Key points to consider when choosing an ELN

The main purpose of an ELN–electronic lab notebook–is clear: taking notes, data storage, organisation. But what about the details that come later once the digital solution has been fully integrated into your workflow?

It can be a challenge to figure out exactly what your lab needs if you’ve never used an ELN. To help this process, we’ve come up with 6 crucial points to keep in mind (apart from what’s already obvious) for selecting the best solution for your unique lab–Collected from our experiences working with life science researchers and lab managers.

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The points to consider & how to identify them

1) Advanced features that go beyond the ELN standard

Apart from basic functions, consider these advanced features that aren’t always highlighted.

  • Make use of tools right in the ELN. Link any inventory directly into experiments, or work with 3rd-party software without leaving your notebook.
  • Optionally work on files from local storage while still having it documented in the audit trail. In addition to being able to work fully on the cloud, users should have the option to work locally without having to first import for edit and export when done.
  • Create standardized study templates. Create and group experiment templates into a single standard template for use.
  • Utilize user tagging. Tag colleagues in comments and improve collaboration.
  • Insert interactive protocols templates. No need to manually input formulas or equations.

2) The necessity of advanced sample management

Sample management plays an important role in eliminating problems that may arise from a number of scientists handling large quantities of samples in one laboratory. But what are the advanced features that make it fully integrated?

  • Manage large quantities of samples. Working with samples daily, you’ll want to be able to import/export an entire batch of samples at once.
  • Conditional sample type fields. Create conditions in your sample forms to allow more room for information input.
  • Completely customisable storage units and sample templates. Down to the tiny details.
  • Full lineage visualisation of sample generations. Keep track of linkages between samples across generations.
  • Storage (compartment) reservations. Reserve specific spots in your sample box for future use.
  • Product catalog for direct linking. Track use of consumable stock and easily create shopping lists.


3) The added value of an open ecosystem

An ELN with an open ecosystem is one that gives users the freedom to fully customise with not only extra features/add-ons, but also with user-developed and 3rd-party integrations. This means that the user pays only for features that they want and need–resulting in a notebook truly customised to their lab–rather than paying for features that they don’t need or won’t use.

Why is this important?

  • To be able evolve and extend the system to any preferred standard
  • To future-proof the ELN (i.e. access to future innovations)

How to identify an open ecosystem ELN?
Check (or ask) if the company lists their API and SDK for use on their website.

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4) The hard requirements of a safe & secure solution

Users should have peace of mind that all data stored within their ELN are safe and secure.

What are the hard requirements and what do they entail?

  • Automatic full audit trail = Know and follow exact movements and timeline of all data
  • ISO certification = Control. Processes are enforced and meet industry standards
  • Regular backups, encrypted data, have only soft deletes = Safe & secure
  • GLP, CFR 21 part 11 = FDA compliant


5) The need for expert support

Let’s be honest… integrating an electronic lab notebook (and training users) can be a daunting task. That’s why it’s important that the support team has people that are:

  • Friendly, attentive & informative = Customer-centric
  • Understand the process = Have life science backgrounds

Ask a plethora of questions. Abandon vendors that are inattentive or unresponsive. A strong support team will make the biggest difference when any software hiccups emerge.

6) Checking for ease of use

If the ELN has all the important features but lacks in user interface quality, it will only be a frustrating experience for the user. Just because skilled experts and real scientists participated in the development of the system, it doesn’t guarantee an uncomplicated user interface for all users.


  • Utilize the personal demo
  • Get thorough training from the support team
  • Discover the unguided trial period to truly understand the ins and outs of the ELN

There’s no better way to get familiar with an ELN than by trying it yourself.

Interested in learning more?

Check out some of our content:

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  • Webinar: LIMS vs ELNs

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  • eLabWebSeries: Compliant system

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