THE HISTORY OF LIMS AFFECTS US TODAY
To understand the current overuse, and in some cases blatant misuse, of the term COTS, a short recap of the laboratory information management system (LIMS) industry is in order. LIMS themselves did not originate in the pharmaceutical industry; they can trace their heritage to environmental laboratories. However, in serving one laboratory environment, vendors quickly realized that there were many similarities between laboratories in different industries, and aggressively marketed their systems to other sectors of business. To make the adoption of their solutions tenable in other industries, LIMS vendors worked to design highly adaptable systems, which was a logical approach. Customers were provided with a basic environment and database, and a set of tools with which to extend the system.Building on Basic LIMS Platforms
At the time, most laboratories were completely paper-based, and their information management choices were restricted to two options: build something internally, or build something on top of a commercial LIMS platform. In many cases, the existing LIMS platform provided a good starting point, and could save the laboratory time and money compared with a completely customized solution.
The Trend Away from Internal Development
Commercial LIMS platforms continued to improve, however, and over the past 5–10 years it has become very uncommon for pharma companies to develop solutions internally, despite the fact that many significant gaps remain between the commercial, generic LIMS platforms and their specific business needs.
Customization and Configuration
LIMS vendors responded to this trend by claiming that their solutions no longer required "customization," but rather could now be "configured." This wordplay was, in many cases, nothing more than marketing. Pharma companies responded, knowing that customizing a LIMS system to suit their needs could represent greater effort than simply building one themselves, and hoping that this new "configurability" would reduce their deployment and maintenance burdens.
At this point, it is important to provide a clear definition of the difference between configuration and customization: