Research and Development (R&D) organizations are becoming more and more focused on innovation. In doing so, they are increasingly opening up their research infrastructures, forming cross-disciplinary diverse teams. The days of two or three pharmaceutical chemistry scientists sitting together in one room, making project decisions, are long gone. They have now been replaced by multidisciplinary teams, with scientists from varying domains, working together in geographically disparate virtual teams.
This is a significant shift, and brings new challenges for those designing and providing R&D software. Systems must now support disparate scientific disciplines with tools and data environments suited to each of their specific needs. As teams work in this increasingly collaborative style, tools must be seamlessly integrated into the virtual lab environment. We’ve seen this first-hand, responding to customer demand for applications tailored to specific domains with best of breed products – most recently by integrating ChemAxon’s deep chemistry expertise into E-WorkBook and ActivityBase.
This multidiscipline, collaboration-centric approach to R&D brings other challenges, too. It’s now vital that team members have a holistic view of projects, studies and experiments, to avoid duplication of work and ensure that relevant data and information is accessible at all times. Scientists need sight of which actions have been and need to be carried out, when and by whom. This is tricky within just one company internally – let alone the multidiscipline collaborative networks that are now emerging. We have seen functionality like alerts, task boards and ‘following’ projects useful here. This is probably a derivative of the continued adoption of social media in our home lives, and means we will likely see a growing use of ‘social’ features, including the ability to comment on work and share ideas.
Meanwhile, the phenomenal rate of change in the consumer technology market is also driving the changing needs of software for the lab. As a new generation of scientists enter R&D, they will increasingly expect to connect with projects in more ways than just a desktop or laptop. In some cases, we have scientists already demanding informatics and data systems to be accessible on an array of touch and mobile devices, from tablets and phablets through to projection in fume hoods and even on safety glasses.
The evolving environment for R&D scientists in the lab may be complex, but the solution for systems providers is simple: listen to the requirements and embrace the change. Of course, software for the lab will always have to factor in the business needs, but user experience, ease of use and finally, enabling scientists, must always be a central tenet. R&D teams face a number of obstacles as they pursue innovation and adapt to changing business environments, but with systems that enable cross-discipline teams to collaborate in scientifically intense domains with ease, they’ll give themselves every chance of success.