Implementing a Paperless Laboratory: Answers to Crucial Questions Regarding the Benefits


paperless laboratory
Will an electronic lab notebook change anything in the laboratory?
Image source:CID Command Public Affairs via

Claude Levi-Strauss, the father of modern anthropology, once said, “The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s one who asks the right questions.” In the spirit of Mr. Levi-Strauss’ comment, let’s explore the most common questions that lab managers and scientists ask when considering the switch to a paperless laboratory. Examining the benefits of implementing an electronic laboratory notebook (ELN) may provide some valuable insight on this strategic move towards maximum efficiency.

Question – What cost savings are realistically achievable by implementing an ELN?

Answer – An ELN can be expected to generate both quantitative and qualitative savings. Quantitatively, a paperless laboratory will help reduce the costs associated with managing the laboratory notebook lifecycle, including the material costs and any costs associated with achieving it. Other quantifiable savings will come in the form of labor (scientist) time savings due to ELN capabilities, such as the direct importation of results into the notebook and streamlining of the witnessing process. In general, companies can expect to save approximately 10-15% in quantifiable savings.

However, the true savings from an ELN may be more qualitative in nature. For example, implementing an ELN can make data more legible and keyword searchable, both helpful functionalities that are difficult to quantify. In addition, ELNs are equipped with tools that facilitate the sharing of information with other team members and also makes information easier to find once it is recorded. These are real savings that, unfortunately, are more difficult to apply a figure to.

Question – How do ELNs better protect and secure intellectual property over their paper counterparts?

Answer – With a paper notebook, there is a trade-off between security and accessibility. In order to make information more secure, it has to be less accessible to scientists. For example, to guarantee the security of a paper notebook they have to be locked away, which essentially limits their availability later on when the information may be helpful for other research.

However, a paperless laboratory solves this problem by rendering information both secure and accessible. This is done through the management of permission settings within the system, and username and passwords. These allow users to securely access their ELN from any location with a secure Internet connection. Additionally, permission settings within the ELN allow laboratory directors to control the type and amount of information that each scientist can access once they have logged in, allowing for both security and accessibility.

Question – What kind of efficiency increment could a firm achieve?

Answer – ELNs can increase laboratory efficiency in many ways. For example, it may help reduce the number of “fat finger” or keying errors that occur. This is achieved by creating a direct interface between laboratory instruments and the ELN, allowing results to be imported directly into the notebook without human involvement.

Also, the ELN can help reduce the number of repeat experiments that occur within the laboratory when a scientist cannot find the results from a prior experiment. With paper notebooks, the inability to locate the results usually necessitates that scientists run the experiment again. However, an ELN prevents the duplication of experiments by making results more accessible and searchable through keyword indexing.

In the end, a successful implementation of a paperless lab will reduce costs, increase both security and accessibility and increase the efficiency of work performed in the laboratory. I think these are benefits many firms would love to take advantage of.

If you are trying to decide if making the switch to a paperless laboratory is right for your firm, visit the Accelrys website today. There you will find case studies and helpful information regarding the highly efficient Accelrys Notebook.

4 thoughts on “Implementing a Paperless Laboratory: Answers to Crucial Questions Regarding the Benefits

  1. It makes perfect sense for scientists to adopt ELN in labs. Businesses in the corporate world have embraced CRM (Customer Resource Management) databases for years to increase efficiency and consolidate information, so scientists should get on board with this.

  2. Many of the pharmaceutical clients we work with have implemented or are implementing an ELN. Working out the electronic signature and how to store/backup all the information are issues that they put significant time into prior to making the transition. The productivity gains alone are significant, not to mention the cost savings.

  3. Searchable documents are highly underrated – when entries can be searched, it saves both time and energy spent reading or re-reading pages of data or other information.

  4. I think it is important to plan out all aspects of an ELN implementation, but you are right that particular attention should be paid to electronic signatures and back-ups.

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