What does lab of the future mean?
Now a common term in the scientific community, Lab of the Future is not a static state but instead refers to laboratories that are continuously evolving technologies, infrastructure, and ways of working that allow them to operate with more agility, adapting quickly and efficiently to the changing environment.
Katrina Costa, Science Writer for Open Pharma Research Ltd. explains that “the goal of the Lab of the Future is to drive greater scientific innovation, and ultimately get the right medicines to patients, faster.”1
Digitalization, connectivity, artificial intelligence, automation - these are all examples of ways in which analytical laboratories are advancing themselves to support continuous improvement and modernization. As labs are increasingly challenged to do more with less, the drive for efficiency has never been greater. Tools and technologies that enable ongoing efficiency improvements are often at the center of a laboratory's drive towards digital transformation.
The role of digital transformation in the lab of the future
A cornerstone of any lab of the future, the impact of digital transformation reaches much further than increasing efficiency. While we often think of digital transformation as, for example, the move from paper-based processes and record-keeping to digital, digital transformation is actually about much more than adopting new technologies and processes. It requires a shift in the mindset of a laboratory, and often entire organization, to identify, support, and sustain digital transformation that support all aspects of the lab. For example, lab sustainability, as data quality increases, fewer re-runs are required, and less resource is wasted. Compliance and data quality can also be improved by digital transformation as the opportunity for errors is reduced, while accuracy and consistency are increased. Digital transformation also plays a significant role in supporting data-driven decisions - technologies that deliver machine intelligence and learning are already beginning to influence decision making and reduce human error in the lab. The lab of the future itself is also extending beyond the boundaries of the physical laboratory, with technologies that untether scientists from the bench and provide access to data at any time, from anywhere.
How COVID impacted the need to work more remotely
The need for increased data accessibility as part of the digital transformation of laboratories was impacted greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing restrictions forced labs to adopt alternative ways of working during a time when the pressure to support human health was unprecedented. Pre-pandemic, those labs that were already adopting flexible ways of working more easily adapted when the need for remote working and access to data became immediate. Conversely, labs that were less able to adapt quickly, likely saw their productivity decrease as a result. The pandemic truly highlighted that digital transformation could support the ability of labs to react quicky and with agility to changing situations. While we rarely see situations of a similar scale to the pandemic, more commonplace changes such as staff turnover, regulatory updates, resource limitations, and tighter deadlines can also affect the efficiency and productivity of a lab, as well as the quality of the data it produces.
Connectivity and the Lab of the Future
Along with digitization, connectivity also plays a role in building a lab of the future. While many of us regularly use cloud software to manage our day-to-day lives, the implementation of cloud software and the practice of managing data via the cloud has historically been more challenging for laboratories to adopt. Many laboratories are still hesitant to use the cloud as part of their digital transformation and adopt the software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, and there are several reasons for this:
Some labs are also simply averse to change, particularly in organizations where individual labs or sites have more autonomy over their processes. Each will have their own, different ways of working and as a result, attempts to consolidate those ways of working can be met with resistance or are considered too big of a mountain to climb. Implementation at an appropriate scale can also be a difficult decision when introducing connectivity into a lab: is connectivity between instruments enough? Would more benefit be seen from wider connectivity between sites and perhaps, globally?
When assessed objectively, however, with the core goal of building a lab of the future that sustains efficiency and productivity, there are several benefits to considering connectivity as part of the journey:
CAPEX to OPEX Shift
The benefit of subscriptions rather than perpetual or on-premises licenses is two-fold: firstly, the cost is broken down over the length of the subscription term, so there is no need for a large one-off payment that often requires higher levels of business justification and approval. This shift from capital expenditure to operational expenditure also removes the infrastructure burden on the lab. Secondly, on-premises licenses usually require individual named users, with additional users resulting in additional cost. With subscriptions there is usually more flexibility when it comes to named users, with a larger number of users included in the subscription cost.
Software delivered via the cloud allows users to scale much more easily and quickly than on-premise software as access to any required software updates can be delivered instantly. The cloud infrastructure scales elastically in response to the changing needs of the customer.
The cloud means no hardware (for example a PC or local server) is needed to host the software, which also means no troublesome installation, and no ongoing maintenance fees are required. Updates to the software are automatically installed over the internet, reducing the burden on IT staff as well as eliminating the downtime associated with installing new software.
Another benefit of the cloud and SaaS is that subscribers always have access to the most current version of the software, which also means they have access to the latest features through automatic updates.
Introducing a cloud infrastructure across an organization also has the benefit of breaking down internal silos within the organization and with partners. Labs and departments can collaborate more easily and effectively, as processes are streamlined and ways of working consolidated. The ability to share richer data more easily and quickly also expedites decision making, increasing productivity.
The road to becoming a lab of the future can be a challenging one, with many obstacles that may cause laboratories to consider whether the outcome justifies the effort. However, in the face of rising consumer demand and limited resources, labs must confront a rapidly evolving business landscape, where compliance and data quality requirements for products must be met within tighter timelines and smaller budgets. The recent pandemic has impressed upon businesses the importance of not only being open to new solutions to increase capacity, efficiency, and productivity, but also having the organizational agility to implement them. Opening the door to connectivity at any scale within the laboratory is a critical milestone on the road to becoming a lab of the future. It allows labs to break down silos, increase their capacity, and collaborate more effectively.
To learn more about how WatersTM can support your journey to becoming a lab of the future visit www.waters.com/SystemMonitoring