Computer System Lifecycle: Considerations

Hello good people of the world! Today’s post is an overview of the lifecycle of a computer system in regulated industries (pharmaceutical, biologics, and medical device manufacturing). It is based on my almost 20 years experience in the field, and will provide you at a high level the things you should be thinking about with respect to computer systems.

1. Requirements Elicitation
Before anything else, we must understand the requirements around the need for a computer system. This could be the hardest step, and is definitely the most important. Spending extra time and expertise here can prevent a lot of problems downstream. Know who your stakeholders are, and elicit their requirements better than they do. You will often (always ?) find end-users may not know what their requirements are, or may not be able to communicate them effectively. Understand the business process you are trying to automate, and ensure you are talking to all stakeholders: end-users, administrators, managers, etc.

2. Supplier Selection
Once you know what your requirements are, you’re going to find someone to help you met your requirements. At this stage it is important to vet your suppliers to make sure they have the required experience and expertise to deliver a solution to meet your requirements. Supplier selection in regulated industries includes a Supplier Audit.

3. Planning
Now is the time to document your plan. Traditionally this plan is called a Validation Plan, or Validation Project Plan, or Project Validation Plan, but I like calling it a Quality Assurance Plan. Validation is one (big) part of ensuring the quality of the delivery of your new computer system, but your planning needs to encompass all quality considerations. Your plan should include:
– change management procedure to be followed in implementing the system
– updates to your system inventory
– business continuity impact assessment
– risk management considerations (project risk, compliance risk, etc.)
– data privacy considerations
– HR data access considerations
– GxP regulatory determination (e.g., System-Level Impact Assessment (SLIA))
– plan for leveraging supplier documentation
– test strategy for backup, archive/retrieval, restore
– system release strategy
– data migration strategy (if applicable)

4. Specifications
Once your plan is in plan (and agreed upon by all stakeholders), now is the time to specify how the system will meet requirements. Depending on the time of system, risk, GxP impact, etc., deliverables of this stage may be a Functional Specification (FS), Functional Risk Assessment (FRA), Design Specification (DS), Configuration Specification (CS), Requirements Trace Matrix (RTM).

5. Verification
Now that your system is specified, it’s time to test it. Again, depending on the project scope, this stage could include an overall Test Plan, draft SOPs (admin, operating, end-user, etc.), protocol generation, RTM update, business continuity and disaster recovery plans, functional testing, training curricula development, and user-acceptance testing (UAT).

6. Release
Everything has gone well and it’s time to put the system into production use. Be sure to consider: SOP approval/effectiveness, updating the RTM again, any testing in production (such as IQ), system release notification, creating an index of system documentation, closing the Quality Assurance Plan with a report (what actually happened versus what was planned), and closing the change control.

7. Operation
Once the system is in use and everyone is happy, the work is not done! Maintain activities should include: change management, incident/problem management, periodic review of the validated state, periodic testing of backups and disaster recovery, and maintaining the system documentation index.

8. Retirement
Hopefully after many years of service, the time will come to retire your computer system. Be sure to consider data archiving and retrieval in this (final) stage of the computer system lifecycle.

Did I miss anything? Comment below.

Like this MWV (Mike Williamson Validation) blog post? Be sure to like, share, and subscribe!