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University of Utah Library Guides

ELNs Electronic Laboratory Notebooks: Selecting an ELN

Why Implement an ELN

A number of good reasons exist for implementing ELNs/virtual workspaces.

EFFICIENCY

As research becomes more complex with multidisciplinary projects and increased collaborations with colleagues world wide, the management of these projects becomes more complex. Even the management of the various projects over the course of a career can be cumbersome. Implementing an ELN provides an efficient system of organizing the work, the data and all the documentation. Finding the needed data and/or document is simplified.  

PROVENANCE

Any good ELN will enable a record of how the data was collected, manipulated and analyzed, in addition to who and when the procedure was performed. Computer versioning is not provenance. Provenance ensures that any accusation of fraud can easily be addressed. With the added feature of date/time stamps, an ELN is compliant with US FDA 21 CFR Part 11.

PERSONNEL TURNOVER

Turnover of personnel sometimes means the data or other important information walks out the door. Implementation of an ELN eliminates this concern. On the other hand, personnel wishing to take their data with them when leaving a research project can easily output their data.

ACCESS

Not all members of the research group require access to all aspects of the research. A good ELN will provide a system of access, allowing for different levels of access to different parts of the research. In addition, the project can be accessed from anywhere and at anytime.

STUDENTS

These systems are already being used in industry, therefore to be employable our students need to be acquainted with them.

DATA MANAGEMENT PLANS

Granting agencies are becoming more interested in the way research projects are being managed. Implementing ELNs can meet the requirements of mandates for data management plans.

Evaluating ELNs for You and Your Work

When considering ELNs-

Perform a needs assessment, first. What do you want the system to do for you? How much security do you need? What is implementing an ELN going to cost and do you have the means to pay for it? Is there a start up fee, configuration fee, training fee and a yearly maintenance fee?

Determine what other researchers in your discipline are using? What ELNs have they tested? Talk to people in your field who have purchased a system. Check out "Implementation at Other Universities".

Test multiple software packages before purchasing. Training and a long enough trial period (3 months is ideal) for your research team to become comfortable with the system should be offered by the vendor. Take the time during the trial to use the system. Take notes and survey the research team for their input.

Determine if the system is compatible with your hardware and software. Will it interface with your instruments? Is the system expandable and flexibility enough to meet your requirements? Will you be able to use it "out of the box" or does it require configuration? Templates are usually provided, but they may have to be tweaked for your specific needs.

Develop an implementation plan. Determine the best time to conduct the trial(s), select, and implement the ELN. Consider it an additional research project because it will take time away from ongoing projects. Maybe teaming-up with colleagues in your department will save time.

Develop an exit strategy. Things happen and you may have to stop using a specific ELN for some reason. A good ELN company will provide you with your files, but what are you going to do with the files?

Consider using the University of Utah's cloud service. If the system you are interested in is cloud-based talk to UIT before setting up a trial. Determine the cost, support available, and any additional software required (e.g. Oracle).

A good ELN vendor will allow use of the U's cloud service, but if not, consider the location of the cloud. Do you have security, and/or export control issues? The ELN vendor is probably contracting with a cloud service. You will need to learn about the policies of the cloud service and its contract with the ELN vendor. Who owns your content? At the University of Utah the University owns the data. If the contract with the cloud service states otherwise, you will need to go elsewhere. For additional information on export compliance see the link below.

The upgrading of the ELN software should include adequate support and training from the vendor.

Determine the stability of the vendor. How long have they been in existence. As a result of the development of cloud based services, apps and tablets there has been an increase in the number of new ELNs available. Some have little business expertise.

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