This week’s post comes from Vincent Briere of Vertiance. Vincent is a strategic technology leader and business partner driving enterprise growth and business performance via scalable information technology. He’s worked in the area of business application selection for many years and has developed a rapid data-driven process. It’s a process we would recommend to the clinical diagnostic laboratories we work with when they’re selecting a laboratory information management system (LIMS). Welcome, Vincent!
Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, helping them select different types of business applications to meet their business goals. Based on that experience, I’ve developed a four-phased application selection process. Companies that follow this streamlined approach can successfully choose software that fits their needs and requirements quickly and efficiently.
The four phases
1. Outreach and screening
In this initial phase, I recommend casting your net wide to gather as much information as you can. What you’re trying to achieve here is to quickly and effectively identify the key LIMS components that are important to your business and shortlist a few vendors to move forward with.
I suggest reading news articles — I personally use blogs like this one by Semaphore, which can be a great resource. Understand market trends, learn about relevant products, and have a quick introduction with vendors. But stop short of getting into extensive conversations with lengthy demonstrations and biased marketing content. Simply explain your selection process to them and what they can expect next.
Another important step during this phase is to understand what your lab needs. I work with labs to complete a prioritized needs assessment, establish high-level requirements, and create weighted success criteria to evaluate and prioritize factors such as vendor agility, scalability, professional services, and functional capabilities. This allows me to score the vendors against these criteria at various phases of the selection, keeping in mind that each company is unique.
I then suggest you request this wide array of vendors to self-assess their applications against your company’s prioritized requirements. Also, gather as much information from and about the vendors as you can.
2. Business alignment
In this second phase, I recommend shortlisting your LIMS choices to identify three or four main contenders using the prioritized criteria from the first phase. You have effectively saved yourself hours of sales meetings and canned presentations.
Now is the time to perform a detailed analysis of each option. For instance, what can you find out about the vendor? Have they had a lot of turnover? What is their investment or equity strategy? Are they in the middle of a merger? Does the vendor profile match your own? I personally use Linkedin and Crunchbase for some of this research.
It’s also time to establish a strong connection with the vendors’ executives in charge of their customers and meet with their security and compliance teams.
Finally, if you have not already done so, finetune the details of your company and lab requirements, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and LIMS workflows — and document them.
3. Evaluation and selection
This is it. In this third phase, it’s time to dig deep into the details of your LIMS shortlist. You might be able to let go of one or two vendors so you can focus your time and energy on the remaining ones. I recommend giving each shortlisted vendor an opportunity to present their solution and implementation services, tailored to meet your workflows and processes. These presentations will help you see distinct differences between them. For example, one of my recent clients strongly preferred one vendor because of their level of engagement, capabilities, and response to questions while other vendors did not meet all of their criteria.
You may have several unanswered questions after these presentations. Do not hesitate to send follow-up questionnaires or request additional demonstrations. It is really important to compare apples to apples. Some companies spend many hours in these presentations to ensure they have all the information they need to make a decision.
4. Reference and purchasing
In the fourth and final phase, I recommend bringing in your top two vendors for further discussion about pricing and potential customizations. This gives your lab some leverage in negotiating a deal before buying a LIMS. Also, make sure you ask to speak to similar-sized customer references. My advice is to ask these references questions such as: What did you learn in the process? What do you wish you’d done better?
No vendor will give you a bad customer reference. Make sure to dot the ‘i’s and cross the ‘t’s, but also use the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes.
Benefits of using this process to select a LIMS
Using this four-phased approach should enable you to complete the selection and purchase of a new piece of software within eight weeks (or less), if you already have your processes and SOPs documented. However, note that if your lab is in the early startup stage, you might need to allow extra time to document your workflows and processes.
I’ve found that this approach removes a lot of the bias that can creep into the selection process. It also takes into account the unique issues related to selecting a LIMS, including the complex and specific industry requirements and the fact that the LIMS market is still catching up with other sectors in adopting the cloud. Because it’s an approach that’s driven by the data, you don’t need to be concerned that you’ll be swayed by schmoozy sales pitches.
Critical factors to consider when you’re buying a LIMS
If you’re in the middle of selecting a LIMS now, I recommend you hit pause and take the time to rank your criteria for success. Every lab has different priorities, but in my experience, common factors include:
- Scalability. This one is important. Can you talk with other companies that have scaled up using this LIMS? Firsthand experience is invaluable.
- Professional services. Does the vendor offer implementation services or do they outsource it to external partners (e.g., Semaphore is an Illumina Preferred Partner for Clarity LIMS professional services.) What’s their process to ensure that the solution ultimately meets your requirements?
- Functional capabilities. Cross-check that the system can support your lab’s unique workflows and any advanced features you may need.
- Affordability. This is often the last priority for labs, but don’t underestimate the importance of cost flexibility. When you’re looking for a commodity tool, it’s okay to use the most affordable. But for something as critical to your business as a LIMS, you might need to spend more than your initial estimates suggest.
At Semaphore, we think it’s critically important that you use a data-driven methodology like this to choose the best LIMS for your lab. Every aspect of the vendor relationship and their strategy for customizing the LIMS to meet your requirements can make a difference to your short- and long-term success. Remember, too, that there can be lots of hidden costs that don’t always appear in vendor quotes. It can be difficult to create a budget early in the process, but that cost uncertainty should decrease as you move through the process.