Updated on 17 September 2013
One of the greatest advantages of mobile devices is that they are a two-way street. Not only can users submit data to the LIMS, they can also examine and look at data on a device without physically entering the lab. Modern LIMS offer connectivity with mobile devices that allow lab personnel to visualize results from high-level trends down to granular details.
For life sciences labs performing extensive chromatography runs, for example, data must constantly be monitored to ensure results match up with reference data. Researchers aren't interested in general results alone, they want the ability to drill down to the level of individual components and peaks. A LIMS provides access to interactive data - not just a static image such as a jpeg or pdf - from a mobile device, allowing the lab to run far more efficiently. The same goes for automated alerts on sample runs: mobile devices linked to the LIMS allow users to make a decision from a remote location about whether an outlying result requires a retest or a full investigation, preventing unnecessary delays. Because of these visualization and connectivity advances, laboratory personnel are free to be far more creative as they design workflows. Data management is no longer a limiting factor in the laboratory; instead it is a driving force for innovation.
Another way mobile devices increase the amount of data available to lab managers as they create workflows is by enabling additional users to submit information to the LIMS. For example, someone in receiving can use a mobile device to scan barcodes on shipments of biological samples or other materials, then upload that data directly to the LIMS. This works especially well for correcting issues with suppliers, since shipments can be checked for missing items and compared to the shipping manifest at receiving without the need for a lab technician to get involved. A worker outside the laboratory can record photographic evidence and store it in the LIMS until the problem has been resolved.
The challenge of mobile devices
The benefits of mobile devices are undeniable, but new technologies also present new challenges for laboratories. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the 'bring your own device' (BYOD) trend: employees, from the C-Suite to individual technicians, now have preferred mobile devices. If a personal device has a certain capability that a user likes, why shouldn't it be used in the workplace?
As IT professionals know well, BYOD brings a host of issues, from information security and regulatory compliance (especially in regulated life sciences or healthcare environments) to software compatibility. But these concerns have done little to stem the oncoming tide of hybrid personal/professional devices. Once a CEO becomes accustomed to his or her home tablet, there is no turning back. Laboratories have so far typically avoided BYOD policies, especially in life sciences industries, due to sensitivities around intellectual property protection. In pharmaceutical labs, for example, the risks involving counterfeit drugs are too great - and the regulations too rigorous - to allow technicians to use personal mobile devices to submit or analyze sample data.