What is an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)?

An Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) is a software that allows scientists, engineers and technicians to document research, experiments and procedures performed in a laboratory.

In its simplest form, an Electronic Lab Notebook replaces paper laboratory notebooks; a functionality which is sometimes referred to as ‘paper on glass’.

Key benefits of an Electronic Lab Notebook

Since the primary purpose of an Electronic Lab Notebook is to capture the details of a test or experiment they are test- or experiment-centric. This is in contrast to a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) which is sample-centric. For further information on LIMS, read our article on What is a LIMS?

 

  • The flexibility of an unstructured ‘blank page’ format that enables scientists to capture and describe a wide variety of experiment types with data ranging from the protocols and narrative of the experimental process to the write-ups and results
  • Protection and storage of intellectual property (IP) in electronic format. This in turn can enhance data integrity and availability and can be vital in protecting intellectual property claims
  • Elimination of manual transcription from paper to data files like Word or Excel resulting in increased lab worker efficiency
  • Easier data sharing with other lab members and collaborators, facilitating experimental reproducibility
  • Traceability and easy access to experimental results reduce the time to prepare registration documentation or respond to questions from regulators
  • Many modern ELNs provide integrations with other laboratory software, searchability, workflow management and data analytics

Key limitations of an Electronic Lab Notebook

An Electronic Lab Notebook is experiment-centric and a LIMS is sample-centric so many R&D organizations adopt both solutions. Unfortunately, this results in data silos that prevent the context and scientific intelligence of an experiment from being easily consolidated with related sample information and test results. As a consequence, insights that could improve the overall process and ultimately accelerate a product’s time to regulatory submission or commercial launch may be hard to uncover.

 

  • Unstructured data within the ELN is not easy to search or analyze. This limits the production of standardized reporting and meaningful data analytics
  • In basic ELNs, workflows cannot be managed and integration with other common laboratory software is limited
  • Isolation from other laboratory technologies leaves data in a silo
  • A lack of sample data means R&D organizations are forced to use another system, such as LIMS. This in turn decreases the visibility of end-to-end workflows, limiting insights that can be used to optimize processes and accelerate time to market

What are the alternatives to an Electronic Lab Notebook?

Due to the limitations of basic LIMS and ELN solutions, the convergence of both into hybrid solutions that combine the capabilities of a LIMS and an ELN has been happening for over a decade. A Laboratory Execution System (LES) is a specialized variant of an ELN system that enforces procedural execution of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) or work instructions.

While some hybrid systems may blend capabilities effectively, there are potential trade-offs to consider. Innovative companies are embracing solutions that include digital workflows designed to create a persistent, dynamic data backbone throughout the BioPharma lifecycle. This provides a solid foundation for analytics, accelerated time-to-insight and future digital twin and in silico modeling.

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Alternatives to ELNs in research

The flexibility of a basic ELN works well for some types of research but the increasing need for scientists to work collaboratively and share results mean that many teams are looking for something more.

 

Three questions to ask when considering alternatives to an ELN in research:

 

  • Does the solution capture the context and scientific intelligence of an experiment alongside the sample information and test results?
  • Is data captured in a structured and contextualized way?
  • Is there interoperability with other industry standard systems already used in the laboratory?

To discover what IDBS offers for Research, explore E-Workbook

Alternatives to ELNs in preclinical development

Preclinical development is more structured than early research and discovery and LES variants are often used instead of basic ELNs. Quality, compliance and reproducibility are key considerations and the need for advanced sample management, instrument data management and analytics, such as curve fitting, often involves the use of other complementary systems such as LIMS.

 

Four questions to ask when considering alternatives to an ELN in preclinical development:

 

  • Is end-to-end workflow design and management a key capability within the system?
  • Does the solution offer the flexibility and efficiency of both pre-configured and customizable workflows?
  • Is there interoperability with other industry standard systems already used in the laboratory?
  • Does it meet your security and GxP compliance requirements and support your validation needs?

To discover what IDBS offers for Preclinical Development, explore Polar BioAnalysis

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Alternatives to ELNs in process development

While flexibility is still important, particularly in early development, process development involves complex workflows as well as inventory/recipe management, sample management and instrument data management. Process development scientists often still use an ELN to record the experimental narrative: objective, method, results and conclusions, but the increasing need to standardize data capture and ensure data quality requires a more structured approach than a basic ELN. In particular, the ability to share and collaborate across teams and support a continuum of work from development through manufacturing is essential to enable a positive feedback loop for continuous improvement.

Seven questions to ask when considering alternatives to an ELN in development:

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  • Does the solution capture the context and scientific intelligence of an experiment alongside the inventory, equipment, sample information and results?
  • Is data captured in a structured and contextualized way in a single backbone?
  • Is end-to-end workflow design and management a key capability within the system?
  • Does the solution offer the flexibility and efficiency of both pre-configured and customizable workflows?
  • Is there interoperability with other industry standard systems already used in the laboratory?
  • Are there sufficient equipment and instrument integrations, with access to more as the need grows?
  • Does it meet your security and GxP compliance requirements and support your validation needs?

To discover what IDBS offers for Process Development, explore Polar BioProcess

Alternatives to ELNs in manufacturing

ELNs are not generally used in manufacturing but in some cases, ELNs may be used to
record a simple electronic batch record and/or record the narrative around QC testing.
While this approach ensures data is captured electronically, it doesn’t enable the analysis of
batch-to-batch variability or continued process verification (CPV)

To discover what IDBS offers for Manufacturing, explore Skyland PIMS

Want to learn more about why modern BioPharma R&D requires more than just a LIMS, an ELN, an LES, or a hybrid solution?

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IDBS has a 30+-year history of helping thousands of users across hundreds of organizations around the globe solve their problems and increase their efficiency in research, process design, optimization, scale-up, technology transfer and commercial manufacturing. Our predominant customer base is Life Sciences and includes 23 of the top 25 pharmaceutical companies and more than 250 small and medium-sized pharma and biopharma companies, CROs, CDMOs and CMOs.

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The IDBS SaaS cloud platform solutions are all built around the concept of a persistent, dynamic data backbone. This data backbone enables end-to-end data capture, contextualization, visibility and insight across an entire process, or across multiple processes. This allows companies to shift focus from managing their data to business outcomes, process optimization and regulatory compliance.

Four key benefits you will gain from our solutions

  • Integrated workflows and processes across the business improve efficiency and foster collaboration based on FAIR data principles
  • Seamless integration with your data ecosystem breaks down data silos, ensures data integrity and promotes knowledge transfer
  • High-quality, contextualized data speed up decision-making and provide insights and analytics that enable you to optimize processes and remove operational inefficiencies
  • Industry-leading Security and Compliance: validatable and 21 CFR 11 / GxP compliant – ISO27001 certified- SOC 2 and SOC 3 reports available, ICH Q1-141

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