An initial consideration when implementing new automation is the establishment of an effective laboratory information system (LIS). A LIS consists of the computer hardware, software, and interfaces that provide the means to manage data used in laboratory operations. A laboratory may decide to implement applications within its LIS from a single vendor or utilize those offered by multiple vendors. Choose your information system carefully, since it is likely that the capability limits of the LIS will determine the functionality parameters of all other automation you will wish to interface.
An interface is the means by which the LIS communicates with other elements of the system. Therefore, interface compatibility is critical to the functionality of your automation system. There are two main types of interfaces:
- Instrument interface - Enables the direct data transfer between analytical instruments and the LIS
- Application interface - The "go between" that enables the LIS to exchange data with other computer systems and applications. Middleware may be required to set up this communication in some cases.
Issues with incompatibility have been an ongoing obstacle to the widespread adoption and utilization of information based laboratory systems. The Clinical Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI) created the Area Committee on Automation in 1996 to develop global standards for integrated laboratory systems. The goal of the committee was to develop uniform standards for automated system components that could be integrated easier into laboratory operations, independent of the manufacturer. Five interrelated standards were developed by this committee to foster the interconnectivity of future laboratory automation designs, so that the users of automated laboratory technology could function optimally. The guiding standards for systems models for application level interfaces are given within the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), through their OSI model for application and interface architecture. With increasing interface standardization, the obstacle presented to implementation for laboratories posed by incompatibility and lack of interoperability constraints is being diminished.