4. April 2024

Whitepaper: Digitalization in testing laboratories

Opportunities and challenges of digital transformation processes

Testing laboratories must be at the forefront of innovation and digital transformation processes in order to continuously increase their effectiveness, efficiency and quality. After all, their customers expect fast and reliable results. Modern and intelligent IT solutions can provide valuable services to meet these requirements. But how far has digitalization in laboratories progressed and where is there still a need for action? Together with market researchers from Statista, we conducted a survey at the beginning of 2024 and explained the results in a detailed white paper. To this end, we conducted quantitative telephone interviews with a total of 50 employees in research laboratories. The laboratories in which the interviewees work cover four areas: Industrial Products, Consumer Protection and Food, Environment and Health and Forensics.

Customers have high expectations – digital processes fulfill them

Digital reporting for customers is considered particularly important by 98 percent of the laboratories we surveyed – a clear result that illustrates the urgency for laboratories to communicate test results quickly and reliably. Especially as 78 percent of those surveyed stated that their customers would like to place orders electronically. Speed is therefore a crucial factor in everyday laboratory work. This is also evident in terms of customer expectations: 88 percent expect faster response times as a result of digitalization, 82 percent expect faster data exchange and more than two thirds of participants (78 percent) generally expect faster process throughput times and therefore greater efficiency. An interesting finding: laboratories meet these customer requirements in some areas, but some requirements can be further optimized. The areas that directly affect customer interaction are therefore the most digitized. Order acceptance accounts for 96 percent of this, followed by results reporting, which 90 percent of respondents map digitally. Other highly digitized areas such as data processing, quality control and sample management form the basis for meeting customer demands for faster response times.

Many laboratories partially digitized – but by no means fully optimized

So it may come as no surprise that the level of digitalization in most laboratories has room for improvement. Only twelve percent stated in the survey that they believe their laboratory equipment is digitalized throughout and to a very high degree. Just over a third of laboratories are only partially digitized and continue to rely on manual processes. However, the healthcare and forensics sector in particular is once again in a leading position. A high proportion of 82 percent of laboratories operating in this environment have achieved extensive digitalization – a partial success. The decisive factor here is the high proportion of laboratories (78 percent) that now use laboratory information management systems (LIMS), followed by automated analyzers (70 percent). LIMS allow the optimization of sample processing procedures from order acceptance to results reporting. However, other digital tools and solutions are still not being used across the board. It should be noted: Although laboratories are well on their way into the digital age, they still need to exploit the full potential it holds. While LIMS have already established themselves and cover the core processes digitally, digital solutions for process automation are still relatively uncommon. At this point, further helpful steps towards digitalization can be taken.

A major advantage: improved data management and efficiency across the board

Testing laboratories vary in their degree of digitalization. And this is precisely where we followed up in our survey and wanted to know in which areas digitized laboratories are already achieving demonstrable improvements and which optimizations laboratories that still want to follow suit are hoping for. The biggest advantages of those institutions that have already digitized see the most significant plus in data management (97 percent), the execution of examinations (97 percent) and the automation of tasks (84 percent). All areas perceive clear benefits from the digitalization of their laboratories. Less digitized testing laboratories are hoping for similar benefits. At the top of the list are improved data management and security (100 percent) and the automation of tasks (89 percent).

Nevertheless, people are hesitant to make the leap into the digital future

The survey, which we conducted together with the market researchers from Statista, clearly shows that digitalization in laboratories offers many advantages. According to the survey, 84 percent of respondents reported improved quality as a result. A full 98 percent benefit from time savings – an advantage for test laboratories where time is often at a premium. More digitalized laboratories from the healthcare and forensics sectors rate the benefits of time and cost savings particularly clearly at 91 and 100 percent respectively. When it comes to customer satisfaction, the overwhelming majority of 88% also believe that this has improved. Nevertheless, the players are wrestling with some concerns: 79 percent believe that the costs of digitalization are too high. However, digitalization is an investment that pays off: even if the initial implementation costs for digitalization are higher, 80 percent of digitalized laboratories then see cost savings as a result of digital transformations. Respondents also expressed concerns about the know-how in the workforce (63 percent) and the shortage of skilled workers (58 percent). Support measures such as consulting, training courses and system integration offer the opportunity to help staff on their way to digital transformation.

Optimization potential for pioneers and laggards

An interesting aspect: Regardless of the degree of digitalization, there is a need for improvement on the part of the workforce in laboratories. 89 percent of respondents from less digitized laboratories see process optimization as an important topic and expressed a particular desire for improved networking of devices and systems, 84 percent want more efficient and automated processes, 74 percent of survey participants want high-quality and secure data. But even the pioneers of digitalization still have room for improvement. For example, 68 percent of employees in more digitized laboratories would like to see improvements in the support of regulatory requirements. A full 87 percent expect even more efficient and more automated processes here too, while 81 percent of laboratory employees want better networked systems and 74 percent simpler data analyses, according to the survey. The pronounced desire for employee training – 65 percent expressed this – suggests that there is still a need for learning even with greater digitalization.

Laboratories are ready for the digital transformation – supporting process analyses

Our survey clearly shows that acceptance of digitalization is high in laboratories across all sectors: overall, digital solutions are rated as positive or very positive by 78% of respondents. At 82 percent, this figure is particularly high for laboratories in the health and forensics sector, while the environmental laboratory sector is in last place with 65 percent. The higher the degree of digitalization, the higher the acceptance of the digital solutions used.

Digitization therefore promises laboratories considerable advantages in terms of customer satisfaction, quality and time and cost savings. It is therefore essential that laboratories consistently pursue their path to digitalization in order to fully exploit this potential. Stakeholders are well advised to carry out a thorough process analysis before digitizing: In this way, improvements for customers can be identified, processes optimized and concrete benefits for the workforce made visible. According to our survey, 68 percent of digitized laboratories have already carried out a process analysis. And here too, those from the health and forensics sector are ahead with 82 percent. This high value makes it clear that process analyses bring benefits: At 82%, the acceptance of digital solutions is also highest in this area.

Carrying out a process analysis before the start of a digitalization project helps those responsible to identify and eliminate organizational weaknesses at an early stage. This simplifies the implementation of the digital transformation with the appropriate tools in such a way that it significantly improves processes in the laboratory.

You can find the complete analysis of our survey along with graphics and extensive figures as well as information on the methodology in our white paper:

We would also like to invite you to a webinar with Statista on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 from 3 to 4 p.m., during which we will provide you with an overview of the status of digital transformation at testing laboratories as well as valuable recommendations for action on this topic. Register now:

Dr. Thomas Steinmann

Sector Manager Life Science

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