Rooms filled with boxes of laboratory notebooks to the brim. Scattered Post-it notes and Excel sheets. Data in disarray. It may sound like a chaotic scene of a mad scientist’s lab, but these things may be all too familiar to the modern-day R&D researcher. The struggle R&D researchers face today is real: while we’ve made great leaps in science and technology over the last few decades, lab technology hasn’t kept pace with the needs of modern researchers, slowing down innovation and development. Enter Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELN) and Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS), two transformative informatics technologies that provide a potent solution for labs to streamline workflows and maximize the full potential of their data. Learn how the synergy between the two systems helps get innovations to market faster, below.
Navigating the New R&D Terrain: Accelerating Innovation and Collaboration
Investment in the R&D sector is surging, driven by the expectation that new products will reach the market at an accelerated pace—faster than historically was ever thought possible. Simultaneously, economic, regulatory, and technological pressures slow the innovation pipeline cycle, making it challenging for companies to increase revenue and bring products to market faster, without increasing spend or compromising quality. This new landscape also requires more collaboration with external partners, necessitating the need for modern, intuitive technology that enables researchers to work with speed and agility within fast-paced, data-intensive environments.
According to Gartner, attracting and retaining critical talent is also top-of-mind for R&D leaders in 2023: 81% of R&D leaders surveyed reported that they anticipate filling open roles in the R&D organization will be difficult. Considering the high demand of R&D talent, attraction and retention efforts must go above and beyond competitive salaries and incentives. Emerging talent has high expectations for organizations to embrace state-of-the-art, user-friendly technology that resonates with their modern work style. Organizations that recognize this will improve engagement by providing an environment conducive to innovation.
To address these challenges, organizations are investing in technologies that provide better data management, improve operational efficiencies, enhance automation, and simplify compliance, all while getting products to market faster. The combined power of ELN and LIMS technology offers a cohesive solution, from ideation to execution.
IDEATION: Elevating the Process with an Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN)
In the journey of innovation, ideation serves as the spark that ignites the process of product development. Ideation is the creative core that drives experimentation, and without it, products would never evolve beyond concepts. This critical phase demands a systematic approach that ensures ideas are captured, developed, and tested to their fullest potential. Unfortunately, many—if not most—teams are capturing their ideas and methods through unstructured, manual means, resulting in inconsistent tracking and mismanaged data.
What is an ELN?
At its essence, an ELN is the digital evolution of traditional, paper-based lab notebooks, where scientists document and manage their experiments, formulas, calculations, observations, and findings. ELNs can play a pivotal role in protecting Intellectual Property (IP), by simplifying access control and permissions, as well as maintaining and supporting data integrity, compliance, and consistent method execution.
R&D and science at large has been grappling with a “replication crisis,” where positive results of experiments can’t be reproduced. Failure to replicate experiments results in over $20B in losses across science and industry each year. By starting knowledge-capture at the ideation phase, scientists can maintain end-to-end traceability and improve the rates of replication. Also, as discovery processes advance, maintaining data integrity becomes increasingly challenging. Even the slightest, untracked changes in procedure have the potential to invalidate years of scientific research.
Despite the advances in informatics technology over the last several years, many labs persist with an outdated approach to data capture. Compounding this issue is that the documentation of experiments is infrequently performed in real-time. “Typically, the time between writing up the meticulous notes and the actual execution of the experiments is an average of three weeks,” says Jake Schofield, founder of Labstep, a STARLIMS company. “I couldn’t tell you what I had for lunch 3 weeks ago, let alone the variables of an experiment.”
By transitioning ideation to an ELN, scientists can not only capture and share notes easily as they create and conduct experiments, but also collaborate, as multiple researchers can work on the same notebook simultaneously. Advanced ELN systems can also provide connectivity with instruments, as well as inventory, so use of equipment and consumables is tracked and updated regularly.
Key ELN Functions:
- Digital documentation of experiments, formulas, calculations, and observations
- Collaboration and sharing among researchers
- Real-time data entry and capture
- Electronic signatures and audit trails
- Integration with instruments and systems
- Searchable, structured, and organized data
OPERATIONS & EXECUTION: Up-Level Your Quality and Safety with a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS)
After ideation, it’s time to consider how to get your innovation into the hands of consumers. This is where a LIMS comes in. Using a LIMS helps you accelerate transfer from R&D to quality control and manufacturing, all while protecting IP and simplifying the management of testing.
What is a LIMS?
A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is a software solution that helps improve lab productivity and efficiency by maintaining all the data associated with samples, experiments, processes, and workflows. LIMS provide a centralized, consolidated point-of-collaboration throughout the testing process, delivering a holistic view of laboratory operations and enabling teams to accelerate deployment and time-to-value, without additional overhead.
With a LIMS, laboratories can automate workflows, minimize manual tasks, and reduce the risk of data collection and transcription errors. And, most important, for organizations in highly regulated industries, it can simplify compliance and quality management while making your laboratory more efficient and effective.
The LIMS software from STARLIMS includes powerful tools for comprehensive management of R&D and quality laboratory processes: instrument management, inventory control, flexible calculations, reporting and data analysis tools, standards and supplier management, comprehensive audit trail/electronic signatures, batch and plate management, and stability management. The solution enables you to automate workflows, minimize manual tasks, and reduce the risk of data collection and transcription errors. With pre-built, industry-specific workflows, users can quickly and easily transfer testing from research to quality control and manufacturing.
Key LIMS Functions:
- Sample tracking and management
- Workflow automation and process optimization
- Laboratory equipment and instrumentation management and integration
- Inventory management
- Reporting, analytics, and visualization tools
ELN & LIMS Together: A Seamless Partnership
The synergy between an ELN and LIMS enriches R&D by creating a continuum of data management across the product lifecycle, driving better overall insights and results. ELNs advance ideation and IP protection by centering real-time data capture and management. LIMS takes over during operational execution to improve lab efficiencies, refine workflows, and enhance quality control. Together, they streamline data management, support collaboration, and accelerate new product introduction. This cohesive approach enables labs to transition from idea inception to commercialization with ease, minimizing duplication of effort and improving data accuracy.
With these powerful tools at their disposal, researchers can maximize their internal data insights and drive unprecedented innovation in laboratories worldwide. By embracing ELN and LIMS together, organizations can position themselves at the forefront of the competition and create a more efficient, productive, and collaborative research environment.
STARLIMS & Labstep, Together: Driving R&D Into the Future
In August, STARLIMS announced the strategic acquisition of Labstep, a cutting-edge, cloud R&D Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN). The informatics landscape is changing as more powerful, faster, and intelligent systems are needed to process huge amounts of real-time data, keep up with the quick pace of R&D, and make laboratory operations more efficient. This acquisition brings both companies to the forefront of modern informatics and addresses the critical challenges customers face in finding an advanced platform that supports them from R&D through to market surveillance.
Labstep’s SaaS ELN uses interactive, step-by-step protocols as templates for continuous, real-time data capture and collection for researchers. The solution was created by a team of scientists, for scientists, with the goal of building a progressive operating system that reflects the needs of the modern R&D lab. By combining STARLIMS’ comprehensive LIMS technology with LabStep’s modern ELN platform, users can remove complexity from the lab and unlock data’s true potential in a progressive, connected system.
The combination accelerates ideation and planning through its easy-to-use documentation functionality, automation capabilities, and seamless connectivity to instruments and systems, moving users away from cumbersome paper-based record keeping. This complete solution liberates scientists from manual documentation, leaving them with more time for the important stuff—research.