‘There’s a kind of three-way overlap

The future of the laboratory Thermo Fisher Scientific is now working with customers to engineer the nuts and bolts of that digital evolution. ‘We mustn’t underestimate the amount of work that has to be done,’ Milne acknowledges. ‘We are still nearer to the beginning than to the end, and part of the overall process is evaluating how we can re-architect software to facilitate true digital transformation, so that our customers can think beyond a single software application or package.’ Already operating multi-billion dollar instrument, consumables, software and service businesses means that Thermo Fisher Scientific is ideally placed to drive that transformation, Milne believes. ‘Our relationship with customers goes

beyond vendor and purchaser. Instead, customers are coming to us to help them solve problems, and to build connections and synapses in laboratories, so that it is possible to integrate, interconnect and maximise the value of instrumentation and software from multiple vendors.’ In this future lab environment LIMS will

still exist, he continues. ‘However, rather than offer functionality as a standalone, discrete software application, LIMS will act, or be positioned, as a digital operating system, effectively providing an enabling software environment to maximise the value of all parts of laboratory processes, including collaboration, with internal and external laboratories and departments.’ The drive to develop technologies that will enable seamless integration of all experimental and analytical data, metadata | @scwmagazine

”This is a much bigger concept than just the development of LIMS software applications, although the software sits in the middle of it”

and supporting business information applies to laboratories in diverse industries, from food and beverage to petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals, notes Rob Brown, vice president, product marketing at Dotmatics. The UK-based company has developed a suite of scalable enterprise solutions for wide-ranging applications, including chemistry and biologics database management, and high-throughput or high- content screening.

The Dotmatics ELN has been developed

to facilitate that transfer of information between and within laboratory operations. An ELN and LIMS will often work hand-in- hand to manage different types of data, so that context can be retained and combined, Brown states. ‘Whereas the LIMS will capture the structured, raw data out of instruments, an ELN may be harnessed to help translate data into scientific context.’ And while an ELN will typically record unstructured workflows and experimentally derived data, the line between LIMS, ELN and scientific data management system (SDMS) does sometimes have blurred edges, he notes. Each type of software may have crossover functionality.

here,’ he stated ‘Now we have notebook templates for some disciplines that are extremely structured, such as medicinal chemistry, which will require a very fixed set of information for every experiment. At the other extreme, we have molecular biology notebook templates that are really much more ad hoc and freeform. One lab may want to capture their research- based experimental workflows into an ELN, whereas others have a much broader definition of what they expect from their LIMS’ functionality, and will look for ELN capabilities within their LIMS, in addition to the ability to manage samples and analytical workflows and results.’ In February Dotmatics announced a

partnership with TetraScience, through which the companies aim to develop an informatics-driven process that will allow laboratories to automate laboratory functionality and data management. Ultimately that informatics process may allow scientists to put plates on to a reader (for example) and just ‘hit go’ Brown says. ‘The software combination will capture and clean the data from the instrument, create a new experiment in a notebook, and populate that experiment with all of the instrument and metadata, as well as results, and potentially carry out data analyses. This process will further blur the boundaries of functionality between ELN, LIMS, and integrate completely with instrument software, he adds. ‘It takes intelligent informatics systems to achieve this, to deal with the instrumentation and results, and to clean that data ready for analysis.’ Additional drivers of integrated

informatics and automation include the sheer volume of data that are now being generated and can’t be managed manually, and increased collaboration with external partners and contact research organisations (CROs), Brown adds. Experiments may be designed by one organisation, but then carried out in the laboratories of another. ‘This highlights the imperative for usability and accessibility of software, such as ELNs and to some extent LIMS, especially when considering that partners may be working in different native

April/May 2019 Scientific Computing World 17


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