By: Paul Dudley
Today’s microbiology laboratories can generate an extensive amount of data across a variety of technologies. Labs are tasked with providing test results and information that is vital to the success of the organization and the safety of its products. Of course, businesses and consumers demand efficiency – the goal is not only to provide safe products, but to provide them as quickly as possible. As labs are updated and become more modern, better methods of data management and record keeping may be necessary in order to maintain or improve efficiency. Luckily, there is a means to achieve this: Laboratory Information Management Systems, or LIMS. 
LIMS are software-based information systems that allows labs to track and share data within their environment. There are numerous LIMS software applications, both open-source and proprietary. But all have the same general goal – to help streamline data management to improve efficiency while reducing overhead costs. LIMS can provide significant time savings for all people involved in a project by improving data access. 
Example diagram showing the concept behind a Laboratory Information Management System and how data & information can be shared within a laboratory environment.
There are many advantages that the incorporation of a Laboratory Information Management System has over a more manual, traditional laboratory. Some of these include improved efficiency, the ability to go paperless, cost reduction, and compliance. Keep in mind, there are quite a few options when it comes to implementing a LIMS system, and whether it was initially an open-source application or a purchased program, a great deal of customization is usually implemented. So when we talk about advantages, some may be more often utilized than others. But any of these features can be of great benefit, depending on the wants and needs of the individual lab.
Improved efficiency is easily recognized when you eliminate the potential for errors from manual data entry. The greater the amount of samples being processed and the total workload, the greater the chance for an error. On the other hand, LIMS streamlines data entry by automating the process. This results in less downtime, faster access to data, and the ability for the LIMS to grow with the increasing needs of the lab.
Some LIMS programs will authorize users to either modify existing reports or create new ones. Also, web-based applications can interface with the LIMS so users don’t need to work directly with the LIMS itself but rather can work with just the reporting modules that in turn query the database  . QC Management can use LIMS for scheduling and Certificates of Analysis. Another great ‘paperless’ feature of LIMS is the ability of some programs to hold all pricing information for tests, which allows invoices to be produced for online access or as PDF documents  . There are many examples of projects for implementing a paperless lab and how they benefited their labs, and one example showed a 30-40% gain in resources as a result of going paperless  .
When it comes to management at an executive level, the proof is in the bottom line. Successful businesses rely on effective cost management. Total costs of operations come in many forms, including labor, resources, downtime, time-to-market, and more. LIMS can impact many of these costs of doing business. For example, one laboratory that implemented a LIMS system reduced its capital investment by 50%, while productivity rose at multiple laboratories  . Another lab saw a 50% increase in throughput two years after implementing their LIMS  . When you consider the time savings, efficiency, and the resulting improvements in time-to-market, LIMS can significantly contribute to overall improvements in cost management.
Product safety continues to be scrutinized in every market – including Food & Beverage, Nutraceutical, Cosmetics, and Pharmaceuticals. Regulatory requirements are implemented to help reduce the risk of contamination, and different products and ingredients require different requirements. This makes LIMS very essential. LIMS can assist in real-time monitoring and Quality Control. Workflows can be managed, samples logged, and tests can be checked against protocols and procedures to ensure compliance. Out-of-spec samples can be reported automatically and flagged. Reports can be automatically generated, and access to this information can be quickly gained by QC. The overall increase in a structured approach via LIMS ensures compliance as business grows and throughput needs increase.
Neogen Corporation provides Rapid Microbiology Method (RMM) platforms such as BioLumix and Soleris. Both systems can interface and exist within a LIMS environment. For more information, visit http://www.mybiolumix.com or go to www.neogen.com.
The BioLumix system provides a single platform for all microbiology assays available for that system, allowing a large variety of tests without the need of additional equipment. And its versatile – the modular design allows it to grow to meet throughput needs. Results of tests for assays such as Total Aerobic Count, Yeast & Mold, Salmonella, and many more can be obtained within 24-48 hours. Tests are be monitored in real time, and a Certificate of Analysis is automatically generated. The system validates to USP <51>, <61>, <62>, <2021>, <2022>, and <2023>  . In addition, Environmental Monitoring and Water Testing can be performed on the same platform.
Other advantages of the BioLumix System:
• Fully automated, easy to use.
• Faster sample preparation
• Faster turnaround time
• Fully Validated - the system comes complete with IQ, OQ, PQ and all SOP documentation
• Outstanding support
As mentioned before, there are too many LIMS vendors to mention in this document. Some applications will be better suited than others for your specific needs. http://www.Limswiki.org has an extensive list of vendors that provide LIMS systems, and they even break out the vendors by industry. So if you are looking for something more suited for Cosmetics, or for Food & Beverage, you can find those subcategories within that site. It’s not the end-all be-all of resources, but it might be a good place to start.
4. Ruth Eden, Ph. D., Neogen Corp.
5. Food Quality Magazine (http://www.foodquality.com/details/article/5621151/The_Paperless_Microbiology_Laboratory.html?tzcheck=1)