Maintaining Optimal Quality of Analysis: Using the Right Lab Informatics Tools & Processes

Kim Holt, Scientific Manager  - Chemistry at South West Water, joins Pharma IQ and offers a different industry perspective on integrating and managing Informatic Systems, revealing they share the same challenegs as the Pharma Industry.

Pharma IQ: Firstly, can you give me an overview of the work that you’re currently doing at South West Water and the Informatic System that’s currently established there?

K Holt: South West Water laboratories take in water samples; potable water samples and waste water samples from the whole Southwest region. We analyse that water to make sure that it’s safe for people to drink and also to make sure that the waste that we’re putting out into the rivers is not going to cause any massive contamination. 
We receive hundreds of samples, up to 200/300 samples per day and we’ve got to turn these samples around; do a great deal of analysis on it and produce these results so that people can take actions out in the field. We do have a LIMS system; Thermo’s SampleManager, which is dealing with the day-to-day collating of actual sample results, production and reporting of those results. 
But we have a lot of other systems that are involved to make sure that the results that we’re producing are accurate. One system that we’ve recently introduced, checks our Quality Standards and the results from those through producing charts. We report on those charts, so that we can take actions if an instrument is performing badly, we can reject the results and retest them. We’ve put a lot of work into this AqcTools’ package which is what we’ve recently introduced and it’s quite new to the water industry.
Pharma IQ: Do you face any integration problems by using various systems?
K Holt: We have in some ways but because our LIMS system was very established and was a known quantity we weren’t trying to introduce both of these systems at the same time.  We had a lot of awareness of the limitations and the abilities of the LIMS system as it currently stands.  When we went to create the brand new system to handle these products, the supplier was able to take a lot of our experience with LIMS and integrate quite easily with that system. The integration works pretty well; our only limitation really is in service base and service speed, which we’re looking to improve. We could buy new servers to improve the speed of the integration and speed of the link, but it functions absolutely fine.
Pharma IQ: You mentioned earlier that you have a lot of data to store, what challenges are you facing when it comes to managing your data?
K Holt: I think that the water industry is possibly a little bit behind the pharma industry in that respect.  We do have a lot of data to store. Our servers up to this point have been satisfactory. It’s only now that we are trying to take a lot of paper-based or previously paper-based systems for auditing and for managing training and even for our consumables’ ordering; it’s only now that we’re facing those challenges because we were storing this all in hard copy in filing boxes.  We’re now hitting those problems where not all the systems are talking to each other; we’re running out of space to actually handle this information and to pull it back quickly enough. 
We’re making inroads with the new package that we’ve put in. But I’m with the pharma industry in that we are very interested in looking over the next few years for an overarching, overall system that takes all of this information and produces a dashboard of sorts, which holds all of it.  But again, how that information is going to be managed is going to be actually one of our challenges over the next two to three years.
Pharma IQ: Would you say that this is a primary objective for you in the next three years, so, between now and 2015?
K Holt: It’s becoming increasingly so. It didn’t really hit us and we didn’t really realise this was going to be a challenge until, maybe, the last 12 months. There are products that are coming out onto the market which do a lot of this work.  And it’s actually thinking bigger and going, actually, we could have, not just a laboratory but we could have a South West Water corporate system which handles and makes this consistent across the whole company. Yes, it is one of our priorities coming up.

Pharma IQ: Having attended the Smart Labs Exchange and having spoken to your peers, where do you think the industry is going?
K Holt: I think, having looked at what’s available, having spoken to other people and seeing some of the innovative solutions that are out there; it’s possible in the next five years that this laboratory could be completely paperless.  To have everything going in electronically in a user-friendly single system, that, for me, and I think for quite a few of the other people that I spoke to, that would be the ultimate goal. The people who are managing those systems would be able to pull back information at the touch of a PC; that would be my driver, my aim.
Pharma IQ: Kim, another issue we hear a lot of is people talking about the lack of standards in the industry.  Can you give any example or any of your own experience on how standards have been set for best practise state?
K Holt: Well, again, that’s a difficult question for me in that we have a lot of standards here and we’re highly regulated.  Every single thing that we actually do on a daily basis, there’s a standard out there for it, except when it comes to managing data and managing electronic data, particularly. We have to manage it but not how we’re supposed to do that. And I think that’s a problem because almost the regulations and the standards are lagging behind the technology that’s becoming available. 
Pharma IQ: Where is your focus going to be in the next three years?  I know you mentioned about moving to a paperless lab. But will you also consider increasing people’s skills or employing new people to work in the lab?
K Holt: If we’ve got these huge ambitions budget is a huge issue to us.  The way we got round it with developing the AqcTools’ package was we got on board with a particular supplier,and really put a lot of hours into helping to create the solution that they could then take to other companies, possibly water companies, but it’s not just water companies that could take on this particular package. 
My concern is budget; the way that I would look to do it, is I would try to get a supplier on board to be able to work closely with them.  And we haven’t got the cash to spend but we’ve got time; we’ve got people and we’ve got people who are very passionate and keen to get the products out there. That’s one way that we would do it. I also have to put a lot of time and effort into selling this ambition, selling these ideas to the business as a whole. I think once we’ve got the backing of the people higher up and the decision-makers within the company then that goes a long way to us being able to get further down the road, really.  I think we’ve got the people; we’ve got the knowledge; we’ve got the skills; we just need the backing, really, to make things happen.
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