In this fruitful interview I had the pleasure of conducting with Daniel Juchli, he touched on a hot topic and a key challenge for labs: change management on the one hand, user experience with lab informatics solutions on the other.
Let us dive deep into the topic with Daniel, Head of Lab and Research Informatics at Wega Informatiks, Premium Sponsor at the Paperless Lab Academy® 2023 Europe.
We are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Paperless Lab Academy. So, the first question as we look back 10 years is: “how would you see the lab of today in 10 years? How much has it evolved?”
“That's a really good question, and while I was preparing this interview, I was thinking hard about what has really changed in laboratories within 10 years.
There have been many, many digitisation initiatives. There have been many lighthouse projects where you could see visions of the lab of the future with AI or AR.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, it has not yet really arrived in the everyday work at the bench. If you look at the processes in the lab, there are still too many media breaks. Simple things like weighing procedures are still very manual and involve too many steps, like typing in the weight that you read on the display. The USB stick that comes from a chromatograph that you plug into your notebook and then create the report or copy the data back and forth.
But there are also a number of really nice new software products that have come onto the market in the last 10 years. The ELN, which has evolved from the classic electronic lab notebook to real applications with better usability for end users. We are now seeing sample management applications and ELN developed with better usability in mind.
As you go further into the office connected to the lab, where you do your evaluations and reports in a computer, digitalisation has not really reached the lab technicians yet.”
What do you think the reason for this gap is?
“I think the problem is not an easy one to solve. When you are sitting at the bench, you just do not have enough hands free, nor really space for IT infrastructure. Keyboard and mouse are not really suitable when you have to wear gloves and concentrate on your experiment. From a user experience and pure working point of view, it's just 10,000 times easier to write everything down on a piece of paper and after two hours of work go to PC and type it in again.”
So, in your opinion even if the industry offers newer solutions, there is still a gap from a technological point of view to make it easier for the lab technician, is that right? What is still missing to make the solutions more suitable for benchwork?
“I think that most of the software solutions available do not make it easy for laboratory technicians. There are a few examples of very modern LIMS or ELN systems, but they are still not designed for them. They are designed from a lab manager's point of view for today's office applications. The solution really needs to be thought through from the point of view of the users, the chemists, the QC staff, and the technicians.
On the other hand, users are reluctant to change, and digitisation projects have an acceptance problem in the lab. When you are used to doing things a certain way, you are also used to taking some shortcuts that are most convenient for you. If someone tries to force you to work in a different way, you probably will not accept it.
This is also one of the reasons why we are planning this workshop around the topic of OCM, Organisation Change Management. I believe that this topic has been ignored too much or it has not been given enough attention to it in the last 20 years. Paperless projects or projects to digitise labs were driven by technology and not by users. Only recently there has been a change and many discussions about the impact on people and the need to include this topic in your digital transformation project have started.”
We have talked about change management again and again in every edition of the Paperless Lab Academy® in the last 10 years, but it seems to remain a hot topic.
So, in summary, if I listen to you, on the one hand there is a need for a better user experience with the software systems, and on the other hand there is the need for the organisation to consider change management as a priority into their digital projects.
"So, I would say it's the combination of the two. It goes hand in hand. If you have a system that is really difficult and inflexible to use, you will also not be able to do proper change management to convince users to accept the change. SAP is a classic example of a super stable system and probably with very high consistency and data quality. But usability is extremely difficult. In those cases, with a not so intuitive user interface and a poor experience, people start using shortcuts and keeping their own Excel list of document numbers.
Instead of entering them into the system, numerous Excel files are created in parallel to support the interface with the system. The closer you get to the bench where you work with the chemicals, the more of such workarounds there are. Even with a good OCM, it is still difficult when, on the other hand, people use smartphones every day because they see the great benefit in it.
In fact, we are now seeing very strong competition, higher demand for user interface improvement for laboratory information providers. Everyone has a smartphone and uses it from morning to night for different purposes. We pick an app, install it, log in and configure it the way we like it. If we do not like it, we just delete it and find another one. Then you come to work, and you face some challenges to work digitally smoothly in the lab. Is there a particular technology or concept that you think has been crucial in the last 10 years?
“The cloud. The Cloud is now definitely accepted, even for validated, regulated environments. We have moved many validated chromatic data systems into the cloud today, and it is no longer a discussion. 10 years ago, any move to the cloud would have been a big discussion; today it is almost a commodity.
The principles of FAIR, in general, there is now a new mindset that data needs to be fair to be useful in the future. There are many aspects that need to be taken into account to become truly fair. There are many projects going on in big pharmaceutical companies. Wega is involved in many projects about Data Verification for the implementation of fair concepts.”
Interview with Daniel Juchli – Wega Informatiks
How do you see the next 10 years in the laboratories?
“I think that digitalisation will really move closer to the working level of scientists, chemists, or laboratory technicians. Of course, fair and communication standards like SILA, devices with speech recognition will be important components. You see more and more vendors moving towards how they can really add value.
Imagine if the work of scientists was automatically documented, creating a lot of contextual data that could be used by data scientists for more business intelligence, for better cross-links between clinical trials and research.
Then real value is created when you start combining all the information from the beginning where the data is generated, where your source of knowledge is.”
Daniel Juchli, Head of Lab & Research Informatics at Wega: can you tell us a bit more about you?
“I am a chemist. I have always been curious and fascinated by everything to do with technology, mechanics, electronics, computers and so on. But I decided to study chemistry because of a very fascinating teacher. But soon I realised that bench was not my thing and I started to specialise in technical and computational chemistry. I did a master’s specialising in computational chemistry, molecular modelling and computer-aided design. As a software developer for laboratory equipment, I developed software to control spectroscopy workflows. That was 20 years ago when we first introduced electronic records, electronic data, and electronic signatures in the field of spectroscopy, where you generate a lot of quality control data
At some point, I started thinking about what I was going to do next. That was the birth of Wega. At that time, we were 20 employees. I just came back from a social event, we were 170”
And now, to close off, about Wega Informatiks: what are the services they offer to the market?
“We build a bridge between life science business and informatics, for any informatics solutions you need to drive your life science business. We provide strategic advice on the implementation of bespoke software solutions: from vendor evaluation, tendering and product selection to implementation and, of course, management of organisational change management along the line. We have 3 pillars of expertise: Informatics, Life Sciences and Regulated Environments. We currently have a team of 35 experienced CSV consultants who are knowledgeable from high-level strategy to hands-on work, as they are involved in the project from start to finish.”
So, is it correct to conclude that this year you are coming to the Paperless Lab Academy® with a very pragmatic workshop about best the way to approach a digitalization project?
“Yes, it is really all about what we have mentioned so far. The workshop is also about sharing experiences. How have projects been carried out successfully? Why did other projects fail? It is really about that. It is about focusing on the neglected aspects”
Thank you, Daniel, for the insightful time we spent with you in this interview. We look forward to meeting you in April at the 10th edition of the Paperless Lab Academy ® and diving deep into change management and digitalisation projects with you and your colleagues at Wega Informatik.
Isabel Munoz Willery, owner and organiser of Paperless Lab Academy ®
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