A New Age Dawns for Laboratory CDS Computing
In a previous article that appeared in the March 2004 issue of SC&I, I discussed likely trends in the development of the chromatography data system (CDS) to deal with mounting pressures on every laboratory. I felt that software developers would need to prepare for these trends by taking a new approach in the design of their CDS offerings, and also that these developments would occur over many years. This has turned out not to be the case. These technologies have come upon us with breathtaking speed, and their impact on the CDS is rapidly achievable. I have to admit that I am astonished with the lightning pace at which we can apply these technologies to the CDS. The new CDS is upon us.
CDS control of chromatographsI’m sure every CDS manufacturer would love to have only their CDS solution used in the laboratory, but the reality is that, as long as GC and LC hardware vendors have a viable market for their products, laboratories will embrace a multi-vendor hardware environment. Some might prefer GCs from PerkinElmer, Varian or Shimadzu for both technical and financial reasons. Some might prefer HPLCs from Agilent and Thermo Electron or Hitachi. Some might want only special detectors or sampling devices from ESA, Alltech or CTC. A lab policy of incorporating only one hardware solution for the entire lab is rare and, if it is adopted, it is not likely to persist. As laboratories change and these hardware vendors continue to develop their proprietary expertise and enhancements, the need for the CDS to support multi-vendor hardware will grow.
Scientific Software has approached this problem by creating “RapidControl,” which supports multiple vendor instrumentation separate from core CDS software functions. Our programmers and other hardware vendors can develop software control drivers for chromatography hardware that “plug in” without impacting the core CDS software.
Managing instruments with content managementThe CDS perspective for 2005 is more than just instrument control, however. Given that most labs will exist as a multi-vendor hardware environment, the CDS must be able to deal with such different information. The CDS of 2005 can potentially treat information in ways that were only just imagined a few years ago.
The .NET initiatives from Microsoft have become an enabling technology to deploy enterprise-wide software solutions that manage instruments and other laboratory operations in a seamless and cohesive structure. More than just a conventional CDS, these solutions take on the functional operation of a software “framework.”
Such a software framework supports multiple application solutions from a variety of software suppliers in ways that are flexible for the end user deployment. In the same way that labs have a multi-vendor approach in hardware, they also have a multi-vendor approach in software and data systems. OpenLAB Laboratory Software Framework, for example, provides chromatography instrument control, data reduction and reporting, and manages the results in a content management system based on Web clients for end-user deployment and support. The framework also hosts third party instruments and data systems in the same framework. Other laboratory data systems can run through the OpenLAB clients and have their information managed and protected by its content management system.
Information that leads to knowledgeWe have always recognized that the CDS was a great generator of information. In fact, few technologies excel at producing more information than a functioning CDS. As most users will tell you, however, what every laboratory wants is knowledge, not just information.
By enabling the CDS to manage information from different instruments as well as other laboratory information under a content management system, chemists can share, correlate and interpret their CDS data more rapidly, more easily and more thoroughly. A drug discovery chemist may need to find all CDS results collected on different HPLCs where the compound of interest exceeded some level. Rather than perform a search across different data systems and different databases that may take days, wouldn’t it be better to integrate these systems into a single framework so the search can take seconds? A lab manager needs to review all reports, some from their CDS, some from their Mass Spec results, some from Excel summaries and some from other lab’s Word documents. A CDS framework can use its content management system to perform advanced content searches across multiple projects, data types and data sources, drilling down into this heterogeneous information to find everything needed.
Tackling the CDS laboratory workflowsLastly, we know that typical CDS deployments in a laboratory are intimately associated with the laboratory workflow, especially in major industrial operations. The challenge is to manage CDS information along with managing chromatograph maintenance schedules, review of CDS reports and other lab processes. The same framework that controls and manages CDS instruments can automate and manage laboratory workflow processes. What is presently done in a tedious and paper-intensive way in many labs can be significantly streamlined and automated.
For example, our Business Process Manager can design workflow templates based on automated “activities” appropriate for laboratory operations. These templates are designed using Microsoft Visio so that designers do not really need to know programming as much as how they want their laboratory workflow to work. A laboratory process is addressed through a BPM template. When executed on the CDS software framework, users receive instructions in their electronic inbox, run the tests according to established methods, and the information is automatically routed and handled accordingly.
A Pharma QC manager may want to ensure that their SOPs for instrument maintenance are accessible by qualified users but, when the SOP changes due to enhancements in instruments, how do all operators throughout the entire site get the new information? New CDS frameworks can integrate the entire laboratory operation under a process management to ensure that they only update the central SOP document once, and be assured that all users are notified and see the update. This same SOP document can be associated with an instrument maintenance schedule so that the software framework can monitor its instruments, track when a scheduled maintenance is due, notify the assigned users to perform the maintenance and secure the appropriate SOP document for user inspection.
A bright futureI see the future as a golden opportunity for the CDS to evolve beyond its current boundaries to something greater and more significant. No longer a single, isolated solution for the laboratory, it can become the solid foundation of a laboratory software framework enabling multi-vendor instrument control, integration of CDS content with other laboratory content, and extending even into the business processes to automate laboratory workflows. Last year, I little imagined that the best years for the CDS would start as soon as now, but that’s what has happened.
Soheil Saadat, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Scientific Software Inc. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.