Lab Software Acronyms
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Listen to this podcast
Hi everyone, it’s Amber Shao, founder and CEO of AduroSys, a laboratory data management software company. Welcome to AduroSys podcast. I’m joined today by our special guest Gloria Metrick. Gloria is the Principal Consultant at GeoMetrick Enterprises. She has been implementing LIMS for mostly large pharmaceutical companies as well as companies in the consumer goods and energy industry. Gloria has won numerous awards including “Best Laboratory Software Implementation Company - Midwest USA” by GHP Magazine just as one example.
Amber: Gloria, welcome back to the show.
Gloria: Thanks for re-inviting, Amber.
Amber: So if there's one thing I dislike about the lab software industry, I would say acronyms, especially in a data management software space for labs. There are so many acronyms I can't even keep up with. For example, there's the traditional LIMS, LIS, ELN and also the SDMS which confuses me. The latest one I heard is LES. Not only are they confusing, but they're also very similar to each other. If I compared a feature spec between those systems, they're not that much different. So today, let's explore why that's the case. And as a customer, what should you do if you're as confused as many people? Every time when I'm asked to explain what those acronyms are, I cringe. So, Gloria, I'm going to leave the hard job to you. In a few words, can you explain what some of the standard acronyms are?
Gloria: So, as you know, Amber, there are so many acronyms coming up. They change as you and I are just trying to record this. But there are four that are pretty standard and it's been around for a long time. The first one is LIMS or Laboratory Information Management System. These systems are sample based and they're focused on managing the laboratory. Then we have LIS, which stands for Laboratory Information System. These systems are patient-based. They're literally meant to manage patient information. Another one is ELN for Electronic Laboratory Notebook. These systems are experiment-based. And, of course, they're meant to track experimental steps. Then we have something called LES. This stands for Laboratory Execution System. These are quality control systems that are meant for steps, for example, enforcing steps for running specific methods. Now, remember, some of these acronyms come and go. Some of them have changed over time in our industry and in some of these are actually used in other industries. You might see something called the LIMS, but it's not related to laboratories because LIMS also means Logistical Information Management System.
Amber: Thanks for explaining them. Now the question is, why are there so many of them? If I look at the feature lists between LIMS and ELN, they're so similar. How do we get into this problem in the first place?
Gloria: I tend to blame marketing people, it seems like every time we're confused about what system somebody needs, f there's a new market, if there's a new feature, there's new anything, marketing people are going to come up with a new acronym to help focus it to those people to make it clear that's the system they should buy. Yet it creates just another acronym that's poorly defined. And in fact, it's not only the problem of the marketing people, we just don't happen as an industry to be good at defining our acronyms. Well, and the other issue is that the definitions are theoretical definitions. They're not necessarily meant to indicate how you use it in a practical manner. For example, everybody writes articles on theoretical definitions. I do that myself. I'm always writing articles to define these systems. But then when we actually go to help customers select them and to use them. Putting this all into practice is totally different than the theoretical definitions that we talk about.
Amber: Clearly, this is confusing everyone, right? So what other specific problems is this bringing to our industry?
Gloria: Well, Amber, you're a software vendor and you're an industry expert. And you're confused. I'm a software consultant. I'm an industry expert, and I'm confused. The customers are confused. Other people in the industry are confused. All these acronyms don't make it better. It just adds to the confusion that we all have. It makes things more difficult. And part of it comes based on the fact that we just want to label everything and we're not always thoughtful about how we do label these things. In fact, some of these acronyms are really misleading. For example, ELN. Some people think an electronic laboratory notebook is the same as taking a bound paper notebook and making it electronic. And that's not the case. That's not what an electronic laboratory notebook actually does for the laboratory. And then the same acronyms. Even the same types of systems aren't really used for everybody. Let's take the example of LIMS. A LIMS with a stability management module is needed for any pharmaceutical group doing drugs stability. But a forensic group is not going to buy that same LIMS. They're going to buy our forensic LIMS. So even within industries, sometimes you can't look at the same products that other industries are looking at, even if they seem to be the same type of product.
Amber: So as you pointed out earlier, there is a theoretical definition and also there's a practical consideration. If we put aside those theoretical definitions, let's talk about what can people do in a practical manner. As a customer, should I try to keep up with industry acronyms? If not, what should I do?
Gloria: As a customer, just stop looking at the acronyms and start focusing on the features. Now, once again, this goes back to a requirement gathering. If you do requirement gathering and you have a good understanding of what you need, you can go out with those requirements and start seeing what products are available to meet your needs. And you're going to be able to weed through those that are not appropriate for you. And it doesn't matter what acronym they have put on. For anybody listening to this podcast, I think they're also going to want to listen to the podcast You and I did on requirement gathering because I think that podcast is going to help them understand how to do their requirements and move forward so they can get to this point to be going through and looking at the systems. And when we look at these acronyms, we're also going to find confusingly that some products are going to have multiple acronyms assigned to them. So you might think you're looking for LIMS, but you see the same product advertised as a LES or as a LIS. Does that mean you should stop looking at their product? It does not. It just means you need to look to see what features are available in that product to see if they meet your needs.
Amber: I'm kind of the person, who always gravitate towards simple solutions. I learned early on in my career that sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. Unfortunately, having so many acronyms for a similar product is not a good start in developing simple solutions. As you pointed out, it confuses everyone, and I don't think it benefits customers at all. I would use the opportunity to encourage vendors in our industry to think differently. To me, software vendors should think more about feature differentiation rather than product differentiation. What are your thoughts on this?
Gloria: So I'm going to give the example of stability management again because it is a classic example. If you're looking for a system that has a stability management module and you start looking at the systems that are available out in the marketplace, you're going to find a subset of those systems will have a stability module available for you to use. So that's going to get rid of a whole lot of products that you might have thought would meet your needs otherwise. Or, for example, if you want it delivered via the cloud or if you want your system to use a specific brand of database, all of these items are going to help you find out which systems meet these needs. And there are just a lot of other systems that you're not even going to have to look at.
Amber: Thank you for discussing this topic with me, Gloria. Hopefully this helps people to think about acronym differently. Maybe something can be changed in our industry in the future.
Gloria: Well, you're welcome. Amber, thanks again for inviting me today.