5 steps to go paperless: ELN and LIMs

Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as academic institutions are investing more and more in digital solutions such as the electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) and laboratory management systems (LIMs) to support their R&D activities. Such labs are called paperless. These solutions can vary from sample and storage management, electronic laboratory notebooks to data analysis. By breaking down the ‘why’ and ‘how’ process for your lab to go paperless, this article will enable you to overcome the difficulties of choosing between all these different options.

  1. Why adopt a paperless laboratory?

Nowadays, most scientists still keep experimental records on paper notes, paper notebooks, and sometimes using some informatics tools like Excel, Word, Power Points files… Each one stored in different folders and computers. Still relying on the head of the lab or key staff to look where to search for that information… This unstructured way to keep your lab information leads to time consuming tasks and even loss of information across time!

This is far from being a new issue: a report published in European Pharmaceutical Review in 2015 reported that over the past 10 years, one of the biggest challenges in R&D is “to find the information when I need it”!

Decisions taken are based on lab information, hence having a reliable system to serve as your lab information repository can enable you to make better and faster decisions.

An article published in Scientific Computing in 2004 based on client cases lists the main goals of the adopters of a paperless laboratory:

Faster data manipulation of digital data
Increasing efficiency: by sharing data more easily and quickly
Speeding samples throughput: from electronic data entry in real time to automated data acquisition
Regulatory compliance
Reduced costs: doing the same work with fewer resources, or more work with the same resources

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2. What are the differences between ELN and LIMS?

Confusion is often made between lab information management software (LIMS) and the electronic notebook (ELN). Scientists see the immediate value of an ELN to search and document their experiments which helps them tracking and sharing their experiments. Lab heads can manage and follow more efficiently the current projects in the lab, which are accessible online and shared among colleagues. It is when researchers start using an ELN that they see the need of a LIMS, to recall their samples, reagents, chemicals and be able to find them even after being for years. It is not only important to annotate your experiments but also to build in the lab a collaborative network of shared resources, as well as having a full traceability of your research activities.

A properly managed inventory will: increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the laboratory, because it will provide an uninterrupted flow of needed materials and ensure products are available when they are required. This is also in compliance with ISO standards. Even in pure R&D labs, new quality standards are pushing into more structured information.

To meet regulatory compliance and really benefit from a real increased efficiency an ELN cannot exist without a LIMS. To meet the best of both worlds it is important to assess a system having an ELN with built-in a LIMS/inventory.

A LIMS together with an ELN is a more stable, searchable and sharable way to manage any information in a lab. An all-in-one solution is the wat.

3. A Step by Step Implementation

Michael Elliott, chief executive officer of Atrium Research & Consulting, clearly points out important features when choosing a LIMS in an article published in Science “Clients want scalability, a user-friendly interface, and outstanding global support”, he also talks about product transparency “However, products vary in these capabilities, don’t choose based on a presentation or brand name. Think carefully about your needs now and in the future”. So, a scalable system is key as your needs can grow in the future, and changing from a system to another would be a loss of time and money. The other point is the transparency of products; a presentation of a system without a real experience can be very deceiving.

By choosing a scalable system, you can start implementing today! A customizable LIMS/ELN can be implemented quickly with higher rate of adoption than waiting years for the development of a rigid system to be ready, using a big bang approach. A step by step approach allows users to see the benefits of a LIMS/ELN and slowly integrating the LIMS in their lab daily life.

A customizable LIMS/ELN such as LabCollector offers the possibility to adapt your entry data, your inventory modules, in addition to the basic frame of the LIMS, scale up your users at any time and you can choose the supplementary modules you need. Examples of these modules are the ELN, Data Logger (sensors Tracking), WorkFlow to set up jobs from repetitive procedures in the lab (e.g. next gene sequencing protocols) to clinical trials workflows or even modules based on client services like the Lab Service Manager, or the Sequencing Service Manager for NGS labs.

4. Full Automated Workspace

Imagine a world where scientists annotate their experiments with their tablets or iPads simultaneously keeping records. Reagents, samples and instruments with unique IDs labelled with barcodes allowing you to de-stock digitally, you can find quickly the information about a sample or box without any ambiguity. Knowing exactly what is in your inventory and where. A fully automated system to simplify research by capturing experimental details in an easy and efficient manner with the automatic retrieval of results from your analytical equipment’s to the right sample record in your database? Well, this world has finally arrived…

Several labs have moved to this digital era finding the efficiency, regulation compliancy they were looking for. Laurent Boulanger, Engineer at the French Agronomic Institute (INRA) lab has implemented LabCollector since 2010 says “I just have one piece of advice to give: Don’t just think about where to store your samples, but also where to find them in the future. If you use the database and the electronic lab notebook (ELN), you will have a very effective tool to follow your experiments, the samples generated and where they are stored.”

5. Changing minds

Trying to change an old lab management system can be tough and facing installed routine and conservative minds is challenging. The best way to make a change is to just try! Use the free version of LabCollector and try it in your lab (in parallel with your existing system). The results might be enough to convince all your team!

Time invested today will help gain quality results, professional and personal satisfaction, and peer recognition.

Everyone in the laboratory is responsible for quality performance:

– Laboratory leaders and managers must commit to meeting quality needs.

– Laboratory personnel must follow all quality assurance procedures and adhere to requirements and standards.

The time of digital labs has come. Electronic notebooks and online data are the new rule for efficient work on the bench.

LabCollector, first developed for Life Science applications, is an extensive solution to manage any R&D lab activities. LabCollector is an all-in-one solution with all the features needed in a modern laboratory, adapting to a simple usage to complexes workflows with equipment integration. It is also fully suitable to any type of lab, from research to analytical and diagnostic labs. LabCollector has 650 clients worldwide, being able to support and scale up organizations needs from start-ups to medium and large organizations.

For those who want to try LabCollector, you can download the FREE VERSION here. Perfect opportunity to try it and ultimately keep using it!