Sometimes, when you’re trying to come up with a better way to solve a challenge, it can help to step back and consider the situation from a new vantage point. We did this when we were building our new product — Labbit — an intelligent laboratory information management system (LIMS) designed with lab operations as the focus.
We asked ourselves:
- What if we viewed the laboratory as a logistics supply chain?
- Could we manage assays like they’re products?
- What does viewing the entire assay as a unit-of-work rather than the sample as the unit-of-work add to the conversation?
- Are there best practices we can adopt from logistics that could streamline a lab’s operations?
The purpose of this exercise is not to diminish the role of the clinical laboratory. Rather, it’s to see if any novel interdisciplinary concepts could be beneficial in the lab environment.
What do we mean by a logistics supply chain?
A supply chain is a method for transforming raw materials into products and subsequently getting those products to customers.
In a supply chain:Raw materials are transformed into products, which are delivered to customers.
To manage this process, also known as logistics management, you need to plan, implement, and coordinate all the components, the production process, and ultimately, the delivery of products. The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals also calls out the importance of suppliers, intermediaries, and third-party service providers in supply chain management.
Logistics in the clinical lab setting
If we want to apply the supply chain model to a clinical lab, we can substitute “patient samples” for “raw materials”, so it looks like this:
In a lab:Patient samples (raw materials) are transformed into results (products), which are delivered to healthcare providers or the requesting lab (customers).
This sample-to-result process obviously has many moving parts (see our previous post on the lab technology stack for insights into this). At a very high level, a lab has to manage:
- One or more wet lab workflows.
- Consumables, such as reagents and tubes, which you have to keep stocked and which represent 15-45% of a laboratory budget.
- Vendors that supply these consumables.
- Vendors that provide the lab’s software.
- Modifications made to the lab’s software, such as new workflows, changes to workflows, upgrades, and integrations.
- Diagnostic report generation, sign-off, and delivery.
- Training and certification for staff.
- Alignment with regulatory requirements.
This is a lot to manage! But each piece is important in order for labs to run efficiently. In particular, staying on top of consumables inventory is critical if you want to keep the supply chain running smoothly. If a high throughput lab runs out of reagents, for example, it could violate turnaround time commitments and lose significant revenue.
In supply chains in other industries, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are used for logistics planning. They pull all the business processes together into a single system — to ensure optimal performance, better operational visibility, and the agility necessary to prepare and respond to disruption.
ERP systems often include dashboards and business intelligence to help you make data-driven decisions. But they also replace laborious manual data entry with automated processes and enable inventory tracking. Basically, they help streamline the supply chain from end to end.
At Semaphore, we believe that adding ERP-like functionality to a LIMS would let labs operate more smoothly. You could coordinate with vendors easily for greater certainty that you’ll always have the right consumables on hand, as well as predict result delivery dates. This would let you see where processes could be optimized through improvements such as automation or integration.
Another benefit is that ERP solutions are built for scalability. That means the software can grow and change with your business. We’ve mentioned before how important that is, especially if your lab wants to scale throughput.
A LIMS with built-in ERP functions could help you manage all the logistics of your lab, from optimizing every aspect of your workflows to delivering results to your customers, all while ensuring regulatory compliance. But it could also help with many other aspects of the business, from finance to procurement, quality assurance, and laboratory operations.
A new type of LIMS — with ERP functions built in
While no LIMS on the market today includes these types of ERP functions, the good news is that one is coming! We’ve been working with diagnostic labs for years — building integrations and customizations, and workarounds. But we thought there had to be a better way to address the many challenges labs face. So, we’ve built a new type of LIMS — Labbit — an adaptable order-to-result software solution designed for the molecular diagnostics lab.
- Dynamic change management support.
- Visual tasks and workflows.
- Complete, standardized provenance.
- Highly flexible integration tools.
- Automatable, scalable software testing.
- Regulatory compliance automation.