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6 Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN) Adoption Barriers and How to Overcome Them

By Zareh Zurabyan 8 min read 02 Feb 2023

The number of open-source and commercially available ELNs has exploded over the past decade, making labs in academia, industry, and government more streamlined, cost-effective, and organised. 

But, many labs still haven’t transitioned to digital information storage, choosing paper lab notebooks or an assortment of legacy systems for data management. Scientists, technicians, lab managers, and other personnel may be comfortable using these outdated approaches. 

Still, the consequence of not modernising your life science operations can be dire: Your lab or organisation may lose data, protocols, or samples. Ultimately, this can cause reproducibility issues or make it challenging to keep up with the current scope, breadth, and pace of research.

Resisting the Adoption of an ELN

Transitioning away from old, familiar systems remains a significant challenge for those looking to modernise. In the life sciences, we often pride ourselves on logic and reason. But when it comes to changing entrenched habits, we can be highly resistant, even to change that brings numerous advantages. 

While the pain points and perspectives may differ within teams, the reasons for resisting the adoption of and transition to an ELN come down to 6 common factors. Below, we discuss each reason for resistance and how you can help your organisation overcome these barriers to digitization.

Reason for Resistance #1: Lack of Information

While the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many companies’ digital transformation, for many in the life sciences, there is still a lack of tangible information about digital health, data accessibility and security, lab sustainability, compliance, and how this all relates to information management. Intuitively, many know the advantages of digitising, but it’s unclear how software solutions, like an ELN, will help implement these initiatives. The “what” and “how” of digitization is still a black box. 

Overcoming a Lack of Information

The cure for lack of information should be education, right? It may sound easy, but humans are not empty vessels into which data can be poured. Groundwork needs to be laid first. 

You can lay a crucial foundation for education as a small lab or large organisation by getting team buy-in on your needs for an ELN. Do you need something easy to use? Can you dump your old Excel docs and existing digital information into it? Work out all of this before you start investigating vendors. Prioritise your needs, and you’ll enter the evaluation process focused on what is essential for your organisation.

Once you’ve started investigating vendors, then education about the various benefits of their platforms and how they fit into the digital ecosystem can begin. Vendors can be accommodating in this task, helping fill in the blanks by providing demonstrations and informative content. 

While essential, this educational step can introduce another major pitfall: Due to the many unknowns and over 80+ ELN/LIMS systems out there, a small biotech start-up or an academic lab can easily fall victim to going for the very first available system or the complete opposite, fall into the trap of endless evaluations of which solution fits them best and in turn, lose track of their agreed-upon needs.

Beware of this pitfall and only gather information with your platform requirements clearly defined.

Reason for Resistance #2: Lack of Time

In today’s fast-paced digital world, time to do even simple tasks can seem non-existent. So, it’s no surprise that personnel and whole organisations would resist a change requiring a serious time commitment to learn a new software platform. As the article “How to Deal with Resistance to Change” in the Harvard Business Review put it, “Time is necessary even though there may be no resistance to the change itself.” 

Overcoming a Lack of Time

This is where the expertise of the vendor you choose can help. Whether you’re tracking thousands of samples in a biobank, developing processes for CAR-T manufacturing, or managing gene editing protocols, experienced customer service reps who have helped many organisations transition to their platform can quickly understand your workflows and needs. Their role is as a consultant to streamline implementation and shorten the learning curve for your team, adding as little time as possible to the transition process.

Reason for Resistance #3: A Painful Learning Curve

Acquiring any new skill – whether you’re learning how to ride a bike, pipette with precision, load an HPLC, or use Zoom for an important meeting while your children and dog are jumping up and down in the background – takes time. 

As a person gets more experience with a new skill, their proficiency increases. This process, the learning curve, is unavoidable and can be frustrating for those navigating its early stages. The size of an organisation can dictate how steep or shallow the learning curve is: A laboratory of 2 people can adjust easier, whereas a larger biotech company of 20, 30, or 100 people can take a serious productivity hit while transitioning to a new information management system. And this productivity loss can be a costly hidden expense of transitioning.

Overcoming a Painful Learning Curve

It takes a good leader, strategic planning, and an enthusiastic vendor to make the learning curve as short as possible. 

From a management perspective, it’s helpful to estimate the loss in productivity that’s bound to occur, so you’re not blindsided as your team navigates the platform change. 

For those adopting and using a new platform every day, it can be helpful to “start backward,” focusing on the bliss of the end result rather than the new, unfamiliar features of the tech itself. Thinking about the benefits of adopting new technology – in the case of an ELN, it’s to elevate your research/process development – is always a good motivation to quickly learn the system and start reaping the benefits as soon as possible, without feeling like they’re diving into the unknown. 

Reason for Resistance #4: Fear of the Unknown

Leaving behind paper notebooks, Microsoft Work/Office, Google Docs/Sheets, or other legacy information management systems and adopting new technology can be scary. There are a lot of unknowns: What do operations look like 3, 6, or 12 months after platform transition? And if you can’t visualise the end benefits for your organisation, then the project can seem like an unattainable fool’s errand, limiting acceptance and adoption.

Overcoming Fear of the Unknown

Bridging the gap between what is known on your current platform and what is unknown on the new platform is critical and can be accomplished with the help of a skilled vendor. In addition, evaluating the project’s scope and laying out what barriers are expected over what timeframe can help define many of the unknowns in people’s heads. 

Team leads and those championing the transition process can further facilitate this approach by intertwining digitization tasks throughout daily, weekly, and monthly workflows so personnel can experience how the new platform works in a familiar context.

Reason for Resistance #5: Change in Daily Tasks

Old habits die hard, especially those that are an entrenched part of our daily routine. Learning a new technology is often viewed as a significant change in a company or lab that will disrupt familiar procedures that personnel have grown accustomed to. 

Overcoming a Change in Daily Tasks

This resistance can be reframed as introducing a new tool that gets slowly integrated into daily tasks to elevate and improve them. You can think of your platform transition as introducing a new instrument that will increase a lab’s analytical power and productivity.

With an ELN, the benefits of features like automation and accessibility can serve as tangible examples of how daily tasks will change. You can demonstrate how the process of looking for specific biological samples will change: Previously, you’d open your freezer door and spend time shuffling through boxes, looking for samples and threatening their integrity as they heat up. 

With an ELN, you can show that a simple search in an inventory browser tab makes it easy to find the sample you need, minimising the time samples are exposed to the outside environment. Wherever you can, link the change in daily tasks to clear benefits, such as saving time and minimising the risk of sample degradation.

Reason for Resistance #6: Privacy and Security Concerns

For those in biotech and pharma, dealing with confidential information, patient data, and intellectual property, data security and privacy are very important issues. With a platform transition, new questions and concerns can arise about how secure it will be against data stealing and unauthorised access.

Overcoming Privacy and Security Concerns

Discuss vendor certifications and how they can facilitate regulatory compliance and data security. ISO certifications and compliance with GxP principles are essential in biotech and pharma.

When choosing an ELN vendor, one thing to be careful of is seeing if a platform provider is ISO certified versus just their data centres. This gives you the best data protection and compliance with GxP principles.

Overcoming ELN Resistance with eLabNext

At eLabNext, we know there’s a lot of information to consider while evaluating which ELN fits your needs. We’ve provided a wide array of life science organisations, from small start-ups and academic labs to global corporations, with secure ELN software platforms that are flexible to fit the diverse needs of the industry.

Here are some of how we can be your partner to overcome some of the internal barriers to digitization mentioned above:

  • Comprehensive Onboarding: We take a standardised approach to onboarding, and within a 2 to 3-week period of working with our support team, your team will be largely up to speed on how to use eLabNext’s platforms. By the 4th week, your team will be confident in using the various functions of our system. 
  • Customer-Centric Support: Our support team is friendly, attentive, and informative so that you can get comfortable with our system and solve any problems that may arise. Each member of our team comes from a life science background, so they understand the intricacies of your questions and application areas.
  • Best-in-Class Privacy and Security: Almost all vendors use ISO-certified AWS data centres, but the eLabNext company follows the strict requirements of the ISO/IEC 27001:2017+A11:2020 standard. This is a key differentiator with other ELN platforms for labs and facilities that need to comply with GxP and be audit-ready.

Now that you have read about these barriers and how to overcome them, you can have a digitization conversation with your lab or organisation. 

To help streamline this process and build a case for it, check out our series of white papers:

If you’re tired of reading and want to start testing eLabNext immediately, get a free 30-day trial or contact me directly for a personalised demo.

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