Information: Laboratory informatics tools Building a Smart Laboratory 2017

the evolution of the personal computer. Te fourth generation emerged as the internet and wireless connectivity developed, offering opportunities to extend the reach of LIMS beyond the confines of the laboratory. As LIMS products were increasingly

adopted by laboratories, three specific additional requirements gradually became apparent. Firstly, there was a need to transfer data from laboratory instruments directly to the LIMS, to avoid transcription errors; secondly, the need to manage the instrument data files from which data stored in the LIMS was derived; and thirdly, the need to handle unstructured data, graphical data, and to

“ The ELN market has grown and developed rapidly over the past decade”

collate sample data. Tese requirements led to the development of scientific data management systems (SDMS) and electronic laboratory notebooks (ELNs). Functionally, the LIMS products have become increasingly sophisticated, to the point that the dividing line between LIMS and other informatics products has become less clear. Te ELN market has grown and

developed rapidly over the past decade, it still exhibits some instability with a large number of vendors (there are more than 30 purveyors of products that purport to be an ELN) competing for market share. As a consequence, the market suffers from some degree of ‘hype’ (see Figure 4). Just where ELNs sit on the Gartner Hype is probably somewhere around


the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’, although individual vendors may occupy positions either side of this point. Te ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ can be considered as the turning point past the hype and when the focus is on delivering true benefit. Chemistry-based and generic ELNs are probably already beyond this point, as indeed are the majority of LIMS products. Commercial ELNs have evolved from two

approaches: discipline-specific; and generic. Generic soſtware provides the architecture and tools to create and search content, and to work collaboratively in a way that satisfies the needs of almost any science- related industry. Discipline-specific ELNs are aimed at a particular market segment, such as chemistry, biology, or analytical. Tese systems are usually tailored to work with other discipline-specific soſtware


Technology trigger


of inflated expectations

Trough of disillusionment Maturity

Technology trigger: The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the ‘technology trigger’ or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant interest.

Peak of inflated expectations: In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

Trough of disillusionment: Technologies enter the ‘trough of disillusionment’ because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

Slope of enlightenment: Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

Plateau of productivity: A technology reaches the ‘plateau of productivity’ as its benefits become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market. Slope of enlightenment

Plateau of productivity

tools. Most of the commercial ELNs offer a combination of generic and discipline- specific functionality. Te initial evolution of the ELN market

was centred on the provision of functionality to support small-molecule chemistry. Most of the experimental processes associated with synthetic chemistry are well established, reasonably consistent, and are well supported by desktop soſtware tools. Integrating these functions into an ELN that can create, manage and store a full experimental record was a logical progression. As a consequence, chemistry-based ELNs are well established and exhibit a good deal of maturity. If there is segmentation in this part of the market, it is determined to some extent by the origins and scope of the available products. Some, for example, will be an enterprise- wide solution, others will focus on utility and personal productivity, while others will provide a generic ELN capability that integrates third-party soſtware tools.

Fig. 4: The Gartner Hype Cycles Visibility

Biology, however, has presented a bigger

challenge to the ELN vendors. Te diverse and complex nature of biological processes and outcomes creates a need to capture not just the data, but also the interrelationships between the data. Tis, coupled with a diverse portfolio of biology-specific soſtware tools, begs the question: do biologists just need a generic ELN that will integrate with their existing soſtware tools, or do they need a complete suite of functionality that is embedded in the ELN? Te issue for the biologists is whether there is a commercial ELN that addresses their specific and diverse requirements. Furthermore, for those companies that need to support chemists and biologists, the question is whether it is possible to find a single vendor solution that addresses the requirements of both disciplines, or whether to choose the best of breed for each discipline. Within the past two or three years, another ELN domain has emerged, that

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