : Total cost of ownership of a commercial-off-the-shelf LIMS                   new implementation.
                                                     LIMS       Laboratory Informatics                         & I n s t r u m e n t a t i o n TM

                    2. Implementing the new system and         the data in the legacy system. This         tions designed throughout its history.

                  business rules                               involves the creation of a migration test   The STARLIMS platform’s comprehen-
                  The new implementation should be             plan and running vigorous testing once      sive configuration tools allowed com-
                  applied and tested prior to the migra-       the migration has taken place.              plete migration of 25 years of legacy
                  tion of legacy data. In the case of            6. Legacy data publication.               database programming into a modern
                  STARLIMS, this means that the imple-         Following successful data conversion        COTS within 117 days.
                  mentation has passed both factory and        and parallel running of the new system,
                  site acceptance testing.                     the project team gains a real-world view    Summary
                    3. Mapping legacy “As Is” data             of the data sources and workflow effi-         LIMS users expect flexible systems
                  model to the new implementation              ciency. This allows refinment of previ-     to support their business needs, with
                  In this phase, the existing data is mapped   ous decisions and facilitates a final       prompt implementation times and a
                  to the new LIMS data model. For those        decision about which of the legacy data     reduced TCO throughout the lifecycle.
                  fields that are not directly mapped to the   is to remain as “read only” and which       Increasing the functionality of solutions
                  new data model, legacy fields are added      data should be published for continued      can make the purchase decision easier.
                  to the new implementation                    modification.                               For example, the ability to apply either
                    4. Performing data migration                                                           customer-developed structures or the
                  Once mapping is complete, an auto-           Migration in practice                       platform’s own structures for managing
                  mated routine is used to import the             The Pacific Environmental Science        both static and dynamic data allows
                  legacy data into the new system. The         Centre (PESC) is Environment                rapid adoption of the latest technology
                  legacy data can be provided through a        Canada’s premier science center in          without conciliation of best practices
                  variety of means including; csv files,       Western Canada and provides the core        already available in legacy systems.
                  database backups or SQL dumps.               laboratory and field operations required
                    5. Testing and validation of the           for the department’s regional programs.       Ray Stonecipher is Executive
                  migration                                    The PESC had been using a main-             Director of Professional Services at
                  Testing is performed to validate that the    frame-based LIMS initially developed in     STARLIMS Corp. He may be
                  data stored in the new system matches        the 1970s encompassing 105 applica-         contacted at

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