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Moving Past Paper: Realizing the Potential of ELNs

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Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) are becoming more popular as labs embrace digitization. Whilst ELNs offer upgrades on conventional notebooks such as long-term storage and better availability and can play a vital role in tackling science’s reproducibility crisis, uptake is still limited. ELN provider BioData’s flagship offering, Labguru, has over 30,000 users worldwide. We caught up with Steve Yemm, recently appointed CEO of BioData, to ask him about the advantages of ELNs and the challenges they face in a digital market. 

Ruairi Mackenzie (RM): BioData’s flagship product is the ELN Labguru. What are the advantages of an ELN to institutions, companies and researchers?

Steve Yemm (SY): The vast potential of data is better understood today thanks to the technologies available to manage and process it. Previously, only a fraction of information from the paper notes made by researchers would have made it into databases and research papers, but now, the way experiments are planned and reviewed using ELN technology is changing the face of research. 

The benefits of an ELN are at least two-fold.

First off, there are major productivity benefits in transitioning from a paper to an electronic basis for managing experiments and scientific workflow. Our clients report to us that their scientists have cut the amount of time they spend searching, scanning, printing and compiling everything together in a paper environment from a full day per week to only one hour per week in Labguru. 

Secondly, there are major benefits in being able to sleep soundly at night knowing that your organisation’s data and vital assets are properly documented and protected both from a compliance and intellectual property perspective in a secure, audited and compliant environment.

There are many further benefits such as improved knowledge management which can be gained today, or, emerging on the horizon, the application of machine learning to design experiments and projects.

RM: How quickly are researchers embracing ELNs? What can providers do to encourage uptake?

SY: From various sources, we estimate the total market for ELN is growing at around 5-10% per annum, although our growth rate on Labguru has been much higher than that over the last two years.

We are deploying Labguru to new clients who have hundreds, thousands, even ten thousand users, so it would appear researchers are readily embracing the technology.

From our perspective, providers need to place a lot of emphasis on user experience across a range of devices from desktop to mobile – it’s a highest priority for us – and ensuring the product works properly and reliably from day one and then day after day after day – that’s the key to happy users.

We measure our upsell rate very closely – that is clients who add new users to an existing deployment – and we often find this happens within weeks of signing a new client. This is great testimony to rapid business value and happy users.

We also receive a lot of valuable feedback from our users, which shows that they are embracing the technology and playing a key role in helping to continually improve it. Great science is all about collaboration and the engagement we have with our users has been key in making the platform easy to use, accessible and transformational. 

RM: In recent years, BioData has moved from a business-to-consumer model for purchase by single users, to one that delivers SaaS software solutions for institutions and companies in the life sciences. What has been behind that move and how has it benefited BioData?

SY: We developed and built out the Labguru solution to meet a broader range of requirements – not only our ELN and inventory management, but other common workflows like chemical and biologics registration and HTS and IC50 calculation. 

Our benefit – which also benefits our clients – is that we are building a sustainable and profitable business which is able to reliably serve a growing group of clients in the long term. It would have been tough to build that type of company based upon our former business model.

RM: What are the next steps for BioData and Labguru?

SY: Our vision is to make Labguru a broader horizontal platform solution that solves many of the high value pain points in the laboratory environment.  We will continue to develop our capability to document experiments in the ELN, manage entities in our Inventory and serve common workflows like registration and screening – spanning solutions for regulated laboratories through to applications in big data and machine learning.

Steve Yemm was speaking to Ruairi J Mackenzie, Science Writer for Technology Networks

Steve Yemm is CEO of Labguru’s, BioData