Write up of the first day of SMI ELN Conference

Someone asked about the SMI conference in one of the LinkedIn forums, so I wrote something up – but LinkedIn has limits on how long a message can be so it’ll have to be a post.

Some thoughts on the first day of SMI, which I chaired.

As a general note, I think it’s important to calibrate any of these case studies against:

  • What industry is the person in
  • What department they are speaking from
  • The kinds of science they do (throwing around words like “Biology” and “Chemistry” aren’t precise enough
  • Their legal and regulatory environment
  • Their level of IT and business sophistication

If you don’t do this you can take entirely the wrong message away from these talks!

I never quite know what to do in “Chairman’s Opening Remarks” but given it was the day of the Apple iPad announcement (which started at 6pm that evening, London time) I just spoke a little bit about how I felt “consumer” devices were going to have an impact. Presentation here.

Mike Kopach from Eli Lilly talked about their ELN implementation, which has been a popular talk at many conferences. This is now a pretty mature ELN installation and just seems to work, which is excellent.

Jo Mulgrew from Pfizer is responsible for their ELN in Sandwich, and gave a really interesting talk on all the tools and techniques they use to smooth the rollout of their ELN. This wasn’t so much about the ELN as the implementation process, and I know we learned a lot from this. Their use of short (1 or 2 minute) screencasts was particularly interesting.

I talked about the “ELN Landscape”, the slides for which are here. I’ll be expanding on some of the themes on my blog in due course – it’s interesting how having to write a presentation causes you to crystalise stuff which you then have to summarise in a single slide but could easily do a good post on.

Jeremy Frey from Southampton University gave a really interesting on what they’ve been doing with blogging – not so much about the technology but how it all works in a science setting. Jeremy gave a talk last year and things have moved on a lot, I’m still distilling it all but I guess it’s a vindication of the research grant process that they are doing really interesting stuff and I’m trying to figure out how to translate some of their insights into an industrial setting.

After lunch we had two talks on the legal side. Colin Sandercock of Perkins Coie talked on the US issues, and then Matthew Dick from Bristows talked about the UK & EU perspective. Although this is my primary area of concern in my “day job” I continue to find these talks interesting and the compare & contrast was quite stimulating. The legal implications of SaaS are still being worked out so and I think that it will become a bigger topic for next year.

We then had a panel discussion on “Pitfalls to Avoid in implementing ELN”. I must confess I really dislike the panel format as a chairman because you’re so often left in the situation where you don’t get good questions, and there’s an embarrassing silence. So to spice things up a little bit we had a quick Google Wave demo, and then a 2 minute talk from each of the panel on “The one thing…” – and the discussion flowed quite well after that.

For those who were there, Jo has just about forgiven me for making her stand up at the podium 🙂

Finally Antonio Gomez from J&J talked about their home-grown ELN solution which has been discussed before and continues to evolve. I think what J&J have done is really impressive both from a technical and business standpoint and there’s lots of practical lessons there (Oh if only they could blog!). Disclaimer: I have a commercial relationship with J&J who use PatentSafe as the records/patent solution for both their Chemists (integrated with their ELN) and Biologists.

That was it – the evening was spent in the bar & restaurant with me sitting on Twitter watching the reactions from the Apple announcement and everyone else politely ignoring my geekish excitement.

Hope that’s useful. I didn’t manage to attend the second day unfortunately but perhaps someone else can comment.

Presentation: Survey of the ELN Landscape

Here’s my presentation on “Surveying the ELN Landscape” from the SMI ELN Conference in London today. Bullet points:

  • Business drivers
  • Comparing the different sectors and disciplines
  • Build or buy?
  • An overview of the solution space
  • Patterns of success

There’s a few concepts in here which deserve their own posts (presentations are so useful for stimulating the creative juices!) which hopefully I can do over the coming weeks.

“Chairman’s Opening Remarks” from SMI ELN Conference in London

I’m chairing the first day of the SMI ELN Conference in London today. Which truth be told isn’t something I enjoy but hopefully I can add something.

Anyway, you have to give a 10 minute presentation talking about wider industry issues and I thought it was appropriate to draw people’s attention to what’s happening in the consumer space and how it might bring us towards the original vision of an ELN.

I’ll blog more on this tomorrow (after the Apple announcement today!) but for the moment here’s the presentation….

My “Are ELNs doomed?” Presentation at IQPC

Our marketing dept signed me up to do a presentation to the general session at IQPC in Brussels, with the rather provocative title “Are ELN projects Doomed?”. Um, thanks guys. No real guidance on what to say, but an expectation it will be provocative!

I’ve become increasingly concerned that what’s said in public forums (e.g. articles, conferences etc.) isn’t a true reflection of what’s really going on. A lot of ELN systems are being introduced based on tools companies already have (Microsoft Office being typical), and those don’t get any publicity (no vendor to push it!), and of course you never hear about the problems, disasters, and near misses!

This systemic fault in how the industry communicates is really serious – and will result in an awful lot of money being wasted, and our credibility damaged – just because people think doing X is the safe way (for any given value of X), but in fact the case study they’ve seen was the only one where X has worked and there are 10 other people who tried X who have hit really serious problems (often fatal).

Given the nature of our business and product we see an awful lot of ELN projects across a wide variety of businesses, disciplines, and vendors. What we’re seeing in terms of best practice is at times completely contrary to what you’d think listening to conference talks, reading magazine articles etc. Of course, there’s no reason to suggest we’re right and everyone else is wrong, but on the other hand there’s a huge gap and that’s a worry.

So my presentation was an attempt to draw attention to this and propose some solutions:

  • Be very careful about the use of the “ELN” word, as it’s too ambiguous. Ideally, stop using it entirely. It is especially useful to get vendors to describe their offerings without using the term “ELN” – then you find what their real focus is.
  • Keep the ELN project as simple as possible. I mentioned some of the frameworks we use for this – The Triangle, Broad Vs Deep, etc.
  • Blog – read blogs, and join in yourselves.

You can download a copy of the presentation here here. I had some interesting chats with people afterwards – I’ll try to expand on some of these points in future posts.

As an aside, I’ve nearly given up on SlideShare – the Keynote conversion process doesn’t seem to be working well.

Update: Rich Apodaca over on Depth-First makes some contributions here.

My workshop at IQPC Brussels yesterday

Jo and I gave a workshop on “ELNs in Biology” which people seem to enjoy. My thanks to the attendees who not only listened to what we had to say but contributed their own expertise and experience too which greatly enriched the experience for all involved.

We didn’t know what the attendees were going to want to cover so I must confess the presentations don’t read as well as they hopefully came across. However, I hope they will provoke some thoughts all the same.

My overall proposition is that Biology is a very different beast from Chemistry and what works in Chemistry – the products, approaches to the projects, rollout strategies, etc. all need to be reviewed in the light of the special challenges of Biology environments.

There were two main presentations I used. The first looked at the ELN story from Chemistry from Biology and some of the differences between the two. You can download it here.

The second presentation looked at the Technology Adoption Lifecycle (TALC), which was first described by Geoffrey Moore in his book “Crossing the Chasm”. The TALC describes how people react to discontinuous/disruptive innovations and how you can help your innovation get adopted as easily and widely as possible. My contention is that Biology userbases are sufficiently complex that you should use Chasm-crossing techniques to both develop and deploy your ELN. You can read the presentation here.

Interestingly there were a number of people in the workshop who had successfully deployed an ELN into Biology and they had used Chasm-crossing techniques to do so – not because they’d heard of the concept (they hadn’t) but because it was the most sensible approach.

I’ve also uploaded the presentations to SlideShare, but the conversion process is taking some time. Once they are up the SlideShare versions should have the transitions and builds etc. which might make for a better reading experience. They should be on my SlideShare page in due course.

There’s lots of other stuff that came up in discussion, which I will try to cover in later blog posts. For example:

  • What you see in conferences and publications in terms of case studies etc. isn’t representative of what’s really going on. There’s a lot of in-house development, a lot of use of Microsoft Office and other applications – but because there’s no vendor involved, they don’t get publicity because most publicity needs paying for, e.g. speaking slots, article placements etc. Sadly these are often the most successful deployments of ELN functionality – but it didn’t come from a vendor with “ELN” stamped on the box!
  • I don’t believe you can have one ELN for Chemistry and Biology – or even for all of Biology.
  • All of this is dependent on your definition of “Chemistry” and “Biology” – and this varies from company to company. In particular big Pharma seem to conduct a restricted set of activities on a very large scale (perhaps because all the really weird stuff is effectively outsourced to Biotechs) – which makes taking lessons from any company very difficult.
  • Of course, sales and marketing efforts by various vendors do nothing to clarify this already muddled picture!