cloud-based record, best suited to
protect intellectual property. By
allowing entries to be annotated
for context, formerly insular notes
taken in paper-based lab books can
be packaged, shared, searched and
mined between colleagues.
In this sense, an ELN primarily
differs from a LIMS by its flexibility. In fact, by being more open to
bespoke design, the term ELN describes a wider variety of packages
which vary in functionality according to market demand.
Every ELN provider started with
the same core idea of digitizing routine laboratory documentation. Over time, the market expanded to more
than 50 solutions, with each branching out by offering
additional tools or integrations. Finding the correct
ELN for a lab can be a cumbersome but necessary task.
To help you navigate through the different options,
labfolder has talked with hundreds of scientists and
compiled a list with the most popular lab notebook
software solutions in 2018.
Where data is more unstructured, for example for
early drug discovery, an ELN permits more qualitative
data to be recorded (e.g., spectra, sequences, photos, descriptions, annotation of protocols) compared to a LIMS.
This wide variety of data formats (e.g., JPEGs, audio files, large text files for sequences, pdfs) can be
then stored collectively under set projects and digitally
signed off, ensuring integrity of the visual record.
However, an ELN package geared less toward research
and more to usage in regulated labs in R&D or QA/QC
may be more rigid on what formats of data it accepts.
For example, experimental results can be translated and
imported into spreadsheets within the ELN for analysis.
So a degree of structure can still be easily achieved
with an ELN, whereas a LIMS cannot accommodate
the same range of data sources an ELN can.
Bridging two worlds of data
Marrying both ELNs and LIMS presented a complex
problem for early developers within the lab digitization
service space which, at the time, many vendors were not
ready to tackle.
Primarily this was on how to communicate between
different management systems when data was both
structured and unstructured. With the streamlining of
each new generation of software, new features which
bridge these incompatible sources of information have
now succeeded to do just that. However, it is not just a
matter of innovating further features to make the marriage of ELNs and LIMS perfect.
This is because as the industry currently stands,
it’s impractical to find the perfect “one glove fits all”
bridge solution for every lab out there, due to the sheer
diversity of team setups and their needs.
And while labs are increasingly
connected, technologies like artificial intelligence haven’t quite matured enough to
resolve custom challenges for us just yet.
Therefore, as the industry evolves, it is
more important each ELN and LIMS pack-
age adapts to accommodate old processes
as well as new solutions as they arise, and
to avoid software patch and developer si-
los. An important step towards this holistic
vision is the creation of an open API that
allows scientists to connect their pre-existing laboratory
equipments and softwares. Ultimately, the ELN and
LIMS should serve as the operating system of the labo-
ratory and include device “plug & play” capabilities and
marketplaces for scientific tools.
While some labs may feel they need one over the
other, both an ELN and LIMS align well to achieve just
that—a connected and secure digital platform to advance science.
18 | LABORATORY EQUIPMENT | February 2019 | LaboratoryEquipment.com
Management System (LIMS)
End-to-end sample tracking
Tagging of data with structured
values for improved searchability
Compatibility with JPEGs, PDFs,
large text files, other software
packages (e.g., doc files)
More manual manipulation
Storage of entries with
unstructured files under project