Expert Perspectives on Optimizing Processes in the Laboratory – An Interview with Peter Boogaard


Courtesy of Poplar Solutions, LLC

With nearly 40 years of experience working in Life Sciences and laboratory automation systems Peter Boogaard has seen amazing improvements in optimizing business processes in the laboratory. Starting in the early 1980’s, Peter worked for PerkinElmer on new product lines associated with CAChe (Computer-aided chemistry). These new CAChe products were LIMS and chromatography data handling systems. Peter even worked for Oracle in the mid 80’s when it was just a small startup company, making the total amount of revenue in one year that it now makes in 20 hours!

His lab automation journey continued with innovative LIMS solutions from PerkinElmer (SQL LIMS), Accelrys, Applied Biosystems, LabVantage to name a few, Peter has been focused on optimizing processes in the laboratory. His knowledge of the lab and its processes along with his deep knowledge of laboratory automation solutions led him to start his own consulting business in 2010 called Industrial Lab Automation which helps international life science companies (large and small) to optimize business processes. He also created an event called “Paperless Lab Academy” which has become one of the leading European Lab events regarding improving processes and removing paper.

Peter’s Boogaard’s focus on lab automation spans four decades and many generations of LIMS and Chromatography Data Handling Systems. He offers a unique perspective of how far laboratories have come in automating businesses processes and what is causing the laboratory market to lag behind other more automated and paperless industries. In the next couple of posts, I will feature our conversation which will provide some understanding of why it is so important for the laboratory market to let go of old paper-based processes and move towards automated computerized workflow solutions like Labcore as well as other new technological innovations on the horizon which are designed to optimize efficiency and reduce errors.

Me What do you do with your company Industrial Lab Automation now? What’s your focus?

Peter  - It’s all about business processing and business improvements. The laboratory is seen as a cost center at large organizations today, especially in pharmaceutical and then in the petrochemical and chemical organizations, manufacturing organizations. The lab is seen as a cost center. They want to get more optimized processes in laboratories. Since I have background of the domain knowledge of the lab, I know what’s going on. I know what the lab is doing. I am really helping organizations to optimize their processes. That’s my consulting focus. Its what I call “Cross-boundary, cross-silo working” because today, organizations are looking with a holistic view from start to finish. It’s not only anymore the laboratory. That’s what I am doing. My clients are typically international or global companies. In addition to that, I did start a couple of years ago with an activity called the “Paperless Lab Academy,” which is an event, an independent event where the focus is how we can improve processes, remove paper, that kind of stuff. I am running my own European event over three times. It has been very successful and is seen as one of the leading events today for laboratory automation.

Me - It’s once a year that you do that.

Peter  - Yes, it’s once a year, correct. I started in Copenhagen, in Denmark. Then last year, it was in Amsterdam. In 2015, it was in Barcelona, Spain. This year [2016], Paperless Lab Academy will be on April 19th -20th it will be again in Barcelona, Spain because we liked the wine and we liked the attention. No, I am joking. Spain was very nice. That’s an event where typically, approximately two hundred people or ninety people we had this year are coming, which by far is the largest laboratory automation event in Europe so far.

Me - During what period of time have you seen the most change in innovation in lab automation?

Peter - Let me say I liked your question here. I have seen many changes and I’ve seen a lot of things which did not change. Some of the things, which changed is the technology being used. Also laboratory automation was started by three instrument companies. It was Beckman. It was Hewlett Packard and it was PerkinElmer who were astute and who realized in the early ‘80s that they needed [lab automation] and I think the environmental business is probably one of the initial drivers here as you needed the certificate of analysis. You needed to have that statement and that combining of reports from different instrumentation into a single report.

I think that was probably the initial start of the larger companies, really the large instrument companies, to really, create a product line to do that for their instruments. That, I think was called the starting point of LIMS. Later on, of course, it had much more capability. If you built on it for the laboratory but it can be used outside the lab as well. So many changes, yes, really I think the laboratory automation started from instrument vendors. Later on, it became much more in the software-oriented business in companies like Vialis AG and then in companies like LeadWare. They really were not linked to a vendor. They really looked at this from a software business. I think that was the next wave, to be honest, to really get more connected to run this kind of process. It’s not from an instrument vendor but much more as a software company. The technology has been changing quite a lot to be honest. What has not been changing is our mindset. I think that’s the biggest frustration in our industry. In laboratories, we still think like we did twenty, thirty years ago. We still think of the same processes. It’s amazing to see that if you go to the laboratory, how much paper is still being used on very basic stuff.

The same people using that in the laboratory, if you ask the question, how much paper are you using if you book a flight or are you still using paper if you go shopping, are you still using a check, bankbook check, and that kind of stuff, everything is done electronic. It looks like whenever they go into the laboratory, they want to maintain to the old stuff, very interesting observations, in my opinion.

Me - I wonder why that is? Do you have any theories on people are holding onto these old behaviors in their work?

Peter Yes, I do have a couple. They are different. There are different elements to it. One thing is that, in the laboratory, a lot of people only use the information for themselves within the lab. The sharing of information was probably less critical than it is now or at least, perceived now. That’s one. The second thing is that in the laboratory, you get a lot of dirty stuff. You got oil. You got lead. You get stuff. Electronic devices were not so popular in those kind of laboratories. They use paper instead.

Then the lab is being seen as a cost center. Everything if you purchase stuff, you need to know why you are. What’s the objective? Why are you going to an electronic direction? Interesting thing is when there was, for example, LIMS kicking off because of 21 CFR Part 11 when that statement came from the FDA as being something important, which was a must-have for regulations. Then computer systems became more popular. If you look to electronic lab notebooks in the early 2000s, the initial deciders of electronic lab notebooks was not the guy in the lab. It was the lawyer because the lawyer needed to prove that a certain invention had a certain day time stamp.

The only way you could do that from a regular in front of court, which was to have a proof statement, which was pretty reliable. The computer is more reliable with keeping the day time stamp than your paper notebook because you can forget or you have the wrong watch or whatever. You could see that electronic lab notebooks big, big boom or whatever you call it was really initiated by lawyers and not by the lab because of that. I think still in the laboratory, what you see now is you see that the laboratory is being seen as a cost center. Again, the more we can reduce costs, the better. It’s amazing to see that they still work the same way as they did twenty, twenty-five years ago.

Me - That becomes a challenge to get them to look at. I think it’s part of the problem to get them to change because if they are looking at the laboratory as a cost center, how do they determine the benefits and savings? It’s somewhat soft. It’s efficiency. It’s productivity.

Peter - It’s less error. One of things and I think one of the things, which is the key reason to go electronic is let’s go back. Let’s go back to a very simple question. If you get a package delivered by DHL or UPS or whatever company you have in the US or Europe, deliver the package. Then the fastest thing to do at the door when you get the package delivered if you sign or to tell the guy, “Yes, thank you very much, I am signing it here,” and then done deal. They all use electronic devices. You have to sign electronically. Believe me. It takes a little bit more time than the old way, right?

By doing it this way it knows that the whole company has a single point of record that it has been delivered so they can invoice or there is proof statement for insurance if something was not delivered, or you can track and trace where your packages are because it’s all done in the workflow on an electronic way. If you do this on the paper, with a paper way, you never can have that kind of services, or it is very expensive or it is inconsistent because sometimes people forget a step rather computer systems it is pre-programmed. It is pretty reliable.

The same thing happens in our laboratory as well except a lot of those processes now are becoming more industrialized. Companies get merged or companies get acquired and integrate other organizations. Why do we need four or five different processes for the same analysis? If you are a pharmaceutical industry, why do we need stability studies from four of five different ways if the FDA is only one organization anyway who is looking at it? Normalization and industrializing the processes is something, which is also reaching the lab now. I think that’s where electronic is now becoming an element where even management realizes that to maintain on paper is stupid.

Me - Do you think that because of the encroachment of electronic systems and automation in the everyday world of laboratory workers and managers – as you described in your example of the electronic order and delivery of the package or their online banking/bill paying – will eventually cause a shift in the idea of how they [lab workers] do their jobs?

Peter - Big time, big time, yes, big time, yes, big time. There a couple of elements. You see that more in quality controls laboratories. More and more people are using inline, at line and online sensors. You are not anymore measuring in the lab, but you also are measuring while you produce. That’s all electronic. You will see that the laboratory probably will be more involved in creating methods, solid and robust methods to be used in manufacturing or can be used in R and D or people want to reuse the information, statistical analysis. How can we reuse prior knowledge? Can we reuse that? If that’s on paper, how can you access that?

Actually, this kind of elements now are becoming more visible to middle management and higher management that the laboratory can create more value if data can be reused at different elements within organizations or within different groups. That is what I see happening. That’s why I think like you already mentioned of your introduction, metadata is very important, and very often forgotten or under documented, I would say.

Stay tuned to where lab automation is going in the future and what lab automation technology Peter is excited about…

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