Find the best electronic lab notebook (ELN) for your institution in 2019

Hunter Jamison 2nd April 2019

The ELN you choose matters. You’re responsible for adopting new technology for your organization: a large responsibility that affects not just yourself, but your current and future colleagues in research too. Take into account these guidelines to ensure you choose the best possible solution out there.

Step 1: Identify Your Needs

Adopting an Information Management System will allow for more efficient work on your new projects and ongoing operations, but will require some deliberate forethought. Take serious time to evaluate the problems you’d like to overcome and capabilities you’d like to have. Delineate between your wants and needs and proceed to prioritize.

  • What are the desired outcomes?
  • What is essential-to-have and what is nice-to-have to achieve outcomes?
  • What data will be collected and how will it be used?
  • What is your workflow? Is it stepwise or recurring? How central is collaboration?
  • What are your organizational goals? Does the ELN scale with your needs?
  • Will you need to frequently maintain or migrate data?

This exercise is extremely valuable in providing clarity and consensus. The most suitable ELN for you might not be what you first imagine, but practice open-mindedness in invalidating your intuitions for this exercise to be effective. The ELN you choose may differ significantly from your current procedures, yet a shift away from current practices could enhance productivity and outcomes.

Step 2: Identify the Perfect Fit for Your Needs

As a starting point, read the data management system scorecard by Harvard. This is a great resource to overview features and learn ELN best practices. Beyond considering how the features of data management platforms improve your workflow and collaboration, it’s useful to consider how certain features can impact long-term success. For example, training and customer support could enhance effective use of the platform and could make your role of implementation a whole lot easier. Additionally, organisations often seek and benefit from collaboration. Easy-to-follow and easy-to-share protocols as well as process standardisation aid immensely towards this end.

Step 3: Communicate Your Goals for Change

Keeping in mind your needs and promising ELN options, you’ll need to achieve consensus among your institution’s stakeholders to best enact change. Articulate your thoughts and appreciate any feedback. Approach leadership and potential users about their preferences, requirements for change, and immediate challenges for change. This is an opportune time to also work through feature priorities such as:

  • Efficient data management and reduced repetition
  • Better data quality and integrity (and IP security)
  • Data standardisation & centralisation
  • Instrument and system integration

It should also be fruitful to discuss which current analytics, visualization, and recording software are indispensable. Even if your ELN options can’t accommodate all software integrations, investigate the difficulty of exporting data into usable forms for them. Some LIMS, such as Labstep, will allow for convenient retrieval and import of data via their public API. Leveraging an API properly could also allow data entry to occur direct-from-instrument and for research progress to be tracked real-time.

Step 4: Remain Persistent

Once an ELN is established as a good fit for your organization, implementation can still be challenging. Remember, you can start by applying the technology first to one or two projects - even venturing to pilot it yourself - before establishing it in your organization. To further disseminate the system, onboarding to the ELN could be asynchronous across researchers and projects. Keep clarity of your goals because a successfully implemented system can bring about significant return:

  • Up to 30% greater efficiency than non-digital processes, saving 8-10 hours of a user’s week.
  • A reported 25% intellectual property improvement for faster patents backed by quality, compliant data.
  • Maintain an audit trail of the provenance of research contributions.

Hey there!

Only around 10% of scientists are using ELNs, despite their benefits. So props to you for being ahead of the game. Labstep is a research data and inventory management tool made to support the scientific community. Learn more about our mission, our research tools and our global community.

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