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Up until the late 1970s, the management of laboratory samples and the associated analysis and reporting were time-consuming manual processes often riddled with transcription errors. This gave some organizations impetus to streamline the collection of data and how it was reported. Custom in-house solutions were developed by a few individual laboratories, while some enterprising entities at the same time sought to develop a more commercial reporting solution in the form of special instrument-based systems.

In 1982 the first generation of LIMS was introduced in the form of a single centralized minicomputer, which offered laboratories the first opportunity to utilize automated reporting tools. As the interest in these early LIMS grew, industry leaders like Gerst Gibbon of the Federal Energy Technology Center in Pittsburgh began planting the seeds through LIMS-related conferences. By 1988 the second-generation commercial offerings were tapping into relational databases to expand LIMS into more application-specific territory, and International LIMS Conferences were in full swing. As personal computers became more powerful and prominent, a third generation of LIMS emerged in the early 1990s. These new LIMS took advantage of client/server architecture, allowing laboratories to implement better data processing and exchanges.

By 1995 the client/server tools had developed to the point of allowing processing of data anywhere on the network. Web-enabled LIMS were introduced the following year, enabling researchers to extend operations outside the confines of the laboratory. From 1996 to 2002 additional functionality was included in LIMS, from wireless networking capabilities and georeferencing of samples, to the adoption of XML standards and the development of Internet purchasing.

As of 2012, some LIMS have added additional characteristics that continue to shape how a LIMS is defined. Additions include clinical functionality, electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) functionality, as well a rise in the software as a service (SaaS) distribution model.