July 7, 2020
Due to their wide availability and ease of use, Excel spreadsheets are considered by some labs to be a viable alternative to sample tracking software. Smaller labs may find spreadsheets more economical and require less training than a sample tracking system. However, Excel spreadsheets have some major drawbacks for managing and tracking lab samples. Conversely, a dedicated sample management system has features that are necessary as a lab grows and the complexity of tracking samples increases.
When using spreadsheets for sample tracking, it is very easy for data to go missing or be inadvertently changed. Cells, columns and the data contained within can be deleted or edited, with virtually no tracking of the changes or by whom the changes were made. Sample management software provides structure to the data captured for each sample and defines how sample data can be changed and by which users. Software also provides an audit trail to monitor and report any changes.
Sample management software has features specifically dedicated to set up rules and restrictions regarding data creation/import and editing. For example, perhaps the volume of a particular sample type should always be a positive number, or the Sample ID is a required field? These features give teams the ability to structure their sample data in a way that makes sense for them. A good sample management software will have the flexibility to allow users to define their own data structures and processes to match the actual lab work, instead of the other way around.
Spreadsheets, unlike sample tracking software or traditional databases, don’t have a detailed permissions model. For example, you may only want certain members of your team to be able to add new rows and not have the ability to edit the columns/metadata. In Excel, you are limited to granting basic read-only or read-write permissions. Sample tracking software allows for more granular permissions to be assigned based on your role in the sample management process. Maybe your Principal Investigator can only read, while the lab manager dictates what type of metadata is captured, and the rest of the lab members can add and update samples as needed.
A well-designed sample tracking software should not require extensive training or a long implementation process. Good software is designed with the end-user in mind and should be intuitive. Sample tracking software also contains a variety of other features that are focused on real-world laboratory sample management processes.
Sample Tracking – End-to-end sample tracking features including chain-of-custody tracking, sample types and sources, and lineage views
Freezer Management– Manage sample storage and freezer capacity using an intuitively designed interface
Sample Data Integration – Integrate assay data with your samples and assign metadata for a complete picture of your ongoing experiments
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