The Urgency of Moving to a Digital Lab

Agilent Briefing Note

Axendia was recently briefed by Thomas Schmidt, Marketing Director, and Jean-Guillaume Baumann, Senior Product Marketing Manager, with Agilent’s Digital Solutions group.  Agilent is a well-known provider of lab instrumentation and the consumables, services and software that support it, but the company also has a deep commitment to helping customers overcome the challenges of disconnected and siloed data, a huge struggle for the Life Sciences industry. Our discussion with Schmidt and Jean-Guillaume centered on the digital lab, defined by Agilent as an “open, connected, intelligence-infused laboratory system,” the purpose of which is to “maximize throughput and quality so lab staff can focus on problem-solving and true innovation.

Image Source: Agilent

The Connected Lab: Beyond the Buzzwords

As a concept, the “connected lab” is by no means new. The Life Sciences industry has been talking about this aspiration for at least two decades, but relatively little progress has been made in realizing that vision. It’s not for a lack of trying, but perhaps the oversimplification of what is required to bring the connected lab to fruition is partly to blame. Numerous software vendors have bolstered their portfolios in attempts to outfit a lab with all that’s needed to digitalize their operations, but labs are incredibly complex environments. These lab ecosystems are often comprised of instrumentation from an array of suppliers, so it will rarely be a single solution or vendor that solves the challenge. Therefore, industry partnerships are crucial, even if it means partnering with so-called competitors. “We cannot do this alone,” said Schmidt. “We, as vendors, all have to be what I call good lab citizens.” According to Schmidt, a mind shift is needed, with true commitment to digitally transforming the laboratory. In doing so, teams have to be willing to transform their actual processes, not just add more tools to the stack.

The Analyst Should Be at the Center

Resistance to change is certainly another significant factor in why digital transformation has been so slow in the Life Sciences industry, and that’s why technology alone is not enough. “We’re competing with the convenience of paper,” states Schmidt. “We’re not accepting what’s actually going on in these labs, or how teams are running a single method across multiple labs. We need to put the analyst at the center, not the analytical method. We have to show empathy for the people at the bench.” The reality is that despite companies’ efforts to harmonize, methods are not always run the exact same way across sites – they are not monolithic – and each site does not always have the same instrumentation to work with. Demonstrating a deep understanding of what the staff need to do their job is imperative to accelerating adoption. And according to Schmidt, this means a vendor must be thinking about the user’s digital experience, not to be conflated with a digital user interface. “No one will switch their processes because you have a few nice icons,” said Schmidt.

Delivering Value Across the Entire Lab Operation

Agilent’s Digital Solutions team is focused on accelerating the conversion of the paper-based lab, and to do that, the customer has to first answer the question as to how digital is their lab today? Are they entirely manual? If hybrid, then which processes are still in need of transforming? Agilent describes the four pillars of the digital lab as optimization of the instrumentation, the data being generated, the efficiencies of the lab and the overall operations. Each aspect has its own set of measurable outcomes, but each builds towards enterprise-wide digital transformation. 

Image Source: Agilent

From a practical standpoint, this equates to a seamless exchange of information from when the sample enters the lab, gets routed to the analytic lab and through to data management and archiving. 

Image Source: Agilent

There could be different starting points along this continuum, depending on which node is furthest along in its transformation or where there is the most to gain, but according to Schmidt, “If you were to survey customers, I would make a bet that their number one requested CDS feature would be LIMS connectivity, so the scientist doesn’t have to manually enter all of the sample information. And the industry has been talking about this for 20+ years. Now they can connect the LIMS to the CDS within a day instead of making it a huge IT project.”

Image Source: Agilent

This ambition could not be achieved with a traditional closed system, so the naming of Agilent’s framework as OpenLab is purposeful and fitting to customers’ needs.  With this approach, the focus is on transforming people, processes and the IT that support them. 

Image Source: Agilent

This means there is a wealth of built-in functionality, but to minimize overload on the user, they only see what they need to do their jobs. In addition, operator-level, manager- or IT-level mobile-responsive dashboards can be configured that bring information together from across different vendors’ instrumentation, not just Agilent’s. These same interfaces enable instrument control from multiple control points, providing another level of flexibility and visibility if a run needs to be restarted. 

On-Premise or in the Cloud?

The question of whether to go with on-premise, hybrid or cloud systems is typical and something the Agilent team hears all the time. According to Schmidt, it really depends on what a customer wants to achieve, especially when talking about legacy ecosystems. It is also important to define what cloud means to a given customer – is it cloud-native they’re looking for or just “a container in the cloud?” With newer labs, customers are often looking to eliminate the need for on-premise servers altogether, opting for cloud only. The ultimate goal is resiliency – keeping the lab running no matter what; having a plan to maintain continuous operation is paramount, regardless of which choice is made.  

Agilent’s SLIMS solution is a part of the OpenLab data management platform. SLIMS is a combined LIMS and ELN, built with sample management and electronic testing execution in mind, and can be implemented either on-premise or in the cloud. “The SLIMS platform is designed to accommodate the various configurations we see across laboratories,” states Schmidt. “It’s truly a workflow engine that takes into account all of the different personae that interact with a given sample.” 

In Brief

Agilent’s position on the digital lab is that the industry must work closely together to make progress, and it needs to be an open discussion for the greater good. A company cannot digitalize their lab with new tools alone; they must commit to changing the way that they are working. The intention with the evolving OpenLab platform is to give the power back to the lab. No one vendor will be able to accomplish this without collaboration, and it speaks to what the industry has been asking for. Dan Matlis, President of Axendia says it well: “Digital transformation is a long journey, not an IT project.  As a result, identifying a technology provider is a long-term commitment and not a one-time transaction.  Therefore, you should search for a partner that best meets your company’s specific intended use, as well as your business, regulatory and technology requirements.  And more importantly, a partner whose vision and strategy align with your culture and values.”  

We will continue to provide updates on Agilent as they become available.

To discuss how this initiative impacts your organization, schedule an inquiry with Axendia HERE.

The opinions and analysis expressed in this post reflect the judgment of Axendia at the time of publication and are subject to change without notice. Information contained in this post is current as of publication date. Information cited is not warranted by Axendia but has been obtained through a valid research methodology. This post is not intended to endorse any company or product and should not be attributed as such.

Scroll to Top
Share via
Copy link