The adoption of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) in both academic and commercial labs continues to grow in the market. In fact, the ELN market growth rate has been clearly outpacing that of a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) in many market segments. Informatics systems vendors have noticed this for some time and have moved to take advantage of this buying trend by developing and bringing to market new ELN offerings at a record pace.
A quick, informal count of the ELN vendors shows greater than 50 commercial vendors with an additional half dozen or so Open Source solutions being offered. Of these, many are designed to be generic systems that can be configured to satisfy the needs of many lab environments while others are purpose built to provide a narrow and deep solution for a particular environment. And let’s not forget about Laboratory Execution System (LES) solutions which are designed to automate and implement bench level control in labs. With such a broad choice in ELNs the question of “Which is the best ELN?” is continually being raised. We would love to answer this question for you once and for all but unfortunately the answer is “It Depends!”
Not the answer you were necessarily looking for, but the only truthful answer despite what various ELN companies would tell you. What the Best ELN for you depends on a multitude of factors, or what most in the industry would term, your business needs and system requirements. Some examples of these include:
- What type of lab are you running? QA/QC? R&D?
- What type of science are you performing? Small Molecule? Biologics?
- Do you need to interface to other systems? ERP? MES?
- Will you be integrating to instruments or instrument systems?
- Are you in a regulated environment or not? Pharma? Academia?
- Do you have an IT infrastructure to support the ELN?
- Do you have staff to support the ELN?
When you answer all these questions and many, many more then you can determine what the Best ELN is for your organization.
I know that this appears very intimidating, if not downright impossible, but do not despair. There are informatics consulting organizations that can help. When selecting a consulting organization to assist you in selecting the best ELN for your laboratory, you should ensure that they are:
- Experts in ELN and ELN selection (get references)
- Domain experts (i.e. your industry and your type of lab)
- IT experts
- Regulatory experts (if your lab is in a regulated environment)
- ELN vendor neutral
They should also have:
- A proven ELN selection process
So tell us how you selected your ELN and if you were happy with your eventual choice. Did you follow a structured process? Did you gather and document your needs and requirements? If you had to do it over again would you do anything differently?