Electronic lab notebooks (ELNs) streamline day-to-day laboratory operations to enhance efficiency and accuracy and foster improved collaboration within organizations. Yet, unlocking the full potential of an ELN goes beyond mere adoption. Successfully implementing an Electronic Lab Notebook means that organizations are set up for rapid adoption and accelerating experiments and can fully harness the software’s capabilities.

But how exactly do you implement an ELN? In this guide, we’ll discuss the steps organizations should take to implement an ELN, covering the following topics successfully:

What does success look like to implement an Electronic Lab Notebook?

Before we outline the steps required to implement an ELN, we must first define what successful implementation looks like.

Perceptions of a successful ELN implementation can vary among organizations and individuals. Even within a single organization, an individual’s experience may not necessarily align with the company’s overall assessment. For instance, employees may struggle using the new ELN, leading them to view the implementation as unsuccessful. In contrast, the organization may view it as a success because it reduced its reliance on paper records. 

These differing views show how ‘success’ in the context of ELN implementation can be a highly subjective topic. For this reason, it shows the importance of an ELN implementation strategy that provides a shared understanding of success among all stakeholders and aligns individual needs with the broader organizational goals. At Sapio Sciences, our fundamental goal is always to accelerate your research and discovery.

Steps to Implement an Electronic Lab Notebook

Step one: Define your objectives

Before implementing an ELN or selecting a vendor, you must define your objectives and desired outcomes to implement an Electronic Lab Notebook. As mentioned, establishing clear goals provides a way to measure the success of the implementation and creates a shared understanding across the organization regarding the definition of success.

To define these objectives, you must first understand why your organization invests in an ELN. Common reasons for ELN implementation are often:

  1. the need to reduce reliance on paper documents
  2. enhance collaboration as a means to streamline decision-making, especially across teams, labs, and geographies 
  3. improve data sharing across the enterprise
  4. generate better, higher-quality leads for scientists to investigate
  5. ensure compliance with regulations such as CLIA, GLP, GCP, or GMP best practices
  6. Improve the throughput and reduce downtime
  7. reduce material wastage

Having a clear purpose for the implementation not only can the decision-making process be narrowed down but also ensures that everyone in the organization has the same anticipated benefits of ELN implementation.

Step two: Assess your requirements and select an ELN software

Once you understand the purpose of the ELN, the next step is to choose a platform that aligns with your objectives. When selecting an ELN software, there are various factors to consider, including:

  1. What systems does the platform need to be integrated with?
  2. Is the ELN scalable, and how does it align with your long-term strategy?
  3. What degree of control over the data do you need?
  4. What level of support do you require from the vendor?
  5. What is your budget (both for initial and ongoing costs)?

Addressing these questions can speed up decision-making by narrowing down the platforms that align with your organization’s needs. Additionally, many ELN platforms offer demos or free trials, allowing you to test the software before making a decision. This experience is invaluable for understanding how an ELN may support your organization, ensuring that you invest in the right software.

Step three: Create a plan implement an Electronic Lab Notebook

To successfully implement an Electronic Lab Notebook you should develop a clear and well-organized plan while minimizing disruptions. This plan should explain why your organization invests in an ELN and list the previously identified requirements and objectives. 

The plan will establish a timeline with milestones to track progress and address aspects such as user training, user accounts, and data migration and system integration strategies. The document should also contain details about risk assessments and quality assurance to comply with regulations and manage potential risks. 

While this plan will guide the implementation, it is a good idea to outline how it aligns with your organization’s long-term goals by addressing things such as scalability or future upgrades.

Step four: Configure your ELN

To adapt the ELN to your organization’s needs and align with your processes, you must configure the software. ELN configuration tasks can include:

  • Designating user roles and access based on responsibilities.
  • Developing templates for different experiments or processes. 
  • Developing workflow automation for different processes.
  • Integrating the ELN with existing laboratory systems.
  • Creating a reporting dashboard and visualization tools.

Although ELN configuration may extend the deployment process, it ultimately leads to a customized system to your specific requirements. 

Step five: Provide ELN training

After the configuration has taken place and the system is set up, you must provide everyone in your organization with comprehensive ELN training on using the software. Some ELN vendors will include training and support sessions as part of their cost. However, others may require an additional fee to provide these sessions.

Whether the training sessions are done in-house or outsourced, the ELN training should cover the following:

To successfully implement an ELN, certain employees can be assigned to train recruits or serve as the primary point of contact for addressing any issues or providing support. Designating specific individuals for this role establishes a clear support structure within the organization and can enhance confidence in the system.

Step six: Adopt a phased approach to implement an Electronic Lab Notebook

There are different ways to implement an Electronic Lab Notebook – one of which is through a phased approach or a Minimally Viable Product (MVP). As part of this approach, elements of the ELN are gradually introduced across multiple phases until it is fully deployed. A phased approach to ELN implementation provides several benefits and can ultimately lead to a more successful implementation process.

One key advantage of the phased approach is that it allows any issues to be identified and addressed early in the implementation process. Introducing the ELN in phases makes it easier to spot any challenges and prevent these issues from becoming major setbacks. Additionally, adopting a phased approach to ELM implementation can help users to adapt to the system gradually. Rather than overwhelming users with a completely new system, they are introduced to the platform gradually, making it easier for them to get used to it and enhancing their confidence.

Step seven: Continuously monitor and improve the ELN

Successful ELN implementation does not stop at deployment; instead, for an ELN to remain effective, it is vital to monitor its performance and adjust accordingly. This can include:

  • Periodically conducting audits to identify issues.
  • Identifying and addressing any errors or bottlenecks with the ELN.
  • Updating templates to optimize processes.
  • Taking advantage of any software updates or upgrades.
  • Using analytics tools to gain insight into how users engage with the ELN.
  • Provide ongoing training and support to address any challenges or queries from users.

By focusing on improvement, you can ensure your ELN is tailored to your organization, allowing you to maximize its benefits.

Discover Sapio ELN

By following these steps, labs can successfully implement an ELN to enhance data management, foster collaboration, and improve overall efficiency. The approach outlined ensures that there is a smooth transition to the software, enabling laboratories to fully harness the capabilities of their ELN.

Sapio ELN is a cloud-based electronic lab notebook platform that is designed to simplify scientific analysis, drive productivity, and foster collaboration. With out-of-the-box solutions and a design that was built for scientists, not SQL developers, Sapio ELN empowers researchers to collaborate better and accelerate scientific discoveries.

To learn more about Sapio ELN or any of our solutions, get in touch or request a demo today.

Useful external links:

Lab Manager ELN Round Up

LinkedIn ELN Product Overview