Through decades of evolution of data recording approaches, researchers have resorted to a wide spectrum of tools and software for daily bookkeeping, inventory and data management - from traditional pen and paper to digitised standalone record-keeping software and more recently single digital workspaces. Conservative practices such as manual lab notebooks and legacy ELNs and LIMS, however, are fast becoming antiquated in this digital era. Contemporary record-keeping approaches such as cloud-based ELNs and online workspaces for researchers are better adjusted to the demands of the modern researcher. But with a plethora of available software systems, each built for a specific function within the lab, the list of systems a single researcher must manage on a daily basis has become a time-sink and ultimately counter-productive. In this article, we will outline how R&D organisations can benefit from using all-in-one digital environments for their data management, as opposed to maintaining multiple single-purpose softwares.
To delve into this topic in slightly more depth, it is essential to first grasp the market’s needs and requirements for a good data management platform for R&D processes. In their 2011 study around this question, the iLabber Pilot Project concluded the top user priorities for an ELN. The survey found that the ability to search and re-use documented information, having a secure backup of experimental data and having access to the notebook from remote locations are the parameters claimed to be most important. Although searching for past experiments and re-using information is possible with both standalone e-notebooks as well as integrated notebook and inventory environments, the latter is simply easier, as all the information is in one place.
Adapted from: Dial a Molecule iLabber Pilot Project: Potential Uses of ELNs in Academia Survey.
The abundance of active ELNs on the market is astonishing, with 72 active ELNs currently available for use (S. Kanza et al., 2017). Frustrations over legacy e-notebooks are more often than not caused by their inefficiency and complicated interfaces, which take a serious toll on the productivity within R&D organisations. In a case study by an unnamed Big Pharma company, the team was instructed to use PerkinElmer’s E-Notebook for data recording purposes. The software, seemingly written in the 90s, was found to be so complicated and time-consuming that ultimately resulted in the scientists in question writing up their experiments in Microsoft Word before copy and pasting it into the ELN. Forcing scientists to duplicate admin work due to a bad user experience really defeats the purpose of an ELN: a platform designed for easy accessibility and comprehensive record-keeping.
Adding additional inventory management systems to the software equation only complicates the matter for scientists, who will often find themselves using many standalone, unconnected programs within the same procedure, resulting in frequent duplication of work and a significant decrease in productivity. With this also comes a sizable economic cost, as the staff has to be trained to use various standalone specialist software for inventory keeping, instrument bookings and data recording.
All-in-one digital environments such as Labstep, Benchling or Scinote are primarily aimed to avoid the flaws of stand-alone software mixtures by offering a connected environment that allows users to access items such as protocols, SOPs, experiment records and sample and consumable inventories all within a single dashboard. The cloud-based tech behind these platforms also allows users to access their digital workspace from anywhere, including using mobile devices. The element of friendly design and interface is important when comparing connected research environments to legacy LIMS and ELNs, as it allows teams to more easily adopt a system and continue to navigate through data more easily. The latest, most innovative platforms have taken this concept one step further and have designed their environments to be field-agnostic. Unlike Benchling, which is specifically designed for molecular biologists only, platforms such as Labstep offer a flexible interface and a variety of tools adoptable by biologists, chemists and computational scientists alike. This allows not just for single teams, but entire companies to collect data and collaborate within a single digital environment, aiding in productivity, team efficiency and saving costs on other softwares.
In addition to the capabilities of the software itself, it is worth mentioning the importance of having a responsive tech support team in the ELN vendor. Large R&D organisations often run into technical setbacks with legacy ELN software due to user overload and server crashes. This problem has become particularly exposed recently: ELN servers become overcrowded as a result of employees working from home. Cloud-based ELNs tend to avoid these issues due to the nature of their storage setup, and for similar reasons are able to quickly fix bugs, add new features to the software or customise the environment to the particular requirements of R&D companies. What’s more, modern ELN vendors tend to understand the value of a responsive customer support team and offer a wide range of support sources such as articles, platform demos, chatbox contact with the team and regular user feedback sessions.
In conclusion, the advantages of using a single, connected research environment for your R&D organisation is undeniable. However, transitioning your entire company to a new system is a time-consuming and intricate process that is often met with resistance. The question arises: does a multitude of softwares to be maintained on a daily basis by the scientists benefit the company in the long-term? Consider not only productivity and finances, but also team morale and happiness amongst your researchers. In other words, does the cost of recording data inefficiently outweigh the costs of a full transition to single digital workspace? In a world that is increasingly relying on fast communication, instant data accessibility and connectivity, it seems R&D teams are best to choose the latter option to stay ahead of the curve.
Labstep is a provider of scientific data management software for R&D organisations across industries (Biotech, Pharma, Biology, Chemicals, Agriculture etc) who need to manage, capture, share and use data effectively.
The Labstep platform is an end to end flexible research environment that connects your notebook, inventory, applications and data in one collaborative workspace.
To learn more about Labstep’s lab inventory management module, get in touch. Contact us or book a demo today.