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Top tips for choosing the right ELN

February 16, 2021

The ELN is the perfect place to record the expansive creativity of early-stage R&D. Although uptake within academic circles is low – research conducted in 2016 indicated that only 7% of academics currently use an ELN in their research – the benefits of this tool are very clear and 10% of academics at the time were actively looking for ELNs to support their research. 

The data collection framework itself isn’t overly structured but allows for the aggregation and storage of data so that it can be shared, searched, managed and archived in a consistent manner that fosters collaboration. Many ELNs have built-in templates that can be fully customized, allowing leaders to set the structure of the data collected and ensure it fully meets the needs of the team members who will be using and sharing it. Standardizing structures also increases the reproducibility of experiments by capturing key protocols and data points. 

By using the ELN as a central hub, all experimental data can be connected and given context based on the results of other experiments. This creates a powerful tool for scientists to mine previous experimental methods and data to inform future experiments. When data is held in a consistent and well-structured manner, scientists can easily find the information they need without flicking through paper-based notebooks or searching for studies held in disparate databases or hard drives.

ELNs provide the perfect space for team members to work together on projects, with the ability to assign tasks and track them through to completion. With permission-based user access, team members can only change the experimental data assigned to them; combined with electronic signatures and date stamps, this helps to protect information and provide a full audit trail. 

When all laboratory data is created and stored as a single source of truth, managers can see research progress more clearly, from the experiment level to the workings of the whole department. ELNs often have dashboard functionality and the ability to pull together detailed, automated reports. Management can see the status of projects in real-time at a click of a button, without lengthy update meetings or the time-consuming collation of reports

An ELN is a powerful enabler, bringing teams together to collaborate fully and share their insights. Look out for the following key features when choosing yours:

Usability – the ELN must be as easy to use as putting pen to paper, capturing information in just a few clicks with templates that mirror the natural style and requirements of individual scientists. 

Compliance – ELNs are commonly accepted regulatory-compliant alternatives to paper-based records but check that the ELN meets the requirements for your sector and your work – including any future use in trial submissions or approvals. 

Standardization – although you’ll want to give scientists the freedom to use their creativity, data should be collected in a standardized way so that it can be shared and compared effectively. Look out for ELNs that offer in-built templates that can be customized for your needs. 

Searchability – an ELN should make it easy to search for and find relevant information – ask for your software vendor for a demonstration to show this functionality. 

Growth – although you may have certain requirements for an ELN right now, these may change as your department or business grows. Will the ELN grow with you to incorporate new departments or businesses and adapt to new technology? Does the ELN owner have plans to continue growing and expanding its offering as the technological landscape changes? ELN providers include Benchling, Rspace and Elabnext. 

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