3 things you need to be aware of when deploying ELNs outside the pharma sector

On face value, deploying an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) system within your R&D environment would seem to be something of a no-brainer. You can make sure all processes and ideas are properly documented and signed. You can also share results with colleagues across the globe in real time and, best of all, search your organization’s entire lab notes knowledge base in seconds.

It’s a huge leap forward compared to the traditional paper systems. Yet despite this, uptake in many sectors other than the pharmaceutical sector has for years been surprisingly low.

There have been signs recently, however, that the tide is starting to turn. Albeit tentatively. Here at Tessella, for example, we’re getting more and more enquiries from a diverse range of organizations that want to take the plunge – but the problem they’re facing is that they have very little information on how ELNs can work in their particular sector.

With this in mind, here we summarize key advice – all gained from recent practical experience – that we believe you can use for a successful deployment regardless of industry

1. Don’t assume your situation is going to be the same as it is in pharmaceutical

Most of the reference stories that are out there for ELNs currently come from pharma, so naturally you’re going to look at those as your first port of call for information. This is certainly a good start, but it would be a mistake to assume that your experience and challenges will mirror those in pharma. For example, much of the drive for ELN adoption in pharma has come from the need to comply with regulation throughout the drug discovery and development process. In other sectors the drivers and the way scientists work can be very different. Before you start out, we strongly recommend that you carry out a thorough analysis of how your people work, their readiness for change, and their expectations for what an ELN will bring. Just as importantly, you need to take care appointing a vendor or solutions provider that understands these differences, and has the flexibility in technology and implementation process to meet the particular needs of your organization.

2. Make sure all key stakeholders and decision makers are engaged early

One of the other big things we’ve learned is that you need to make sure all stakeholders are involved in the process and updated at every stage. ELNs will be a big change for your business, and you don’t want anyone throwing up any surprises at a late stage. The best way we’ve found of doing this is creating an advisory board that also includes some of the scientists that are going to be using the system. That way you can establish an early dialogue that (a) lets the business get a clear view of how the R&D department is going to be able to increase productivity and drive growth and (b) gives the scientist a sense of ownership that is going to be critical for sticking with the project when challenges arise.

3. Make sure user adoption and needs are a priority

Of course, appointing scientists to an advisory board will help, but it won’t guarantee user adoption. An advisory board is part of a larger change management effort that is essential to successful rollout. Two challenges in particular must be overcome to establish an ELN as a tool that is used and adds real value. First, the benefits for information consumers are more immediately obvious than for those working at the bench generating the data. These benefits are realized only once initial teething challenges are overcome and there is information in the system. Second, it is technically very easy for individuals to revert to paper processes. A purely IT project will not have the credibility among the scientists to overcome these challenges. Instead it is essential that researchers and scientific managers partner strongly in change communication to make clear the scientific support and ownership of the ELN.

Of course, these learnings are just the tip of what we’ve learned over the years. If you’d like to hear more about our experiences and successes with implementing ELNs in your sector, please feel free to contact us through info@tessella.com.

If you’re interested in learning more about ELNs and the Smart Labs concept, you can also find plenty more here

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Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans

Growing up with a keen interest in the physical sciences and in mathematics, I saw software in ...

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