Are LIMS becoming ELNs?

29th Jul 2013

Or is it the other way around?

For nearly four decades if you had a lab and structured data to manage, you turned to a laboratory information management system (LIMS) to keep you sane. There appeared to be no better way to search through results and compare the data produced from ongoing studies or to look through samples.

Over those decades, the sheer amount of data being generated continues to grow exponentially and new ways of handling that information mountain have appeared. Perhaps best known are next-generation electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs), which offer a powerful alternative to LIMS.

As both LIMS and ELNs continue to develop, both of them offering more and more functionality, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell them apart. However, LIMS still struggle to shake off their highly structured – if not downright rigid – process-centric approach to data management, and they still require a large amount of customization to suit the individual needs of different laboratories.

On the other hand, ELNs have become far more than just ‘digital sticker books’. For instance, IDBS’ E-WorkBook Suite embraces the fact that so much of today’s data – especially in early stage research – is often highly unstructured, and so offers a highly adaptable, yet simple to use platform for more complex workflow support. Functionality includes advanced analysis capabilities, improved IP security, time saving reporting and effective digital sign-off. Such flexibility resonates with the world’s biopharmaceutical laboratories and today, around 25% of them have wholeheartedly embraced their use.

So are LIMS and ELNs becoming essentially the same thing?

There’s no easy answer to whether LIMS and ELNs are becoming one and the same. Perhaps it’s time to throw away the dogmatic view that it’s either LIMS or ELNs? Michael J Fenton, anassistant editor of Modern Drug Discovery, might just have put his finger on it when he said:

“ActivityBase by IDBS […] targets managing scientific data at the enterprise level, but […] does not call its product a LIMS.”

So I propose that we stop looking for differences, similarities or convergence between the two systems – they both have their strengths and weaknesses. It’s far better to concentrate on the functionality that’s most relevant to your needs. As Gloria Metrick, Principal Consultant and LabWare LIMS Expert at GeoMetrick Enterprises, so eloquently puts it:

“Ignore the labels. Forget that they’re called LIMS or ELNs. Determine what you need and look for that. If you find something that meets your needs, whatever it is called, that is the right product and strategy for you.”