Science needs ELNs: how to know what you have and how to use it…

Science needs ELNs: how to know what you have and how to use it…

Most of us are creatures of habit, wedded to the familiar. The world of research and development (R&D) is no different. Historical practice has been to use paper laboratory notebooks to record experimental work. They’re good for writing down procedures, observations and conclusions, hand drawing flow charts and diagrams and keeping chronological records. However, in today’s interconnected digital world, we demand and expect interconnected information at our fingertips across our work and social lives. What’s more, we need to make sense of the colossal volumes of information constantly bombarding us – we want it simplified but navigable.

It’s the same with R&D-centric companies whose raison d’être revolves around creating and monetizing data into valuable intellectual property (IP). Paper data is difficult to share, report on and reformat, and often lacks easy to follow links to other information. It often inadvertently serves to hide away an organization’s IP rather than expose it. As R&D organizations become increasingly globalized, multi-party and multi-disciplinary, many are urgently rethinking how to use and exploit their internal, and the new global, communities of data to increase R&D productivity. The paper laboratory notebook paradigm is now truly unfit for purpose.

Switching to Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) enables all research data to be stored with full context. Experiment records can be recorded in one place with protocols, observations and structured data, together with electronic signatures, logging of user actions and audit trails. ELNs can eliminate transcription errors and provide a robust, auditable and defensible record of users work.

Information recorded and stored with full context within ELNs means data can be effectively aggregated and assimilated to help create new data sets which can be analyzed and used for innovations, reporting and decision making purposes. This in itself facilitates internal collaboration and supports group efforts across multiple disciplines to encourage the flow of data, creation of new ideas and leverage of the enterprise’s inherent expertise and creativity. The ability to work securely and collaboratively with external third parties on new innovations is facilitated by ELNs. It can accelerate projects that are historically disjointed and document-, report-, or meeting-centric.

In my next blog on how science needs ELNs, I will look at how ELNs are a genuine catalyst for transformational change within R&D organizations. They hit the business drivers that everyone faces – improving efficiency, lowering margins and fully leveraging innovation to maximize investments. Watch this space…