Electronic lab notebooks in universities — interest is growing

Posted by Rory on November 28th, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

Universities are beginning to take a serious interest in electronic lab notebooks (ELNs).  See, for example the University of Wisconsin’s recently published study of a major ELN pilot conducted earlier this year, and the University of Otago, which is currently conducting an ELN pilot after getting a thumbs up from researchers in a university-wide survey.

Projects like these represent a big change – until recently ELNs were of interest only to individual researchers and labs.  Why is this change taking place now?  I think there are four drivers of institutional interest in ELNs.

First, as evidenced by the Otago survey, there is growing interest in adopting ELNs among researchers.  Without this grass roots demand from users, universities were never going to be very interested in providing the financial or technical support needed to roll ELNs out to a wide base of researchers.

Second, the newest generation of ELNs, which —  unlike the first generation ELNs designed for Big Pharma in the 1990s — was developed with academic users in mind, cost an order or magnitude less than the first generation ELNs, and are affordable for academic institutions.

Third, universities are now set up in such a way that they are able to (a) investigate, and (b) purchase, ‘enterprise’ software solutions.  For evidence of this look at the systematic way in which both Wisconsin and Otago are going about their search for an ELN.  This is a relatively recent development.  Five to ten years ago, how many universities had a CIO, or the research support infrastructure or budget needed to run a pilot and then support product rollout?

Fourth, developments in technology have made it possible for developers to produce, at relatively low cost, ELNs which (a) researchers find easy to use and useful, and (b) IT finds easy to deploy and support.



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