Selecting and Adopting an Electronic Lab Notebook

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An Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) offers countless benefits over traditional documentation methods—including improving the quality of your data, enhancing collaboration, and even speeding up the pace of scientific discovery. Despite the clear advantages, not all labs and organizations have made the switch. What should you look for when selecting an ELN? And how can you integrate one into your business without upending your scientific workflows?

Alister Campbell, Dotmatics' Vice President, Global Head of Science and Technology, provides guidance on how to choose and smoothly adopt an ELN, with a focus on minimizing the disruption to your business and delivering an immediate return on your investment.

Knowing What Your Users Need

The key to selecting the right ELN for your organization is taking time to speak to your scientific and business users. Find out how they really work and what capabilities would help them operate more efficiently. Consider asking the following questions:

  • What are the primary goals you want to achieve?

  • When is your time wasted on tedious tasks?

  • Where are errors and inconsistencies most frequently occurring?

  • Where do you face barriers to collaboration, both within and outside the organization?

  • What instruments, software, and other tools do you use in your research, and how could those be integrated to improve efficiency?

As you approach these conversations, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be curious. Enter conversations with an open mind and a desire to understand. Ask "why" a lot.

  • Challenge the status quo. Your users may think they need to work in a certain way, because that's the only way they know how. Question those entrenched views, then build requirements based on how they want to work, not how they currently work.

  • Don't try to boil the ocean. When you adopt an ELN, you don't need every bell and whistle in place from the start. Create a product that's not just "minimally viable," but also "minimally lovable." Rather than approaching the switch as mandatory, your users should actually want to use the ELN and believe it will make their lives easier. 

Getting Started with an ELN

Knowing what your users need is a good start, but many organizations still want guidance on customizing their ELN as they continue to learn about capabilities. Dotmatics simplifies the process: Start with a core set of tools, tailored to your scientific domain, then add items à la carte to suit your needs. The powerful simplicity of Solutions makes it easy to get started, with configurability and integrations enabling customization where needed.

The core Dotmatics platform contains pre-configured use cases and workflows for:

  • Biology (Antibody Discovery, CART-T Cell Therapy, RNA Therapeutics, etc.)

  • Chemistry (Small Molecule Drug Discovery, Oligos, DNA-Encoded Libraries, Peptides, etc.)

  • Chemicals & Materials (Formulations Innovation, Process Optimization, etc.)

Within each of those domains, the core Dotmatics platform provides product and capabilities central to your scientists' work, including:

  • Inventory, registration, and request management, all built in to your ELN

  • Data discovery capabilities, including data aggregation, search, and visualization

  • High-throughput screening and instrument integration

  • Integrations with third-party systems, either on-premises or in the cloud

Additional scientific tools (such as GraphPad Prism, SnapGene, Geneious Prime, Geneious Biologics, Vortex, OMIQ, FCS Express, and Protein Metrics) can then be added to the platform on an as-needed basis.

Tips for Adopting an ELN

Launching an ELN may sound daunting, but it doesn't need to be. Keep these key principles in mind as you make the transition:

Data quality is king. Focus on capturing the data correctly. Data that's readable, repeatable, and reusable is key for your ROI.

Engage with your users early and throughout the process. Don't go dark and hope you got it right—get their feedback along the way.

Don't overcomplicate the process by attempting to build the ultimate ELN or getting fixated on minutiae. Start with the basics and build from there.

Partner with your ELN vendor on what you want to achieve, not how you want to achieve it. Engage with them and ask for advice.

Take a phased approach to deployment, allowing your users to get acquainted with the new platform in stages. A phased approach tends to work better than an all-at-once deployment.

Case Study: Example of Switching to an Electronic Lab Notebook

Riannon Hambleton, Director of Business Technology Partnership for Discovery at Charles River Laboratories, shares advice from what worked when her company switched to Dotmatics from their lab notebooks in Word and Excel:

  • Start by mapping product capabilities onto your company's needs, rather than creating a long list of requirements based on your current system.

  • Use three-minute tutorial videos to train users on basic tasks (how to clone an experiment, how to setup a new notebook, etc.).

  • Support your community throughout the transition: use feedback surveys, offer resources and support for scientists, and be prepared to continuously improve.

  • Collaborate with your vendor. Ask for advice on how to optimize your workflow, such as the best way to share files and manage tickets, and set up a monthly support meeting for ongoing guidance.

Next Steps

Read more about the benefits Charles River Laboratories has experienced from switching to a electronic notebook.