LIMS in academics, then and now

LIMS in academics, then and now


By Robert Benz, Sales & Marketing Director for Khemia Software


I recently read, or I should say reread, an article written by Douglas Perry for the American Chemical Society in Today’s Chemist at Work titled “LIMS in the academic world” (  The article was published in January of 2002.  Almost exactly fifteen years later, most of the well discussed points are still valid.  LIMS has not truly found a home in academic settings despite the fact it is rare to see an operating commercial laboratory in any business sector without some sort of LIMS in place today.


Certainly, exceptions exist and are more numerous than 15 year ago but overall, not by much.  A true disconnect still appears between LIMS use in academia versus “the real world” of commercial and government run laboratories.  Today, even small wastewater plants are installing a LIMS or LIMS-like functionality to keep up with the regulatory environment imposed upon them, much less larger laboratories or laboratories in even heavier regulated fields. 


The faults brought to the forefront in the original article are indeed still true on both sides; both within academia itself and the LIMS vendors.  Academia laboratories do tend to be fragmented and small.  Academia laboratories do often operate in such a way as to not fit, or at least perceived not to, within a more rigid operational structure of a true COTS (commercial off the shelf) LIMS.  Academia often does not have the finances normally required to install and implement a standard, commercially available LIMS.  Schedules of academia are often difficult for commercial LIMS companies to work with given the scattered days/hours of laboratory staff and various seasonal breaks.


From the LIMS vendor side, the problems often come down to the simple facts of a commercial enterprise: time and money.  First, having tried to sell into universities in the past, the fragmented, small laboratories all seem to act independently.  I have quite literally had two separate meetings scheduled within the same building for professors researching similar topics who had not spoken to one another.  It is not uncommon to find the biology laboratories on floor one, the geology laboratories on floor two and the chemistry laboratories on floor three and many times, the laboratories on each floor have no idea what the laboratories on the next floor up are doing, what instrumentation is used, etc.  When combined with the prospects of heavily discounted, smaller sales, it does make the salespersons, no matter how technical and academic in nature, have a tendency to pass on the efforts.       


This persistent problem is truly a problem for all parties.  Academia could and should take advantage of the benefits of LIMS and, equally as importantly, properly prepare their students for working laboratories outside of the university structure.  In turn, LIMS companies should embrace the new ideas, new twist and new thinking that comes from academia.  Admittedly, not always easy and sometimes you do have to say “no” but valuable all the same.  There is no place greater for a business entity’s higher level learning than working with academia itself when you can engage the up and coming best biologist, chemist and programmers to mention just a few.


The financials of working with universities sometimes provides for some tough convincing.  Often, a small LIMS implementation is a great deal of a particular professor’s yearly budget if not more.  Sometimes working out the logistics of several university groups purchasing a LIMS is not easy.  Upon occasion, the university head office themselves make things so tough that that a LIMS company cannot even effectively donate a LIMS to the university (unfortunately, I have seen this twice).  From the commercial side, convincing others within the LIMS company that the time required for training, the potential “must have” customization and the heavily discounted price is worth doing is not always an easy task.  One must truly have upper management buy in on universities being worth the trouble.  But, from a different perspective on business and seeding the future soil, who does not remember Apple’s (AAPL) investment into schools and universities starting in the 1980s if not before?  As it turns out, that company did anything but go broke with its market cap as of the day of this writing at 712.06B.


On a more personal note, I have always enjoyed working with universities.  I have fortunately sold LIMS into the university scene and to a non-profit working with multiple universities structure and sincerely hope to work with many more.  I have seen the request from those clients that were eye opening and have had to say no to more than a couple requests.  Yet, at the end of the day, I am often most proud of those sales and have made some terrific friends and acquaintances along the way.  I see those sales as more than a dollar and cent value but as a true engagement into both our and their futures. 


For any additional information, please contact Robert Benz ( at Khemia Software, Inc. (