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Pivot Point

Tue, 12/31/2002 - 7:00pm
Randy C. Hice

Pivot Point

Will the Pittcon/International LIMS Marriage Last?

Randy C. Hice

I've skulked around many a conference relating to laboratory automation. On the massive yet extremely organized end of the spectrum, you have the Pittsburgh Conference. Then you have the diminutive International LIMS Conference, a target-rich environment for LIMS and instrument interfacing mavens, yet the conference has been fantastically expensive; more than $1300 US for the last iteration in London, compared to $75 early registration for Pittcon.

But Pittcon hasn't been a picnic either. Despite the unsurpassed organizational skills of the Pittcon program committee, it nonetheless is a scientific potpourri of instrumentation, fume hoods, and the assorted hubris characteristic of a 500,000 square foot garage sale for the laboratory community.

International LIMS is more of a boutique conference. Alternating between Europe and the U.S., the stateside version was a bit cheaper than the aforementioned London conference at around $600. But interest in Inter-national LIMS waned significantly in recent years. Criticism was plentiful. Conferees complained of stratospheric conference fees for what seemed to be two or so days of speakers of varying abilities. Charges of cronyism seemed to rear with unsettling periodicity. Finally, vendors noted few customer decision-makers were in attendance.

But I am told the winds of change are blowing.

This year, Pittcon and International LIMS have 'merged' in a loose manner of speaking. The "Lab Informatics" symposium is heralded as a "conference within a conference."

Advanced registration for Pittcon in Orlando is $75. For the "Lab Informa-tics Symposium," you need to hit the boss up for another $600. The first $75 buys you Pittcon's logistical magic; housing, transportation, and floor access. The catch is; to get access to LIMS and lab informatics speakers you must pony up the remaining jack. Humm ... the "regular ($75) attendees no longer get access to LIMS and related lab informatics content. What was once free, or at least included in the base fee, now costs $600 extra.

Bummer?

We'll see, but Program Chair Dr. Doug Perry has lined up a little new blood, and better speakers may attract a different strata of potential customers. This is goodness.

When a conference only charges $75 to get in, how can that pay all the conference expenses? The vendors are tagged to pay the vast majority of the conference fees in terms of floor space and advertising. But, if a higher echelon of speakers are on the docket, then perhaps higher-level corporate decision makers will be in attendance to hear what they're saying. Bigger-picture speakers beget corporate strategists, and that has been a key failing of both Pittcon and International LIMS in recent years. If key decision makers are in attendance, then vendors feel better about their conference investment.

This argument addresses the past concerns of the vendors, of course, but what of the attendees?

Dr. Perry has taken a tact to increase the chances that corporate heavyweights are appeased by expanding the breadth of the conference to include the full continuum of laboratory data; origination, processing, and disposition, aka Laboratory Informatics.

"We wanted to create a conference that would appeal to a wider audience, much like Scientific Computing & Instrumentation magazine," said Dr. Perry.

Will that be the case? There are some new faces on the agenda, like Robin Felder, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology, University of Virginia and Director of the Medical Automation Research Center. His topic of Automation, Intelligent Process Management, and Bioinformatics: Converging Laboratory Technologies with Great Promise for Process Improvement has potential.

I also like the inclusion of Kenneth Blick, Ph.D., Professor of Pathology, and Director of Laboratory Information Systems, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. His Symposium on New Directions in Laboratory Information Processing looks equally compelling.

So, I do believe that the International LIMS Conference folks are making a decent run, and I applaud them for making a change. I would like to have seen maybe Craig Vetner (ex-Celera), or maybe Larry (Oracle) Ellison has no sailing regattas that week, and I did hear that some traditions remain; the bestowing of the LIMS achievement award (or whatever) stays in the sacred inner circle this year, and the attendees could probably care less about the award being bandied about the good old boys. But the real threat to this conference in Orlando will not be the speakers. From the grave, Walt Disney looms large, and those attendees in search of a boondoggle at the company's expense, will be taking their families to the Magic Kingdom in droves, mark my word. I bet that by Wednesday, you'll be able to roll a bowling ball down the conference floor and not hit a soul.

Randy Hice is the president of the Laboratory Expertise Center. He can be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.

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