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Thermo’s Bold Bet on LIMS On Demand

By John Russell

May 18, 2010 | The Russell Transcript | For several years, the LIMS market (roughly $400 million worldwide) has been stuck in neutral. Most labs forego the use of commercial LIMS for various reasons—high cost, year-long deployment efforts, inflexibility, etc. But that’s all about to change, says Kim Shah, Thermo Fisher Scientific’s director of marketing, informatics.

Yes, Thermo, the giant instrument manufacturer whose supersized LIMS offerings are often portrayed as the archetype for big companies with far-flung operations, big IT staffs, and big budgets. The operative word is BIG. No longer, says Shah. In February, Thermo rolled out its LIMS-on-demand initiative in which the company will deliver its powerful LIMS using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Thermo’s introductory offering is designed to lower the barrier to entry. The target market extends down to very small labs with just a few workers.

The life science market has finally accepted SaaS, says Shah. He points to efforts by Sciformatix, a young company with a hosted LIMS offering, and GenoLogics’ web-based collaboration tool (LabLink) as demonstrating market acceptance and demand. The SaaS model is the way of the future for many applications, he insists, and the client server world with its blizzard of license fees and support requirements will diminish. Think, Shah says, the popular web-based customer relationship management tool. “Some of these things are just laws of nature. There’s no reason why this industry or this application area should be any different.” It is clear that the recent recession and industry-specific pressures have inclined all of biopharma to externalize costs where possible.

Rather than rewrite its existing LIMS code, Thermo purchased technology to put a web-enabling “wrapper” around the existing product. It worked with customers testing the product in a variety of configurations—browser-based, but server inside the user company, browser-based but with the server outside the user’s firewall, etc.

The new offering will deliver all the advantages of a full-feature LIMS in a highly usable way. Reaching customers through a hosted log-on system essentially creates a new marketing channel to interact with customers. “Each time [the lab manager goes online, there could be a message waiting for them about a new method development or a new SOP or a new government ruling,” he says.

LIMS Evolution

Regulatory compliance was a big driver through LIMS’ first decade, Shah says. Most LIMS were used to manage paper and to “automate the process of taking data directly from an instrument into a piece of software. These steps were important in reducing errors, providing audit trails, and helping users to reach and maintain GLP practice.”

Globalization and the rise of the internet drove LIMS expansion (use and functionality) in the second decade. Companies began operating in multiple locations and started diversifying and outsourcing much of their value chain. The issue became how to harmonize those processes, so LIMS became valuable in creating standards for processes and methods.

In the third decade, companies started to look at investments already made in their laboratories—“instruments, laptops, software, and not just LIMS software. They are looking at ERP software, document management software, ELNs, and depending on the industry, even MES (manufacturing execution systems) systems.”

Looking at the new LIMS-on-Demand offering, Shah says it is very practical for a new user to get up and running in six months. Moreover, given a hosted LIMS option, he expects small labs will follow the same adoption curve as big users, evolving to make use of more sophisticated functionality. One key market segment is small labs with 3-5 scientists. “They will … say they are going to drive this lab into the 21st century by adopting this technology. In terms of usage, I think they will clearly have not a large volume of samples necessarily but there will be a time criticality in what they are doing.” Among the beta users is at least one big pharma and the University of Miami. The on-demand solution won’t work for everyone, concedes Shah. Customization requirements are problematic. “We can configure but can’t customize,” he says.

ThermoFisher is fond of saying its works with 350,000 labs, the bulk of which are buying consumables. Thermo Informatics works with something closer to 15,000 labs. That leaves a huge upside for the LIMS-on-Demand product. Customer expansion and effective use of the “new distribution channel” are early goals. Shah hopes to get 30-50 new customers by early 2011 and 100 the following year. It will be interesting to see if hosted LIMS offerings do indeed repeat a like success. 

This article also appeared in the May-June 2010 issue of Bio-IT World Magazine. Subscriptions are free for qualifying individuals. Apply today.

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