To Build a LIS System or to Buy One? That is the Question.
The race to the cloud is ending for laboratory information systems (LIS). Almost all major LIS providers are now offering cloud-based options and sunsetting on-premises LIS systems. Ultimately pushing diagnostic labs to the cloud and giving them the opportunity to explore new LIS vendors.
One age-old question every laboratory must answer before starting any project including implementing a new LIS is:
“Do we build our own LIS, or do we buy one?”
Meaning a lab has two options, either design, develop and implement their own custom-built LIS system or buy an off-the-shelf application.
To help your lab answer this question, let’s dive into the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Building a Homegrown LIS System
For the sake of this blog, we are defining a homegrown LIS system as any software that supports the workflows of a laboratory and is designed, developed, and tested by the lab itself. It is usually a highly custom-tailored application that is managed and supported by the laboratory IT team.
Advantages of a Homegrown LIS System
- Full Control: Flexibility of retaining the key architecture design of your LIS system is an advantage some overlook. When developing your own LIS system, you fully own every aspect of that system – well unless you leverage 3rd party code or other tools. Owing the code gives you the advantage of being able to do anything you want with it at any time. This is a major draw for some labs.
- Competitive Advantage: Building out your own LIS system means that no other lab will have a system like yours. This could be your “secret sauce” that may potentially give you an upper hand against your competition if done right.
- Startup costs: When building out your own LIS, your costs can be a lot “lighter” than purchasing off the shelf. However, we must warn you, that this will not stay true as your needs will grow and expand.
Disadvantages of a Homegrown LIS System
Source: Harvard Business Review article “Why Your IT Project May Be Riskier Than You Think,”
- Time: How long with it take to develop? Are you expecting to have your lab fully functional in one year? If so, then a homegrown system is possible, but does a year provide enough time to fully vet requirements and security concerns?
A laboratory must consider the time it takes to not only design and develops the system, but let’s not forget Q/A testing and user acceptance testing. Both are very critical parts of the equation.
Now imagine what would happen if all the time spent on developing a LIS system had been spent instead on analyzing and managing your lab risks, developing new sales strategies, or recruiting new staff.
- Internal Skill Sets: Do you already have the team in place to take on such a project? Will you need to bring a programmer or developer in-house? Will they be able to speak your language that asks your team the right questions to build what you truly need?
- Support and Maintenance: You got the LIS up and running – great job but what if your key developers, support staff, or even product managers leave the lab for higher-paying positions or complete career changes? This scenario happens every day and leaves labs scrabbling trying to ingest years of knowledge into a two-week offboarding period.
- Security: Your lab is never too small or too big for hackers to target. Is your team staffed with personnel who is knowledgeable about cyber security to defend against the worse of attacks?
- Too Much Customization: Typically, homegrown LIS systems are heavily customized. So much that it hinders a laboratory’s ability to seamlessly integrate with clients, new equipment, or even billing systems. Imagine that your lab is running great, specimens are being tracked, your turnaround times are on point and you’re staying ahead of the game to only find out your integration to your billing system is broken and your lab hasn’t been billing tests for the past 20 days.
Buying an Off-The-Shelf LIS System
For the purposes of this blog, we’re defining “off-the-shelf LIS” as any LIS system that is immediately available and does not need to be customized to be installed and working.
Advantages of an Off-The-Shelf LIS System
- Built-in Expertise: As a lab, developing LIS systems is not your core competency – diagnosing specimens is. Comparable, to a LIS provider like NovoPath. We live and breathe this every single day and our 30+ years of experience and best practices working with over 200+ labs are built directly into our platform.
- Security: As noted earlier, the shift to the cloud is here and most (all good providers) are offering cloud-based LIS systems. With that being said, a LIS provider’s job is to ensure a secure environment for your application – no questions asked.
Here at NovoPath, we partner with Microsoft Azure to host our NovoPath 360 platform. Where they have dedicated teams of people combined with a billion-dollar budget each year to ensure their hosting environments are secure and compliant.
24/7 Support: Bugs and feature requests are not your developer’s problem.
- Ability to Establish a Service Level Agreement (SLA): There is no guess when purchasing a LIS system. Vendors should create an SLA with you that outlines the level of support, project management, outcomes, and SOW.
- Training: Onsite or virtual training and documentation are already created and ready for consumption.
Disadvantages of an Off-The-Shelf LIS System
- Internet: A lot of laboratories overlook this very simple yet extremely important detail of any cloud-hosted LIS system. Your internet connection. If you do not have a strong internet connection, you will need to invest in one to support your LIS.
- Insecure interfaces and APIs: Like any system, on-premises or hosted in the cloud, a security vulnerability lies within integrations. If not using the correct integration platform, you will have data leaks or soft spots that allow hackers in. That’s why here at NovoPath, we have developed our own 2-way interoperability platform to ensure 0% data leakage or “soft spot”.
- Unexpected Downtime: As cloud-based LIS systems run over the internet service outages are a possibility and can occur for any reason. When looking for an off-the-shelf LIS, the cloud provider your LIS vendor utilizes makes all the difference. For example, here at NovoPath, we leverage Microsoft Azure which has extensive disaster recovery plans if an outage were ever to occur.
Homegrown LIS systems more than often are fragile and usually lack in-depth support. While a homegrown LIS system may seem to offer more control and flexibility, it can actually bring you more of a headache that costs more than you initially projected.
A homegrown LIS system may be the right fit for your lab. We recommend that if you are considering this route, make sure you have a very sophisticated IT organization in place. In some cases, building out your own LIS really is the best choice, depending on the use case of course.
The beauty of off-the-shelf LIS systems like NovoPath 360, it’s a no-hassle system. We say this as we maintain all aspects of the environment, push updates when approved, and ensure not only a secure environment but an environment with seamless interoperability.
Questions we encourage you to ask your team:
- Is software development your core competency?
- Do you have programmers on staff? If so, do you have resources to spare?
- Does your team have the experience and budget to develop, test, and fine-tune a LIS?
- What will happen if you lose key support team members that can support and maintain your older technology?
- Will you create disparate silos running your business? Will your team be able to seamlessly integrate all functional divisions of your lab?
- Will your team have the resources and expertise to accommodate the flexibility the LIS needs to have as you outgrow the system in the future?
- Are you content with missing some of the workflow design best practices that come with commercial grade LIS that has tens of thousands of users who provide constant feedback on workflow optimization?
Making the change to a new LIS is not a small project. This is a project that needs care and complete planning before any kind of kick-off. Here at NovoPath, we advise any lab, big or small to do the following:
- Break down your implementation into phases to reduce the project’s complexity
- Don’t overlook how this project will disrupt day-to-day operations
- Complete a stress test in the UAT phase to assess your lab’s readiness with the LIS system
- Learn before you move. When switching to a cloud environment, be sure to train and educate your team on how cloud environments operate and the differences and expectations of on-premise vs cloud.