The importance of Master Data Management for Testing Laboratories
Most testing laboratories, in our experience as well as in speaking with many laboratories big and small, do not have a cohesive master data management strategy. While this could be for many reasons, they are generally doing themselves a disservice. Having a well structured master data management strategy allows laboratories to manage and leverage their core information assets.
Laboratories have to stay on top of the global compliance landscape and develop solutions that allow them to deliver services to their stakeholders in a consistent manner. This applies to aspects such as Regulations and Standards (which can vary by region/country/state/etc.), Methods for performing the test, associated Analytes and their limits, the definition of Test Lines and the consumption of those Test Lines in Product Protocols or Test Packages, etc.
Most laboratories that we have engaged with manage this information manually today – either in Word or Excel. There are several issues with this:
- Information is not well structured (or consistently structured)
- There is duplication of artifacts across the organization (across locations, for instance) which leads not only to governance issues but also the risk of inconsistency in service delivery
- Making a change to a master data attribute can be heavily time consuming since every artifact that consumes that attribute will now need to be manually opened, reviewed, changed if necessary and reviewed.
- The information in these files cannot be readily consumed – say by eCommerce solutions or by Laboratory Information Management Solutions (LIMS).
A lot of manual labor and errors in service delivery can thus be avoided by the implementation or adoption of a master data management solution. Besides this, having a MDM strategy also allows for highly effective data mining and business intelligence reporting around your transactional data which can help you significantly leverage your information assets.
An Illustrative Scenario
Let’s say that a Laboratory ABC has a Retailer XYZ as a client. This retailer has its own specifications around the testing process – for instance, they sell a product in the US and Europe (i.e. they have to be in compliance with the regulatory requirements of those regions). Because of this, their specific needs – both from a regulatory and performance perspective could vary from the standard. For example, they could specify requirements that are more stringent than those being required by the regulations (e.g. if the US regulation requires <= 120 ppm for Lead, the retailer may chose to require their products go above and beyond with a requirement of <= 100 ppm). There are several other variances that could occur based on product attributes (e.g. applicability to specific materials, exemption of others), testing conditions (e.g. variances at different temperatures, wash cycles, etc.), etc.
As one can imagine, if this is being manually maintained, it is a nightmare to manage and govern. Often times, just because of the variances, laboratories choose to create multiple test lines that are identical except for these variances (which further exacerbates the situation). These test lines are also consumed in Protocols and Packages. So now there is an even higher number of artifacts that need to be managed and governed.
Now think of what the lab has to go through if a single analyte limit undergoes a change (say Lead goes to 90 ppm due to a new regulatory requirement in EU). The retailer asks the laboratory to ensure that they would be compliant to this requirement when the new requirement goes into effect. The laboratory now has to go in and find every test line and change the appropriate ones to reflect the new requirement (and ensure it has an effective date the same as the regulation “go-live” date) and then they need to do the same with every protocol or package. This often takes weeks of manual effort.
MDM – Need for a simpler solution
The implementation of a master data management solution can dramatically reduce the effort associated with managing and governing this information.
QualNimbus has developed an enterprise class solution specifically for Lab Testing that allows centralized management of testing related master reference data. This solution is called the Test Reference Information Management Solution (TRIMS).
In TRIMS, all of the master data is defined just once – and discretely.
So in the scenario above,
- The client specific analyte-limit for Lead (which is managed separately from the regulatory analyte-limit) is managed in the Analyte Limit master.
- This analyte limit is then consumed in multiple test lines (as applicable).
- The Test Lines are then consumed in multiple protocols or packages.
- Changes to key artifacts are versioned, effective dated and governed (i.e. they require review/approval workflows).
- Every change in the system also triggers an audit trail so you can see who made the changes to what information and when.
- Once a change is made, it automatically cascades through the system and affects only those artifacts that consume that specific attribute or artifact.
The same scenario, which would take weeks of manual effort, can now be accomplished in a matter of hours using TRIMS.
If you manage a lab, we recommend you take a closer look at Master Data Management as a core aspect of your business. Please contact us and we would be happy to help you understand this better and demonstrate how TRIMS could help you.
Let us know what you think via the comments section.