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When we think about going electronic from our paper notebooks we often think about just replacing the paper document process. Initially, ELN’s evolved as a paper on glass replacement, but have in the last 10 years gone through a successive evolution to well beyond a document replacement. Industry talks about 5th generation ELNs that define and create a new role for the ELN in today’s labs. Driving this change is a need for simplicity, efficiency, centralization and fewer resources to meet the growing needs of globalization and diminishing budgets. As a result, we are seeing a trend where LIMS (Laboratory Information Management Systems) capabilities and ELN capabilities are merging as scientists want a single system to manage and orchestrate their experiment and sample processing.


Traditionally, scientists looked for ELNs to capture who did what, how, why and when. In other words, the day-to-day unstructured activities, thoughts and processes.  Meanwhile, LIMS systems captured the routine structured information streaming from software and instruments. The question, and the reality, is why do we need the 2 systems for managing lab data? It’s for this reason you are seeing LIMS vendors adding ELN capabilities and ELN vendors adding LIMS capabilities. Today, the latest Accelrys ELN not only replaces the paper document for unstructured information, but extends the role of the notebook. Now capable of storing data entered in a notebook section in a structured format, the ELN allows experiment and sample parameters to be stored and re-accessed with reporting and analysis tools.


To see some examples of what’s now possible with 5th generation ELNs, check out the new videos that demonstrate how new data management, analysis and reporting capabilities change the role of the ELN. The first video is using the Thermo Fisher Envision tool to analyze and process spectra within the Notebook, the second video shows how managers and PI’s in the Notebook can see dashboards of experiment and sample progress and, the third is about how every day scientists can query and access their information from across experiments. All capabilities that redefine the role of the ELN in the lab to help with enterprise lab management.


In conclusion, while the ELN will not replace all LIMS and LIMS with added document capabilities will not replace all ELNs, we are seeing a convergence of capabilities. For the scientist, they will see the benefits of these vendor investments by being able to execute day-to-day lab operations with fewer software interfaces and centralized environments.


So should we be calling the 5th generation ELNs, "ELNLIMS", or "ELMS" – Electronic Lab Management System? What are your thoughts? Is ELN now a confusing name for the newer generation ELNs focused on a convergent lab?

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