By Mark D. Uehling
July 15, 2003 | Certain marriages are not so much arranged as pre-ordained. So it is with the latest announcement from Oracle and Applied Biosystems (ABI), which have integrated the Oracle9i Application Server and ABI's SQL*LIMS (laboratory information management system).
The biggest name in pharmaceutical databases has been partnering with the biggest name in genomic and proteomic equipment for at least a decade. But the depth of the new integration effort is noteworthy. It further blurs the faint line between an instrument that creates data and the database where that data is analyzed.
ABI, for its part, says its LIMS is used by 4,000 customers. For Oracle, surprisingly, the DNA sequencing goliath is just another software company. "To us, they are an application developer," says Oracle's Sanjay Sinha, senior director of business development for Oracle9i. "They'll embed their software in the application."
Closer links between the two programs will enable an out-of-the-box Web interface to ABI's LIMS program. That, in turn, will allow ABI customers to vastly simplify logins and monitor a laboratory's output remotely. "The idea is to get away from silos of information and enable enterprise-wide sharing of information," Sinha says. "Customers wanted to be able to provide access to their lab systems to a much wider audience."
As an example, Sinha notes, some customers need to connect a LIMS to enterprise resource planning (ERP) or customer relationship management (CRM) software. The links to Oracle 9i Application Server will enable such ties in a much less arduous way; those connections had typically been hand-coded. Even now, installations won't happen over night: the installation of ABI's SQL*LIMS package remains a custom job taking 3-12 months.
At Applied Biosystems, Ray Stonecipher, senior manager for software integration services in the knowledge business, notes the company's LIMS software works fine with a variety of instruments -- not just those manufactured by his company. "We are the central hub for the information," he says. "Data is entered once into the LIMS and transferred as needed to the various instrumentation pieces."
The new cooperation with Oracle will make that easier, eliminating the need for intermediate layers of software like Oracle's own Forms application or solutions using Citrix Systems' technology. It also addresses the concerns of regulatory-minded users in the lab who want a solution that is compliant with 21 CFR Part 11. "All the information collected in the lab must be tracked," Stonecipher says. "You must have audit trails and electronic signatures on all that. Our system supports all that functionality."
Stonecipher says Applied Bio also wants to more easily connect its LIMS to other enterprise-level software. Applications like SAP can be tied into Oracle now, he says. But standardizing around Oracle will make that easier. Using an ABI data-conversion software program called IDM-LimsLink, the LIMS can even capture data from third-party laboratory equipment enabled with a Windows-friendly RS-232 communications port.
Stonecipher adds that in some cases, customers in pharmaceutical companies just want an easier way to track what is happening in the lab on a day-to-day basis. "In almost all environments," he says, "the majority of users are data consumers. What they need is a simple tool that allows them to go in and browse the information and get it as quickly as possible. The Web application is the perfect thing."