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The Next Generation of ELNs

The industry is witnessing a shift toward the next generation of ELNs

by Ryan Ackerman
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To keep pace with an increasingly global and connected research landscape, many laboratories are becoming reliant on digital solutions to carry out experiments and complete projects. A clear example of this digital shift is the electronic laboratory notebook, or ELN.

Although it is seemingly a new technology for those deciding to move from the traditional pen and paper notebook, the ELN is in fact a mature product. Over three decades, ELNs have gone through many changes— from simple “paper on glass” products catering to specific areas of research to modularized systems capable of collecting data across multiple scientific domains.

As this evolution was spawned by necessity—researchers became more mobile, and their need to collaborate with one another became commonplace—the ELN adapted by becoming increasingly flexible and intuitive. As a result, the industry is beginning to witness another shift toward the next generation of ELNs.

“There is no doubt in our minds that eventually everything is going to end up in the cloud,” says Gene Tetreault, senior director of unified laboratory management with BIOVIA (Waltham, MA). “Right now, everything is in the cloud. That is where all the new tools are being built; that’s where all the technology is being developed.”

Adopting a cloud-based solution can considerably decrease the time needed to deploy an ELN, as Tetreault points out. “You can connect to our cloud notebook, and literally in a matter of minutes you can be carrying out experiments.”

For larger companies, an ELN with enterprise capabilities is the ideal choice. These ELNs can be rolled out to thousands of users simultaneously, and are customizable for a variety of factors. However, as companies grow globally, language barriers can present a hurdle to sharing data and procedures. As Tetreault explains, “There are laws in many different countries that the user interface and instructions must be in the local language so people do not make mistakes in the way that procedures must be carried out.” However, this challenge can easily be overcome by adopting a comprehensive system. “Our companion software, Compose—which is what is used to author the recipes and analytical test procedures—is built with a localized library. You can build a method in English, and then switch it over to the local language, and it will take on the look and feel of that locale.”

Another concern among those looking to adopt an ELN is how well it will integrate with their existing systems. Abbott Informatics (South Hollywood, FL) offers flexible systems that can be paired with other informatics systems to streamline usage. These solutions can be geared to specific or multiple disciplines—allowing the user to add or remove features unique to their needs as required. A simple integrated system lets you effortlessly accomplish deployment and training.

The decision to leave the reliable pen and paper notebook to adopt an advanced informatics system may seem intimidating at first, but the benefits of an ELN are hard to ignore. The ability to seamlessly track experiments, instantly share data globally, and ensure all data is properly tracked and compliant with the necessary policies are only a few reasons to make the transition to an ELN.

For additional resources on electronic lab notebooks, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit