Why are ELN and LIMS necessary

SOFTWARE & LIMS LIMS and ELN - integration vs. linking

The simultaneous use of LIMS (laboratory information management systems) and ELN (electronic laboratory books) in the laboratory naturally leads to conflicts. The solution to the problem is software that integrates LIMS and ELN.

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The simultaneous use of LIMS (laboratory information management systems) and ELN (electronic laboratory books) in the laboratory naturally leads to conflicts. The question constantly arises whether information should be recorded in the LIMS or in the ELN. To access information, a search must be made in two systems accordingly. Interfaces to devices or an ERP must be implemented for each system. The solution to the problem is software that integrates LIMS and ELN.

The results of every laboratory activity are saved in the form of data and are intended to document the reproducibility and traceability of the processes. In modern laboratories, the data are only available digitally. In order to make the laboratory processes efficient, electronic aids are used for data management.

Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) were developed at the beginning of the 1980s. They have proven themselves for laboratory processes in which data was generated in a highly structured manner, as is typically the case in production laboratories. The first electronic laboratory books (ELN) appeared around the mid-1990s. They have proven themselves for laboratory processes in which data were generated in an unstructured manner, as is typically the case in R&D laboratories. The real laboratory world is not either “LIMS-phil” or “LIMS-phob”.

The dilemma

At the latest when LIMS and ELN are used in the same company, it is realized that laboratory processes cannot be optimally mapped with either one or the other system. Depending on the process step, the data is either highly structured, completely unstructured or in a partially structured form.

A LIMS is designed to store data in a highly structured manner, an ELN (electronic laboratory notebook) is designed to store data in an unstructured manner. The dilemma in everyday laboratory work is that not only structured or unstructured data needs to be stored, but also partially structured data. In addition, the degree of structuring changes frequently and is usually dependent on the process step. The need to structure information depends on the problem posed by a process step.

If the need to structure the information changes frequently due to the sequence of process steps, the information is partly stored in the LIMS and partly in the ELN. If the information is only stored in one system for reasons of the information overview, at least some users will find the software inexpedient for their needs.

If LIMS and ELN are used in the same area, the laboratory staff is always faced with the question of whether the data should be stored in the LIMS or in the ELN. When searching for data, the question arises again and it is then even necessary to search in two systems. This duplication has further consequences.

For example, interfaces to devices or an ERP must be implemented for each system. Project data, resource planning and accounting must also be maintained in two ways. Reporting on a project with data from two systems is not efficient. As a consequence, the elementary is dispensed with and the media break between LIMS and ELN leads to a loss of information. This results in untapped opportunities.

The solution

Software is always perceived as good by users when it is able to map the work processes. If you start from the LIMS and ELN systems, there are basically two ways in which the real laboratory processes can be mapped. LIMS and ELN are either linked or integrated (see box for explanation of terms).

Table 1 compares the properties of a software solution when LIMS and ELN are either integrated or linked. If the laboratory processes are mapped in an integrated LIMS-ELN solution, the knowledge can also be documented across processes. If information is sought in this solution, it is automatically presented in the correct context. In a linked LIMS-ELN solution, the context of information can only be recognized through additional search activities, since the information can in principle lie in two systems.

Due to the more difficult access to information, it is more difficult in the linked solution to gain a complete information overview of the facts than in the integrated one. The entire sample and experiment overhead such as project management, resource planning and accounting must be done twice with linked LIMS and ELN or otherwise in a third third-party solution. The duplication also arises with interfaces such as to devices or an ERP.

If a linked LIMS-ELN system is to be used in the GxP environment, the qualification costs also increase considerably compared to an integrated solution.

When purchasing a new ELN or LIMS in an environment in which the other candidate is already present, a careful cost estimate must be made. The procurement of an integrated ELN-LIMS will be the more economical solution in this situation. At the second ELN annual forum in June 2005 in Munich, AAC Infotray AG was the first software house to present an integrated LIMS-ELN solution.

The product is characterized by high flexibility. Sample data can be displayed directly with the experiment or experiment data with the samples. The product also enables a sample to be processed at any time with only LIMS functionality or, on the other hand, to carry out an experiment without any reference to LIMS samples. Thanks to the integrated approach, the information can be found in the right place and always in the right context. With the data storage adapted to the process step on the one hand and the free access to the data on the other, the barriers between LIMS and ELN fall.

Examples of integrated solutions

An R&D laboratory carries out experiments as part of projects. The logs are written in the ELN. The results are encouraging and the project manager would like to carry out a small-scale production of a product. The batch results are documented in the integrated LIMS. The samples are assigned to the research project mentioned. If the project manager loads all the data of the project, he will find the experiment reports and the results with the SOPs used for the samples produced. The integrated Limsophy solution gives the project manager all information in the right context.

The second example is the use of Limsophy as an ERP for the service laboratory. In addition to classic analytics, the laboratory also offers inspections and audits. It can happen that orders consist only of analytics, only of audits, or of both. In the latter case, the user uses the integrated Limsophy solution to receive the report at the push of a button. The report that is written in the ELN, for example, automatically integrates the associated sample reports at the desired location. It goes without saying that the entire order can also be invoiced automatically.

* Dr. K. Ehrensberger, AAC Infotray AG, 8406Winterthur / Switzerland

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