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cheaply than the $500 to $1,000 price tag traditionally associated with the process. This could open up new opportunities for LIMS providers to use much cheaper technology, which could potentially make it economically viable to link all of the instruments in a laboratory. John Gabathuler, director, industrial

and environmental at LabWare said: ‘We have been connecting instruments to PCs and to our LIMS system almost since our inception, and we tend to forget that; it sort of gets lost in the depths of our history so to speak.’ However, his colleague Graham Langrish, LabWare life sciences sales manager, remarked that it can be a costly process if a company wants to link all of its instruments, so he recommends linking only those that provide the highest return on investment. Langrish said: ‘If you took it that it cost $500-$1,000 dollars to connect each instrument, then it can quickly become more than the entire LIMS software. Connect 20 per cent of your instruments – that can give you 80 per cent of your ROI.’

per instrument. These costs significantly limit the effectiveness of informatics systems, because laboratories can afford to connect only a few select devices. Kox said: ‘Let’s have it more plug and play.

It should not take days to connect a single instrument, and I have seen projects where it has taken 60 days to integrate a single instrument.’ Kox reiterated that cost was also a major stumbling block, which was something that iVention could address using these $5 computers. iVention, of course, is not the only

company looking at the issue of networking the laboratory. Paul Denny-Gouldson, vice president, strategic solutions at IDBS, explained that IDBS has been linking instruments in the lab for around 25 years and currently uses a mixture of Bluetooth and Wifi ‘along with networked TCP/IP connections, as most instruments are still hard-wired into networks.’ Kox too believes that, as well as

integrating small computers such as the Raspberry Pi, a simple Wifi or even a Bluetooth connection is another way of doing things – and that it can be done more

THE CHALLENGE OF DATA FORMATS Some challenges remain, however, particuarly the difficulties introduced by having many different file formats in use across the industry. Denny-Gouldson said: ‘Every instrument has a different type of interfacing technology and different protocols to interact with. Data comes off the instrument in a specific format for each vendor. This means you need a specific connector to talk to each instrument, which increases the complexity and cost of delivering integrations and – more importantly – maintaining them to keep up with software changes on the instrumentation.’ A clear step to solving this problem would

be to standardise these formats, but there is some reasoning behind the status quo in that it helps to lock in users to certain types of instruments. ‘It’s like having to have a new driving licence for every car,’ said Kox.

ENTER THE CLOUD? Perhaps a different technology could help surmount this particular obstacle: the cloud. iVention has developed its own system for linking instruments, which uses a background process implemented through the iVention cloud system. Kox noted: ‘That is unique, because we can make sure that we have a certain communication protocol

so we can take data into the cloud and push it back to the instrument.’ One of the advantages of the automation

of laboratories – and the use of both cloud and mobile technologies – are the synergies that this can provide for the users. While a researcher might want to access data with a mobile device, increased functionality – actually being able to visualise or get notifications when an experiment has finished, for example – becomes possible through cloud and mobile, and when instruments are connected into the system as well. Kox said: ‘You don’t need to bring your

work PC on holiday any more, because you can login to your cloud environment and download all your documents and whatever you want to use. That is where we are going in the world, and the only way to get there is through the cloud.’ Cloud based informatics, particularly

when coupled with some form of instrument integration, presents an opportunity to open up traditional workflows. This means that some tests can be re-run or initiated from outside the laboratory. Work can be pulled up from a device anywhere in the world, while the cloud provides an excellent tool for collaboration – as a laboratory can open

It should not take days to connect a single instrument, and I have seen

projects where it has taken 60 days to integrate a single instrument

up a specific area where certain data can be shared with selected partners. IDBS’s Denny-Gouldson said: ‘We have

been working on our products to make them SaaS and cloud compatible for the past four years. What is not really evident is a good set of requirements that the pharma industry agree on – around details like security, data exchange, corporate system integration, locale of data, and validation. This would help vendors align their products and offerings and streamline the “go live” process – benefitting both customers and vendors.’ Although there is still hesitation from

some companies, specifically when it comes to data security, Denny-Gouldson believes the cloud is happening and that it will be only a matter of time before these types of solutions are employed across the entire industry. ‘In terms of the future, SaaS and cloud are already important. Some | 25

Everything Possible/

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