The term "laboratory informatics" has been in use at least since the early 1980s and has expanded in meaning since then. Before the advent of computer technology, information management played an important role in laboratories and research efforts of all sorts. And while today the process of information management continues to be important, laboratory informatics tends to focus more on the technology associated with that information management process.
The field itself is one which has seen significant growth as demand for fast and efficient electronic data exchange has boomed. A rapid series of technological developments have made laboratory equipment less static and more interactive, allowing large networks of integrated lab devices, computers, and telecommunications equipment to log, analyze, and distribute data. This has progressively enabled scientific research projects to move from a localized model to a more global model, one that allows "involved researchers to spend less time collecting data or waiting for information to arrive from another location, which in turn allows them to focus more on the work at hand and makes their research both faster and more efficient." This has led to laboratories requiring more robust and scalable data management systems to stay competitive. The rapid rate of change in the technological and environmental needs of researchers — coupled with growing competition — has led to the creation of conferences like the IQPC Forum on Laboratory Informatics to help directors, managers, and researchers better keep up with the industry.
Sub-elements in laboratory informatics
Laboratory informatics is often modeled as a central component or hub for other branching elements of the field. However, looking at the architecture in this fashion oversimplifies the field of laboratory informatics and risks giving the false appearance that branched elements of the field have greater importance than others. Instead, a multi-layered, non-hierarchical model of these elements that places an emphasis on an individual laboratory's identified business needs may be more appropriate. A cottage industry of businesses and consultants has developed from this philosophy, helping laboratories map their informatics needs to their corporate strategy.
Yet it's difficult to deny the existence of branching elements of laboratory informatics. Many scientific pursuits require a laboratory, from medicine to astrophysics. This has led to special "sub-applications" of informatics to more specialized laboratories. Genome informatics developed as genetics laboratories sought more efficient ways to manage the large amounts of data being acquired from experiments and research. As scientists continue their pursuit of unlocking the secrets of the brain, neuroinformatics and its associated technology has developed to aid those researchers in their endeavors. And as hydrologists tackle the issues of equitable and efficient use of water for many different purposes, hydroinformatics and computational hydraulics have emerged.
Technology of laboratory informatics
Important hardware and software systems that play a role in laboratory informatics include but are not limited to:
- Chromatography data management systems (CDMS)
- Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELN)
- Enterprise content management applications (ECM)
- Enterprise resource planning applications (ERP)
- Laboratory execution systems (LES)
- Laboratory information management systems (LIMS)
- Laboratory information systems (LIS)
- Manufacturing enterprise systems (MES)
- Process analytical technology (PAT)
- Scientific data management systems (SDMS)
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