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Review: BioRiver working group IT – digitization of processes

19. November 2020

The fourth meeting of the IT working group on November 3rd, which again took place as an online meeting, dealt with the digitization of processes. The two presentations made the broad spectrum of this topic clear:
The first lecture dealt with device integration, a topic from laboratory practice, and the second lecture gave an impression of the challenges digitization entails for all of the commercial support processes in a large company.

For laboratory practice: Digitize and centralize device integration

Speaker Dipl.-Phys. Klaus Bruch, one of the managing directors of AGU Planungsgesellschaft, presented a solution with which laboratories can centrally control the integration of their devices and record and merge the results from a wide variety of analyses.

In the life science environment in particular, a very large number of sensors and analysis devices are used in the laboratory. At the same time, in many laboratories it is still the case that each analysis device stands on its own. Measurement results are displayed individually for each device,
partly still on paper, recorded and transferred manually, via data stick and Excel, to higher-level IT systems (LIMS/laboratory information system, MES/manufacturing execution system, ELN/electronic lab notebook, DCS/distributed control system). This takes time, reduces accuracy and wastes valuable resources.

Some labs have already gone a step further and rely on direct data integration between their analyzers and the higher-level systems. A step forward, but due to the individual integration of the very different devices, essential elements for the higher-level combination are usually missing in practice, such as support for long barcodes or multiple measurements, input fields such as batch numbers, electronic signatures, higher-level user management or bi-directional communication.
In addition, there are costs for GMP validation or interface adjustments for upgrades for each device.

Klaus Bruch therefore sees a middleware solution as a viable and future-oriented digitization variant, with which all results from the most diverse analyzes can be recorded and combined centrally: A middleware layer is inserted between the higher-level systems (LIMS etc.) and the devices, via which takes place the central interface management and the validation. There is only one communication interface for the bi-directional exchange (measurement order is sent to the device, measurement result is sent back to the higher-level system).

The limitations of direct data integration are solved by middleware: Long barcodes and multiple measurements are supported, as are e-signatures and much more. Data integration is simplified, validation costs are reduced and implementation times are shortened. In addition, there is less training effort, since the employees, up to a few key users, only have to be trained on the middleware and no longer on all devices. Mr. Bruch then showed specific examples, including the standardization of units, standard workflows and progress displays, using the AGU solution SDC and also explained technical details such as embedding in IT infrastructures. The subsequent round of questions confirmed that device integration is an urgent topic and showed that the participants see a convincing solution in the way presented.

From corporate practice: Digitization processes at DLR

In the lecture that followed, Dr. Katrin Schuster gives an insight into the development of digitization processes and the realignment of processes at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
To start with, she gave an overview of the fields of action of the federal government’s digitization strategy. As a public institution, one of the tasks of the DLR is to normalize digitization and as a research company of the federal government, it started to set up everything digitally as early as 1995. As part of the strategic focus on digitization as a cross-sectional research area, DLR is dealing, for example, with the potential of digitization for its own research topics, digitization as a research topic and the potential of digitization for management and support processes. DLR currently employs around 9,000 people at 30 locations, and around 200 people work in the area of administrative infrastructure.

As head of the Department of Business Informatics and Corporate Organization, Dr. Schuster deals with the entire area of business information systems (BW-IS) as a system for commercial support processes.
ERP systems, interface systems, analysis systems, special systems and workflow systems are located in this part of the IT structure at DLR. As the speaker explains, they try to use standards at their core, ie to use software in areas such as finance, controlling or purchasing that every other large company, such as insurance companies, also uses.
Here, DLR relies on SAP and SAP partner products as well as in-house developments in SAP. Alternatives to SAP are in demand, among other things, when it comes to company-specific requirements. Special solutions are required, for example, when it comes to submitting offers for EU or ESA tenders, some of which have to be submitted within a very short time and must meet strict scientific and formal requirements. The workflow systems are mainly so-called employee applications, i.e. processes that employees used to submit on paper, such as travel requests, vacation notifications and the like.

These .NET/Java-based applications, which are upstream from SAP, are used by around 8,000 scientists at DLR. Today, all administrative issues are solved with IT. dr Schuster presented the required technical “development plan” for all systems in detail and clearly showed where the individual systems are located in the interaction of specialist departments, business partners, employees and management. Conceptually and strategically, she has an eye on further development beyond 2022.
Digitization is already at a good level throughout DLR, but it is a process that is never completed, not least due to permanent technical developments.

Among the innovations that have to be dealt with are AI or blockchain. The further relocation of solutions to the cloud also has effects, some of which are problematic, for example with regard to interfaces and data exchange. The shortage of skilled workers makes matters worse, almost all companies face the challenge that the digitization effort cannot be mastered with the current resources. The involvement of external forces and closer cooperation with suppliers and business partners will, according to Dr. Schuster therefore gain in importance. DLR is also looking for partners and business innovators who understand and promote DLR processes.

Once again, many thanks to the speakers for their technically well-founded and interesting presentations! We would like to thank the participants for their questions, their contributions to the discussion and their open feedback!
BioRiver members can request the slides of both presentations from the office.
Contact: Constanze Duhme ( )

Working group IT: 2021 it will continue

The next date has not yet been set, but it is certain that the IT working group will continue its work next year and organize further meetings – in any case digitally and maybe even once again as a face-to-face event.
If you have a topic that’s been on your mind or has been on your mind for years and you think other BioRiver members might find interesting, feel free to suggest it to us!

Simply contact Constanze Duhme ( ) from BioRiver or the AK leaders Norbert Schmeißer ( ) and Georg Stromer ( ).

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