Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Ask not for what you think you need...

I have been reflecting a lot recently on why researchers think they need grand solutions for relatively small problems. Specifically there is a perception among benchers that are conducting large-ish experiments that they need some sort of LIMS to manage their data. Frankly as I've stated many times (at least in conversations with other IT folk, and even with benchers) most researchers don't want a LIMS. What they really want is fancy file storage.

Yet, the town folk keep insisting "we need LIMS, please give...". LIMS are probably the only thing that potentially fits the bill for experimental data management, so that's what benchers ask for, when most likely a digital asset management application would suffice. Heck, even all those bit torrent sites can potentially do the job that researchers need.

If you are a coder that is continually asked to provide a LIMS to researchers, or if you are a bencher that is interested in LIMS for data management, here are a set of questions you can ask before going any further down the rough and tumbly road that is LIMS adoption:

  1. Are you in a regulated environment?
  2. Are you willing to mandate use of the LIMS?
  3. Do you have adequate personnel to support the LIMS locally (e.g. do you have a dedicated person that will actively promote the use of the LIMS, train folks, configure the system, do extensive follow-up, etc. Vendor support will only be of help at the start of the adoption process.)
  4. Do you have a lot of spare cash? (Think 6 figures to buy an initial bank of licenses)
  5. Will you have a lot of spare cash for the next 3-5 years? (Think 5 figures to keep annual support and maintenance up to date.)
If you answered "No" to any of these questions, seriously reconsider buying what is traditionally known as a LIMS. Instrument control, automatic data acquisition, yada, yada, all those marketing features used to sell a LIMS don't mean squat if no one uses it in the first place.