Science Matters: Information Technology and Your Workforce

By Alan Edwards

From a utilitarian standpoint, it was inevitable that technology would redefine the processes of the modern lab. It began with the need to automate as suppliers realized they could help labs significantly improve their products by taking manual work out of the equation. Automation, in turn, became the standard for every lab stakeholder—and technology has only served to continually improve these processes over time.

Automation—that was the need decades ago and technology filled it with tangible, measurable results. But modern labs now are facing challenges that are much harder to quantify. These challenges involve the ways people work today—and the ways those who work specifically in the sciences are starting to view knowledge sharing and communication. Just like the need to automate, these “human” challenges are redefining the lab once again, and will continue to do so far into the future.

But with these human challenges, there’s also not always an easy, straightforward solution. It’s a constant, sometimes immeasurable evolution. That doesn’t mean, however, that information technology innovations can’t provide real solutions just like automation technology did for advancing lab processes. It simply means that lab managers must be open to all the new ways IT is advancing the modern lab from a very technical, utilitarian viewpoint as well as from the more nuanced viewpoint of dealing with a lab’s workforce.

It starts with thinking about talent in a different way. Labs today are dealing with business on a global scale. The business model, it could be argued, has permanently changed because of it. The best talent is likewise global in nature. They have abandoned the more traditional, closely guarded ways of working and instead want to acquire skills, knowledge, and expertise through collaboration with colleagues who could be anywhere in the world. These people value the ability to bring their experiences to the table and to contribute where their ideas will be appreciated. More and more potential employees are embracing the contract or “free agency” way of working to meet all these goals.

These goals are also blurring the lines between the personal and the professional. Those working in the sciences today know that having the power to work when and where they want presents so many more opportunities for flexibility and lifestyle freedom. This won’t be a novel idea in as little as 10 years from now. This year, in fact, flexible professionals across all industries already comprise as much as 22 percent of the workforces at Fortune 500® companies, and these numbers will grow significantly. Many experts believe that most people in the workforce will have parted ways with traditional human capital management by 2020, recognizing that this rigid, ineffective way of engaging the best people no longer works in the new workplace.

Yet for all these expectations that employees now have as we move toward the new world of work, there is often a large gap between these expectations and what the employer is willing to accommodate. The use of technology and other IT solutions is critical to bridging this gap.

Be willing, for example, to help employees continually crack open the scientific process by embracing the niche social networks designed specifically for scientists to connect to colleagues around the world. is one of a growing number of sites that facilitates questions and answers, as well as the sharing of papers and a chance to collaborate with scientists who your employees might not otherwise meet in person.

Developing apps for your specific lab could also help both business goals and communication with your workforce.

An app that could give your personnel remote access to various databases could be a valuable tool, especially if you are able to outsource work to a certain area of the world or to a pocket of people who have the particular expertise you are looking for.

Communication would be easier for everyone involved with this kind of information in the cloud, and projects could get done faster.

And remember that the operating system for your lab needs to meet critical, basic functions for your user base. You should avoid customizing it, so everyone involved will find it easier to integrate project-specific systems when and if you need them.

Seeking ways to integrate IT and other technology solutions into how you run the core functions of your lab as well as your workforce will always keep you ahead of the competition—and ensure that you are ready to transition to the way the best people want to work in the future.

Categories: Laboratory Technology

Published In

Appifying the Laboratory Magazine Issue Cover
Appifying the Laboratory

Published: May 5, 2012

Cover Story

'Appifying' the Laboratory

In recent years, research labs have been a notable beneficiary as a variety of highly functional and specialized apps have gained the acceptance and even gratitude of a broad spectrum of laboratory managers, research scientists and bench technologists.