Breaking down ELN functionality

Most R&D organisations have more than one scientific discipline under their aegis. These groups will have developed their own suites of IT tools to help them do their work, everything from common desktop infrastructure to instruments and specialist tools. Some of these might be common to other groups, some will be very specific (and often unknown to anyone else). Meanwhile, the corporate-centric record keeping functions have remained in the commonly used Paper Lab Notebook.

“Broad” and “Deep” functions

The “ELN” question often arises when companies buy more and more IT to support the science, yet the only record keeping option is the paper notebook – a situation that generally arises because of the patent/legal issues around lab work in Discovery. Broadly, the the more computers you use, the more the paper notebook sucks – and to add insult to injury whilst you can search the entire planet using Google, the paper notebook is very much a “Write only” device!

The challenge for project teams is how to replace the paper notebook, and this is where splitting out what you mean really helps. Unfortunately most vendors have tried to expand the definition of “ELN” as far as possible which turns any project into a high-risk “do it all” venture, with an associated price tag.

By focusing on either the improvement of support for a particular niche or on replacing the paper notebook’s general record keeping process, projects can easily build on what’s already in place and achieve faster, more predictable ROI. Later projects run according to the same framework will by definition build on what’s already in place so there should be little scope for missed opportunities.

Vendor-driven approaches to use a single product for more than one area bring increased risk and often the promised cost savings are overwhelmed by the costs of replacing perfectly serviceable existing tools.

The next post examines what is stored in ELN systems, which is another useful way of looking at the ELN problem.