Posted on LIMS Implementation. 17 February, 2018
As Intel’s CIO, Kim Stevenson, recently commented, “There are no IT projects, only business projects”. Given the increasing pressure that modern scientific organizations are facing to improve operational efficiency, reduce costs, enhance innovation and reduce compliance risk, it is critical for companies to ensure that laboratory informatics projects help to fulfill these important business goals.
Unfortunately, companies often fail to do the strategic planning necessary to ensure the success of laboratory informatics projects. Many organizations try to select and implement a system without first performing the due diligence required to align laboratory functional needs with the strategic needs of the business—an error that is magnified if more than one site is involved. Towards this end, the first step in any laboratory informatics project should always be a thorough workflow and business analysis.
Randy Hice, Managing Director at Astrix Technology Group, recently gave a webinar entitled “Ensuring the Success of Your Informatics Projects with Business Process Analysis.” In this blog, we will summarize the important points from this webinar, and expand on how your organization can align business processes, business goals, and technology to ensure your laboratory informatics project maximizes business value.
Astrix Business Process Analysis Overview
At Astrix, we apply Business Process Analysis (BPA) as the first step in our comprehensive and proven methodology (The Astrix Approach™) to ensure the success of laboratory informatics projects. A rigorous approach to Business Process Analysis has three main objectives:
The Current State
Before setting foot onsite, Astrix BPA experts communicate with the customer’s management team to determine project scope, sites involved, customer project personnel and skill levels, management dedication/commitment, available budget, current systems and infrastructure, number of users, work groups and a precise site interview agenda.
Once onsite, our Business Analysts discuss the project at a high level with the customer’s management team to understand the goals, aspirations and objectives of the desired future state (i.e., strategic needs). This is followed up with interviews with bench-level analysts and supervisory personnel in different laboratory groups (e.g., incoming materials, in-process testing, final release, QC/QA, etc.) that ultimately lead to the production of current state (As-Is) Visio workflow diagrams.
When Astrix begins working with a customer, we will often be provided with workflow diagrams that lack the necessary detail. A good current state diagram will get into the details of the workflow – how samples are identified, how tests are associated with samples, how notifications work, etc. The As-Is workflow diagrams that are produced by the Astrix Team are at a level of detail to allow for process improvement analysis and meaningful requirements development.
Once complete, the current state (As-Is) process maps are utilized to identify workflow inefficiencies and wait states, and serve as the underpinnings of the future (To-Be) state and eventual system design. One example of a current state workflow that leads to process inefficiencies is what we call “ambush samples.” In this scenario, a sample is dropped onto a technician’s desk first thing in the morning with no advance notice. The technician is then forced to engage in all the activities required to process that sample – label the sample, glassware prep, equilibrate instruments, prepare mobile phases or reagents, etc. A good way to improve on this process is to design future state workflows so the users have advance warning of the work that is coming to them, so they can complete preparatory work ahead of time, and then hit the ground running in terms of analyzing the sample when it arrives, thus eliminating dead time.
The Future State
With the current state documented, and process inefficiencies identified, the Astrix Team goes to work creating the optimized future state (To-Be) workflows. By drawing on our experience working on hundreds of different implementation projects, and a comprehensive understanding of how today’s complex software systems have been deployed to great success, our expert professionals design the future state model for your company based on agreed-upon business needs. This design work is conducted off-site.
Future state models are then reviewed on-site with the customer team. Key customer personnel vet and affirm future state workflows to confirm that they reflect a viable design that addresses the problems that have been identified. Gone are the days when vendors deployed a system and expected a customer to conform to it. With Astrix’s unique methodology, only functionality with proven business benefits for you company is implemented.
In addition, Astrix’s methodology for BPA ensures that users buy-in to the future state. This is because users get to participate with management in a collaborative process resulting in an agreement that “this is how we are going to work.” Both users and management are engaged to make sure that the future state workflows lead to real process improvements, and that these new workflows support business goals. User buy-in helps to avoid the disaster scenario of a company spending the time and money to implement a new system that no one ends up using.
Future State Requirements
The collaborative agreement between users and management on the To-be workflows results in the creation of very specific requirements utilizing the Astrix Laboratory Requirements Database™. These requirements are tailored to the customer’s unique operating environment to a high degree of specificity and defined at a level that can be addressed through the new software.
System requirements become vendor requirements and are constrained to business/process improvements that stakeholders have already bought into. The requirements are precise enough to require any technology vendor to provide very specific answers in response to a Request for Proposal (RFP), as opposed to a cut and paste boilerplate responses. This process helps to prevent the customer from choosing a software product for the wrong reasons (i.e., bells and whistles). The BPA process also serves to tighten down the project budget – money is only spent on items that all stakeholders have agreed bring business benefit.
With an approved future state model in hand, project plan development time is greatly reduced, and prioritization of functionality rollout is laser-targeted. The continuum from initial As-Is analysis through system design is an approach unique to Astrix, and is designed to enhance the success of our customers.
Ensuring the Success of Your Project with BPA
One of the biggest mistakes that companies make during a laboratory informatics project is to skip Business Process Analysis (BPA) altogether and simply connect developers with users to configure current workflows into the new system. In this scenario, a huge opportunity to optimize work processes during the project is lost. If the main focus of your implementation methodology is to simply speed up inefficient work processes with a fancy new informatics system, then you just end up with faster bad work processes.
Vendor support teams also often neglect to perform a rigorous BPA and place much of the responsibility for the design and implementation of the system on the customer. Given that the customer usually is not aware of all the available functionality of the software, this approach can lead to improperly configured requirements while vendor developers churn through project development dollars.
The reality is that, with the complex workflows and technologies utilized in labs and the many different aspects of the enterprise that laboratory systems touch, success in laboratory informatics projects can be very difficult to achieve. In general, the bigger the project, the more problems can occur. Some of the common roadblocks to success in laboratory informatics projects that a rigorous process of business analysis can help to mitigate include:
These potential problems can be avoided by applying a comprehensive Business Process Analysis methodology that will result in a project with precise scope and cost.
Since 1995, Astrix professionals have successfully applied best practices in the evaluation of work processes, functional and technical requirements, laboratory processes and informatics solution options for hundreds of clients and tens of thousands of scientists in a wide range of industries. Our professionals stay current on a wide range of informatics platforms and applications through vendor conferences and trainings, and by working on many different client projects.
Many companies have highly skilled business analysis, project managers and systems analysts, yet they still run into problems in informatics projects due to lack of familiarity with the full range of capacities that modern systems bring to the table. Our exposure to hundreds of customer initiatives and expertise with many different systems allows for an enhanced understanding of what might be possible.
Our experience and expertise allow us to work with a high degree of focus, efficiency and accuracy as we apply our BPA methodology to your project. For example, the future state models developed by Astrix Business Analysts off-site are typically require very little modification upon review – we usually see less than 10% changes to the future state models during the review process.
Other advantages that an external consultant can offer include:
The benefits of Business Process Analysis include:
Whether you hire an external consultant or utilize internal resources, we encourage you to follow the process described in this article to identify technology requirements and select the technology platform(s) that you will implement. An effective Business Process Analysis conducted at the beginning of your project ensures that your laboratory workflows are optimized and that the technology that is implemented will bring business value to your organization.
About the Author
|Randy Hice is recognized worldwide as a leading authority in laboratory informatics, specifically focused on complex, large-scale customers implementing Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), Laboratory Information Systems (LIS), ELN, and sophisticated Cloud architectures.|
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