Procurement | Lab Operations | Tech Stack

When to Bail on a Software Solution: A Guide for Lab Operations Teams

As Kenny Rogers once sang, “You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.” Though he was singing about poker, the same advice is true for software. Investments in homegrown or off-the-shelf software systems can be a gamble. Sometimes, solutions can’t keep up with growth or don’t live up to expectations. In these situations, lab operations teams have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold’ em. Here's how to decide whether or not to stick with a current system.

Types of lab operations software

  • Homegrown solutions. Custom-made or internally developed systems and processes that often utilize existing tools available in the lab, such as Google Suite, rather than requiring complex coding or building systems from scratch. While some companies have dedicated software engineering teams to create more advanced solutions, startups usually begin with preexisting tools to address challenges.
  • Commercial solutions. Pre-packaged, professionally developed software products, created by third-party vendors that are available for purchase or subscription.

As startups mature and establish operational processes and functions, they must curate a scalable tech stack of software technologies and platforms. While the ideal tech stack is biotech-dependent, key components generally include solutions in the following areas:

  • Laboratory information management systems (LIMS). Manages samples, associated data, and lab workflows.
  • Procure-to-pay (P2P)/Source-to-pay (S2P). Manages the purchasing process, from requisition to payment.
  • Handles financial transactions, budgeting, and reporting to maintain accurate financial records and compliance.
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP). Integrates various business processes such as finance, HR, and supply chain into a unified system for better resource management and decision-making.
  • Project management. Plan, execute, and monitor projects, ensuring they are completed on time and within budget.
  • Equipment and asset management. Track and maintain lab equipment and assets, ensuring they are in good condition and properly utilized.
  • Electronic laboratory notebooks (ELN). Digitize and manage lab notes and experimental data.
  • Data analysis tools. Provides advanced data analysis and visualization capabilities.
  • Quality management systems (QMS). Ensure quality control and regulatory compliance.
  • Inventory management systems. Helps manage lab supplies and reagents.
  • Lab supply marketplace. Simplifies and automates lab supply purchasing, offering a vast range of supplies from a wide supplier base.

Go deeper: 10 Tips for Scaling Your Lab Operations

Signs it’s time to move on from a solution

The daily operations in startups and early-stage companies can often feel like rushing around, putting out the hottest fires, rather than having the time to prepare for growth proactively and strategically. However, there are signs that indicate a current software system may be a liability that needs to be addressed.

  • Performance shortfalls. If the system consistently fails to meet your performance requirements, despite troubleshooting and optimizations, it's a red flag.
  • Mounting technical debt. Defined as the accumulated cost of quick fixes and workarounds in software development, technical debt can come in the forms of code complexity and outdated tech, which can constrain scalability and growth.
  • Lack of vendor support. Poor customer support and a lack of updates can leave your team struggling with unresolved issues.
  • Incompatibility with evolving needs. As your team's needs grow, the software should adapt. If it doesn’t, it’s likely time to find a more flexible solution.
  • Security concerns. Unaddressed security vulnerabilities can put your data at risk. If the system isn't secure, it's not worth the risk.
  • User dissatisfaction. If your team is unhappy and productivity is suffering, the cost of maintaining morale should be weighed against the cost of switching systems.
  • Limits tech stack scalability. Solutions that don’t integrate well with other tools, add end users easily, handle increased order volumes, or support multiple sites constrain your tech stack’s potential.

Understanding sunk costs

A major reason teams are hesitant to abandon ship on a solution that no longer serves them is rooted in the concept of sunk cost fallacy.

What is sunk cost fallacy? A cognitive bias where individuals continue to invest in a project, decision, or course of action based on the amount of resources they have already committed, rather than on the future benefits or costs.

Sunk costs are the investments you've already made—time, money, and resources that you can't recover. The temptation to stick with a system because of these sunk costs is strong. However, continuing to throw good money after bad is not the solution.

A significant number of businesses continue to invest in failing projects due to sunk costs. Research indicates that up to 40% of companies persist with failing initiatives primarily because of the resources already invested, which leads to compounded losses over time.

Making the decision to cut the cord

You’ve seen the signs; you know something needs to change. But how do you make the decision to alter the course to a new solution?

Evaluate the impact

Assess how the system’s shortcomings are affecting your team’s efficiency and project outcomes.

  • Collect feedback from team members on specific issues and inefficiencies.
  • Track and document instances where the current system fails or causes delays.
  • Analyze project outcomes to identify patterns or recurring problems linked to the system.

Consider alternatives

Look at what other systems offer and how they align with your current and future needs.

  • Research and compile a list of potential alternative systems.
  • Schedule demos or trials of these systems to understand their features and usability.
  • Create a comparison chart that highlights the pros and cons of each alternative in relation to your needs.

Cost-benefit analysis

Weigh the costs of switching against the long-term benefits of a better-suited system.

  • Calculate the total cost of transitioning to a new system, including implementation, training, and any temporary downtime.
  • Estimate the long-term benefits, such as increased efficiency, reduced errors, and potential cost savings.
  • Present a clear report to stakeholders summarizing the financial and operational implications of switching versus maintaining the current system.

Prioritizing your team’s best interests

The goal is to ensure your team has the tools and support they need to accomplish their research goals. While it’s tough to accept that an investment didn’t work out, clinging to a failing system can hinder progress and morale. It’s okay to make the tough call to bail out and invest in a system that truly accelerates your scientific endeavors.

Knowing when to bail on a software system is a vital skill. It requires honesty, a willingness to accept sunk costs, and a focus on your team’s long-term success. By prioritizing your team's needs and staying flexible, you can curate a tech stack that truly empowers growth, instead of constraining it.

Additional software selection resources for lab operations

In a recent webinar, Joel Basken, Director of Operations, and Nicolette Surges, Lab Manager at Enveda Bioscience, a startup based in Colorado, joined ZAGENO’s Lindsey Fitzgerald to share invaluable insights and lessons on optimizing lab operations for scalability and building a supportive tech stack. Watch the webinar or read the free ebook for more in-depth information.

For a personalized demo of how ZAGENO’s lab supply ordering solution forms the cornerstone of an efficient, scalable tech stack, contact us today.

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