Avoiding Bad Lab Software: A 3-Step Guide

Effective software evaluation is a vital skill needed to achieve success in your lab and career in the life sciences. Here’s how to do it:

1. Know your requirements

Clear and detailed software requirements are very important, but also difficult to create. With clear documentation, you can ensure that you are getting exactly what you have asked for. It also benefits all parties by establishing the scope of the project, helping it stay on time and on budget.

Creating requirements that are broad enough, yet sufficiently granular, can be a difficult task.

Example A (Not Ideal)Example B (Ideal)
"Patient data entry forms will ensure validity of data entry.""Field ‘Test Result’ of Subject ‘Sample’ will include logic forbidding setting values option below 1 or over 100, and from setting the Acceptable Threshold above or equal to the Excellent Threshold."
Explanation: Workable, but not specific enough, contains moderate/low riskExplanation: Includes data model object ‘Sample’, points to metadata names and values, provides specific logic

Creating a data model also helps create optimal understanding. A data model shows how various system objects are related to each other (example: ‘Patient’ or ‘Client’ may be related to ‘Samples’). Your data model can be communicated as a diagram showing parent/child reference relationships or as a list like this:

Subject: ‘Sample’ (Child of ‘Patient’)

Field NameValues (if present)Values Detail (if present)
Test Result1 – 1001–50 poor, 51–75 acceptable, 76–100 excellent

Capturing your requirements and data model might also help you reprioritize scope so that you can reduce immediate cost or timeline; for example, by moving some less urgent or more costly features to “Phase 2” of the project.

2. Know your stakeholders

Your stakeholders will be the gatekeepers for two critical steps: purchasing and going live.

You may have written your requirements phenomenally, followed a well-crafted and documented process (see below) but if you don’t get buy in from the financial leaders of your lab, you won’t be procuring lab software anytime soon. Imagine this and be ready: lab software is not cheap and management thinks the existing solution is working just fine.

Another important step in meeting your desired go-live date is user acceptance testing. It is important that you keep key users involved throughout your evaluation process and beyond in order to avoid project halting surprises during UAT.

Ensure that your software provider is an ally in managing your stakeholders. Your part is to ensure that the right people from your lab are involved, the provider’s part is to communicate with your end users and other stakeholders the correct details of what their solution offers.

3. Know your process

Below are three key events when working with a software provider that you need to make your own and master.

First contact:
  • Is the provider responsive?
  • Does the provider have a solution that sounds like it matches your requirements?
  • Does the provider have a solid strategy for managing software requirements?
  • Schedule the demo. Make sure the provider will have staff attending who can answer the types of questions your stakeholders will be asking.
  • Capture your key takeaways from the discussion.
Demo:
  • Make sure all your stakeholders will be able to attend.
  • Ahead of time, send your requirements to the provider (get an NDA/CDA executed, if needed).
  • Ahead of time, create a list of your 5-10 questions you will ask.
  • Stop the presenter often to give stakeholders space to ask their questions.
  • If certain features or other content cannot be demoed, request screenshots or another demo.
  • Request a quote.
  • Capture your key takeaways from the demo.
Quotation:
  • Make sure to have your fiscal stakeholders participate in the quotation review.
  • Did the provider mention or include your requirements in the quote body? If not, request it.
  • Try to get quotes from at least two providers and do a comparison. Ask questions about sections where one quote seems less clear than another.
  • Find out what is not included in the quote (support, instrument integrations, validation documentation, training, etc. may or may not be included)
  • Capture your key takeaways from the quote and follow up negotiation.

 

Time for a final review. The one rule here: don’t ignore concerns. Ask for another demo or update to the quotation if you think it would help. Next comes the order.

Lab software evaluation can be an overly costly exercise or can be overlooked for its importance. Master these deceptively simple steps and find Laboratory Information Bliss tomorrow and for the rest of your career.