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The Benefits of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks for Lab Quality and Compliance

Using an ELN to document lab processes will help your organization remain compliant and maintain data integrity

Morgana Moretti, PhD

Morgana Moretti, PhD, is an active scientist and freelance medical writer with more than 12 years of research and writing experience. She holds a doctoral degree in biochemistry, has published...

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As laboratories strive for higher quality, companies are increasingly adopting electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs) to record and access lab data. Compared to paper notebooks, these systems can more efficiently meet the volume, complexity, accessibility, and security requirements necessary for the success of laboratory operations.

This article explores the benefits of using an ELN in your lab and discusses how this tool can help you maintain quality and compliance.

Organization and transparency

A major benefit of using an ELN is that it can organize data into a single source. A centralized and structured data management system like an ELN not only helps with organization, but also fosters transparency among laboratory professionals and allows for the traceability and reproducibility of data.

ELNs provide a permanent record of the laboratory’s activities and come with a built-in search engine that makes it much easier for lab staff and managers to access the information they need. If a lab member is looking for an experiment performed six years ago, there is no need to look page-by-page through handwritten protocols, notes, or results; a quick search will give them all the necessary information. 

Recording all routine experimental information in an ELN avoids data loss, transcription errors, and records stored haphazardly. ELNs also resolve the issue of poor handwriting and unclear notes, which can cause long-term problems. In addition, by using an ELN, organizations can eliminate the unnecessary use of paper, which is always good for the environment.

Data sharing

Another advantage of using an ELN is its ability to support collaboration between lab members. With an ELN, everyone can access relevant information simultaneously without worrying about conflicting document versions. 

Importantly, researchers can access their records remotely, which allows geographically separated stakeholders to collaborate. This benefits companies seeking to adopt flexible work models and relieves researchers of the challenges that arise when physical access to facilities is restricted, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic. Implementing an ELN platform also mitigates the need to transport physical laboratory notebooks between locations, reducing the risk of cross-contamination and data loss.

Recording all routine experimental information in an ELN avoids data loss, transcription errors, and records stored haphazardly.

Furthermore, lab members can share documents securely via email or file-sharing platforms like Dropbox or Google Drive. With improved data accessibility, scientists across departments and international locations can collaborate just as easily as a single team.

Time and cost savings

Companies that implement ELNs can save time and money by removing the need to print multiple copies of documents and manually fill out forms. 

A survey of ELN users compared the time they needed to perform tasks before and after ELN implementation in their labs. The survey showed that, on average, scientists saved nine hours per week using an ELN. For some people, time savings amounted to 17 hours per week. Most researchers reported that using an ELN reduced the time invested in preparations for meetings and writing emails.

Workflow automation

ELNs provide workflow automation capabilities that make it easier for teams to manage their tasks. For example, some ELN platforms connect with legacy systems and third-party apps like HubSpot, Google Sheets, and Shopify to unify lab data in one place. Users can also take advantage of pre-populated protocols or standard operating procedure templates and set automation rules to prepare their projects quickly.

Some ELNs have inventory tracking system integration that allows lab inventory to be managed within the same software that stores data. Labs can use this feature to keep track of materials used in production processes and automate tasks related to stock control, such as order processing and shipping. This means increased efficiency, reduced costs, and improved customer service.

Data security and compliance

ELNs offer unparalleled security compared to paper notebooks. While traditional paper notebooks can be lost or stolen, ELNs have backup methods that prevent information from being lost. For example, cloud storage enables frequent automatic backups. In addition, ELNs offer several ways to export data, allowing lab managers to keep an updated copy of all information on their ELN. 

Usually, all information transferred and processed from ELNs is encrypted. Moreover, password brute-force detection on hosting accounts and multi-factor authentication protect ELN data. 

In most commercial ELNs, user rights and roles restrict view and edit access to only the relevant lab members. The specificity of information and how it is accessed, shared, and exported can be controlled, preventing unauthorized access to sensitive data. 

Compliance features, such as audit trails, allow users to easily track changes made over time as well as who made them. These features improve security while meeting industry regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or the General Data Protection Regulation. Many ELNs also provide compliance with FDA 21 CFR Part 11.

ELNs improve productivity without sacrificing security 

The use cases for ELNs across industries are varied but universally beneficial due to their ability to save time while increasing the accuracy of captured information. By using an ELN solution rather than paper lab notebooks or manual filing systems, organizations can improve their productivity without sacrificing security or compromising data integrity. 

From built-in features that optimize search to templates tailored to each facility’s needs, ELNs empower labs to keep their workflows running smoothly as they follow the best research practices. Using these features, organizations can maintain high operational efficiency, and lab managers can ensure that all processes meet necessary regulations.