Geoff Parker offers advice on what to consider when undertaking a digital lab transformation
Digital transformation is taking the world by storm in nearly every industry. A huge US$1.97 trillion is expected to be spent on digital transformation in 2022, globally, with some sectors such as pharma, biotech and life sciences being the latest to become more digitally enabled. Key drivers of digital transformation in most scientific labs include business expectations (converting data into actionable insights), dealing with data complexity and volume, and leveraging new technology within an evolving scientific landscape.
Another force behind the digital transformation momentum has been Covid-19. The pandemic really set the scene for a world where digital processes underpin business continuity. The importance of remote access for labs, as well as connectivity between systems and users, was highlighted, and initiated many organisations’ digital expansions, particularly with the use of laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and electronic lab notebooks (ELNs).
Dealing With Data
On the face of it, digital transformation would seem a clear motivation for a scientific lab. More powerful analytical capabilities, streamlined workflows, and faster data insights are all features that digitalised labs benefit from. A recent survey of over 1,500 directors responsible for data strategies and digital transformation at both small companies and large global enterprises, found that at least 60% of decision-makers have seen an increase in the amount of data they collect and generate.
So although embarking on digital lab transformation could deliver numerous performance advantages, do directors at the organisation level really consider the impact of this massive influx of data?
True business transformation will not be achieved if this element of digitalisation is not accounted for. A harmonised digital platform should enable analytics-powered insights from the growing data being produced, which is only possible if core services are available, such as a common user interface, enhanced security, data access, and instrument integration.
Considerations For A Smooth Transformation
The definition of digital transformation depends on the goals and objectives of the individual lab or organisation. Modern technology finds labs at varying stages of digitalisation: removing the reliance on MS Excel by implementing a LIMS or an ELN to record results could be a significant digital step for one lab, whereas another may be looking at everything from the Internet of Lab Things (IoLT) connectivity, closely integrated information system workflows, data lakes and data science solutions. So, although the considerations for each lab when undertaking digital transformation will differ, there are some common areas to address.
Don’t Just Follow The Trends
Labs are advised against undertaking a digital transformation project solely because other labs are. The most successful projects are those with clear business objectives behind them, so make sure these objectives are in place before embarking on a project.
Understand The Priorities
What are the digital transformation goals, and which workflows or processes need to be digitised first to achieve those goals? There could be a long list, but by prioritising them according to the business’ needs, you will facilitate a smoother digital transformation that lasts.
Choose Your Digital Solutions Carefully
Choosing the right lab system for an organisation has also been centred on the user requirements and their relative priorities and balancing the sometimes conflicting needs of the various workflows involved. These traditional selection factors are joined by the need to consider how the system fits into the overall digital transformation ‘platform’.
Assemble A Suitable Team
Ensure your team is invested in the project’s success, has the management skills and experience needed to see digital transformation through to ‘completion’. Regardless of the scale of the digital lab transformation, your team will need to call on a number of different skill sets from project / program management, business leadership, business analysis, system architects and laboratory subject matter experts. Getting the correct team in place is an important step, as it could be said that digital transformation is a continuous process that needs constant review.
Consider Seeking External Help
Managing a digital transformation project is a significant task and, if the team has little or no prior experience of such a project, support from an external consultancy group with a laboratory focus, technical competency and relevant experience can help ensure success. The right consultants will offer valuable insights from other successful digital transformations and, by fully integrating with the internal team, can pass on some of this valuable knowledge.
The Digital Lab Of The Future
Digital technology means not only allowing scientists to achieve more in the lab by improving processes, but is about helping organisations achieve their wider business objectives, for example speeding up drug candidates research through to development.
Experts predict that by 2026, two-thirds of life science companies will adopt the ‘intelligent lab of the future’ model by leveraging digital transformation and integrating the IoLT.3 With digitalisation seemingly inevitable in this sector, the upcoming focus will be on how to successfully implement new informatics solutions and make sure they continue to serve the lab and the business as technology evolves in the future. To do so, organisations should be continually reviewing whether their approach to digitalising lab processes is working and meeting their objectives, and what they can do differently if it isn’t.
To support long-term success, informatics consultants such as Scimcon are well placed to offer knowledge of the most suitable approaches for each lab’s specific needs, and how to work within the project team to effectively implement digital solutions. Rather than take over the project completely, consultants can make recommendations on how to utilise the talents and the resources within the department or team – but this is only possible with open communication and a degree of flexibility to adapt to any unexpected bumps in the road, with a clear eye on future success.
1. Digital Transformation in the Lab: Bridging Analog Islands in a Digital Ocean, Accenture LifeSciences, 2020.
2. Overcome Data Challenges With Data-As-A-Service, Forrester Consulting, April 2021.
3. IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Life Sciences: 2022 Predictions, IDC FutureScape, Oct 2021. https://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=US48292121 [Accessed 02/03/22]
Geoff parker is co-founder of Scimcon