Research and Development informatics is not that different to any other area, it is full of tools and software that are all given TLA’s (three letter acronyms) or even FLA’s (four letter acronyms). This is in response to a history of trying to categorize and segment a market, and is a typically human thing to do. There are a raft of TLAs used in our areas, PLM, ELN, LIMS, SDMS, MES, LES, DES, BIO REG, CHEM REG etc., and all conjure up in our minds eye a specific ‘product’ with specific features.
This categorization makes it easy to buy a system. “I need an ELN” says a scientist to their informatics group, and so off the informatics group go and find a raft of ELNs that will of course perfectly meet the scientists expectations, because all ELNs are the same and every scientists view of what an ELN is, does and can do for them is exactly the same.
Obviously this is a fallacy but one that is occurring all the time, and it is not just ELNs, it is the same situation when a scientist asks for a LIMS, MES, LES, DES, PLM and so on. Why is this a problem? It is because the R&D market is reasonably mature and that each of the vendors provide a set of capabilities that do not match the simple description defined by the TLA. Many LIMS have more than sample logistics and testing capabilities, they produce reports, can register stuff etc. SDMS do more than store raw data, they extract meta data and results and can do analysis and trending etc. ELNs don’t just replace paper, they can capture structured data, manage samples and do data analysis etc.
So, how do we go about buying software, firstly, don’t talk in terms of software and TLAs, talk in terms of what you do now and what you would like to do in the future state. Think about your process and data flows, try and find the bottlenecks that cause you problems. What do you want to do? Faster reports, better tracking, increased compliance etc.
Once you have all this critical information together, then, and only then, will you know what you need in terms of CAPABLITIES from an informatics solution. Each capability will be matched to a requirements / process / data problem that you wish to solve. You may need a combination of sample tracking, data collection and compliance reporting for example. Armed with this information you will be able to assess the software vendors that can meet your requirements far more effectively, as it will be based on CAPABILITIES not an assumption about what a TLA means.