Riitta Pehkonen, Finnish Environment Institute – a pioneer in LIMS

Monday, 7 March, 2016

Read in Finnish

We’ve had the pleasure to interview a long-time customer and LIMS influencer Riitta Pehkonen from the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE). Riitta has expertise and experience in laboratory information management solutions and development of electronic data management from as long as 18 years. We warmly thank Riitta and Finnish Environment Institute for excellent cooperation and wish Riitta happy retirement.

A digital spearhead  project of the epoch

The IT-solutions of the 12 regional environment centers were getting old at the end of 1990´s. At the same time SYKE needed to acquire a commercial LIMS (Laboratory Information Management System) to replace their paper and document based data storage practices. The Ministry of the Environment, under which SYKE operates, had already proposed to acquire a shared laboratory information management system. The goal was to create a system to support sample management, where data would transfer electronically from one data management solution to another. Around 1998, the idea was exceptional in the environment research field. The Finnish Environment Institute was creating a laboratory information management solution that would be years ahead of its time. The purchase was carried out as a digital spearhead project if we would describe it with contemporary terms.

It was fate

Riitta Pehkonen had studied chemistry at the Oulu University. While working part-time at the local environment center in 1996, she participated in the Environmental Administration Laboratory Days event. During the event it was discussed that a pre-study for a LIMS would take place. Riitta got directly interested in the topic and although she was not part of the pre-study staff, she was hired to prepare and later manage the LIMS project for the Finnish Environment Institute.

SYKE LIMS – ahead of its time

The project had challenges due to the size of it. It consisted of 13 production databases, around 200 users at several sites all over Finland with different needs and visions – to bring all this together was truly a challenge! The most demanding part was, however, creating a sampling plan in LIMS. Such an electronic planning functionality had not been implemented in any commercial LIMS solutions, but the need for one was evident. A printable sampling form based on the sampling plan would tell exactly which samples to take, from which depth and to which laboratory to send them. After collecting the sample, a sample registration and result entry into LIMS would follow. The level of automation has been praised by the LIMS users. “If all this information was fetched manually, wow…”, sighed Riitta. The LIMS pilot project took 4 months includinglate evenings and even nights. But the project crossed the finish line in agreed time schedule. Riitta was wondering how in such a short time so much was achieved.

Riitta´s lessons for project management

  1. Project work – Keep your project team small, but include all central persons. If a project team has a head count over 10, things start to prolong. 
  2. Decision making – Decisions must be made. If you don´t get an answer to your question by the deadline you set, have a discussion with yourself and make a decision.
  3. False decisions – when you notice you’ve made a false decision, think how to fix the situation, since you can´t start all over again. 
  4. Timetables – when you start something, stick to your planned schedule.
  5. Vendor relationship – Demand honest answers from your vendor. You need to know if your idea makes sense, not so much whether it’s possible. 
  6. You need to understand what you don´t understand. Find the right people in your organization to ask for advice. 

Projects for retirement

Riitta has been an excellent LIMS project manager, but she will be heading to retirement without a project plan. In Lapland at the family log cabin, at the gentle slopes of  Luosto fell, there will be time and peace to cut loose from hectic working life. For the past 25 years Riitta has spent her vacations in Lapland with her family. And that is where she will be heading to enjoy the northern lights and the blue moments of the polar nights. Also a long due dream will also come true there, when she will take up the studies of astronomy.

Riitta Pehkonen

Who: Special planner, Finnish Environment Institute, Laboratory centre, retired since 1.4.2016 
Born: Kalajoki
Home town: Oulu
Family: Married with Ahti Pehkonen, three adult sons, one grand child
Education: M.Sc. Chemistry, Oulu University, Pedagogy qualification 2004, IT studies
Career at SYKE 1998-2016: LIMS –project pre-study, project manager, LIMS coordinator, 1998-1999, 1999-2001, 2002-2016

Pictures from Luosto by Riitta´s husband Ahti Pehkonen and son Tommi Pehkonen.



Add new comment