5 Steps to Selecting the Best Electronic Lab Notebook to Meet Your Firm’s Needs
As laboratory equipment becomes more automated and sophisticated, many laboratories are recognizing the need to implement an electronic lab notebook (ELN) to facilitate the capture, analysis and storage of digital information. However, many lab managers hesitate to implement just any ELN because of the concern of finding the “right one.”
Selecting the best one that addresses all of the needs of a laboratory can be difficult, especially with the myriad of ELN options that are currently available on the market. However, lab managers have a better chance of discovering the “right one” if they take a systematic approach when evaluating different options.
Today I will examine five steps that lab managers can follow to select the right electronic la notebook for their laboratory needs:
1. Define Requirements
Prior to starting the search for a vendor, it is important to first define the specific needs and requirements a laboratory expects from an electronic lab notebook. At a minimum, laboratory managers need to answer the following questions:
- What is the specific purpose of the electronic lab notebook?
- Will it need capabilities to gather data captured from lab instruments?
- Will it also need to perform analysis over the captured data?
- Are there security requirements that need to be considered?
- Will the security need to be extended to handheld and wireless devices used at the bench?
It is important to document needs and requirements prior to initiating the next step because it is easy to be swayed by the bells and whistles highlighted by a vendor. Documenting internal needs prior to looking at vendor functionality helps laboratory managers understand what would be the best fit for their firm’s needs and keep those front and center during the selection process.
2. Identify vendors
Once lab managers have defined and documented the needs of their laboratory, the next step is to identify vendors who can address and meet those needs. The most basic method is to search Google for “electronic laboratory notebook vendors” and start making a list. Alternatively, lab managers may want to visit an electronic lab notebook trade show or obtain an industry report from a research firm. A main goal of this part of the process is to identify a list of vendors with a reputation for providing quality ELN products within the industry.
3. Compare the list of requirements against the list of vendors
After identifying all of the possible vendors, the next step is to compare the requirements against the various solutions. Since this is early in the process, any vendor that loosely fits the bill should stay on the list. In other words, any that do not address approximately 90% of the requirements should be removed. The reason that a lab manager should keep loose fits on the short list is because most vendors can customize their products to address the needs of a customer. Therefore, the lack of a perceived exact fit should not automatically eliminate a contender.
4. Request for Proposal
Once lab managers have a list of possible vendors, the next step is to contact those vendors and express interest in their product. In addition, it is helpful to share with the vendor the requirements needed in a solution. This is usually done through a Request for Proposal (RFP).
The RFP process includes sending the vendor a list of requirements and requesting them to demonstrate how their product meets the internal needs of the laboratory. This is usually done with a questionnaire. Although the questions will vary by laboratory, some to consider in an RFP include:
- Is the software is compatible with existing lab equipment?
- What type of support packages will be available with a purchase?
- How long is the end-user training period?
The RFP should be the same for every vendor in order to obtain comparable information across all. In addition, the RFP is a great opportunity to obtain pricing information for particular options.
5. Select an option
The final step in identifying the right solution for a firm is to rank all of the vendors based on how they address the laboratory’s requirements identified in step 1. Other factors that may influence this decision include price, on-going vendor support or the ability to customize the product to fit laboratory needs.
Prior to making a final decision, laboratory managers should seriously consider a live sales demonstration of the electronic lab notebook or even setting up a test electronic lab notebook to ensure that the product is the right option for the laboratory.
Since laboratory notebooks are the most basic laboratory tool, it is important that that lab managers find the best electronic lab notebook that fits the requirements and needs of their laboratory. Following the steps outlined above can help laboratory managers evaluate all the available options and choose the ideal solution for their firm.
If you are in the vendor identification process, you may want to consider the Accelrys Notebook. Accelrys offers a customizable solution designed to integrate with laboratory instruments as well as provide researchers with advanced data analytics tools. For more information, please visit our website today.