Is SharePoint the Right System for Scientific Collaboration? ELNs May Address Needs More Effectively

Digital Solutions

The stereotype of the lone scientist working long hours in a laboratory in order to make a critical discovery has a certain romantic appeal to it, but is ultimately false. The fact is that teams trump individuals in regard to scientific output and impact.

The right system can enhance Scientific Collaboration in the laboratory.
Scientific discoveries today are due to collaboration and not the lone scientist.
Image source: National Cancer Institute via

However, collaboration amongst team members can be challenging unless the group has an efficient system in place to facilitate the management and sharing of documentation. Many scientific teams rely upon SharePoint for this type of collaboration, but would an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) be more effective? Let’s consider the different aspects of each system.

Microsoft’s SharePoint

SharePoint is an application that is part intranet, part content manager and part document manager. When implemented among scientific collaborators, it can be used to automate business processes, such as the routing and sign-off of documents. The system also comes with a sophisticated check-in/checkout feature that is helpful to ensure version controls and prevent documentation confusion among collaborators. In addition to these features, it is also fairly easy to use and requires minimal skills to set up and deploy.

However, there are also some issues that make the system less than ideal for scientific collaboration. For one thing, certain features of the system are only compatible with Microsoft products. This makes it difficult for collaborators who may be working in other document formats to add items to the server. Additionally, SharePoint is not specifically designed to comply with regulatory requirements like 21 CFR Part 11 in the United States, or GMP Annex 11 in Europe. The lack of compliance means that sign-offs and secondary review may not be accepted if conducted within SharePoint. Also, it does not index all of the content stored in its database. This can make it difficult for scientific collaborators to find data contributed by others based upon a keyword search.

Although SharePoint offers some interesting possibilities such as automated processing and document check-in/checkout, it detracts from true scientific collaboration because it is not conducive for all document types, it does not address regulatory requirements and it cannot index all the content stored within it for easy retrieval.

Electronic Laboratory Notebooks

Unlike SharePoint, ELNs were designed specifically to address the collaboration needs of the scientific community.

Well-designed ELNs are capable of capturing and storing almost any document or digital data, regardless of format or type. This is helpful for collaboration partners who prefer different document systems such as Adobe, WordPerfect or other document types. ELNs are also designed to comply with the requirements laid out in both 21 CFR Part 11 and GMP Annex 11, particularly with the tracking of modifications through audit trails. Audit trails allow collaborators to transfer information between scientific collaborators and track any changes made to the documents. ELNs also have powerful search and query tool functionality. The benefit of this is that scientific collaborators can search within all of the documents associated with a project to discover the information they are looking for, regardless of who authored or created the document.

Making the best choice for your collaborative team

Discoveries today are more likely to occur with scientific collaboration. Effective collaboration requires the right tools. Although there are many benefits to using SharePoint, it is likely that better collaboration will occur for labs implementing an ELN.

If you are looking for a good electronic lab notebook for scientific collaboration within your firm, you may want to consider the Accelrys Notebook. It is designed to help scientific collaboration take place efficiently. Please visit the Accelrys website today to learn more.

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