Sign Up
8 min read

Best Electronic Lab Notebooks of 2020

Featured Image

The COVID-19 pandemic induced slow down is a great opportunity to switch to an electronic lab notebook (ELN) to increase your lab productivity.  Instead of logging bench time, your idle hands can instead tackle big picture issues that might normally get ignored. Gaining a fresh perspective on your processes is often an overlooked way to achieve future gains in your lab productivity. Nothing is more critical to your team success than processes used to capture the research data it processes.   

Choosing The Best Electronic Notebooks for your lab

We have all experienced the myriad of challenges with using old-fashioned paper lab notebooks. As research has become increasingly digital, the laboratory notebooks became one component of a laboratory information management system that also include nebulae of data files on desktop computers, shared drives, and cloud storage. Eventually, people get tired of the outdated paper notebook format. They’re tedious to write in, difficult to read, impossible to search, incapable of storing digital data, and easy to spill coffee on.

At some point, people may be tempted to replace the paper notebooks with various Word documents or Wiki pages; but none of these approaches meet the requirements of electronic laboratory notebooks. In order to facilitate your successful adoption of a cloud-based solution to data management, we reviewed the ELN solutions on the market in 2020. Here, we review the top 5 electronic lab notebook (ELN) solutions.

ELN vendors promise a number of benefits associated with the use of their products:

  1. Enhanced productivity and efficiency
  2. Increased organization
  3. Greater collaboration 
  4. Fewer sources of error or ambiguity 
  5. More repeatable, reproducible research

After deciding to transition from physical paper to digital documentation in your lab, one encounters a new issue: option overload. It is particularly challenging to test an ELN solution, as the value of these products and their limitations only become apparent after they have been used for some time. Selecting the wrong tool can derail research instead of enhancing it. Therefore, selecting the correct ELN solution is a critical decision. 

Unfortunately, this decision isn’t quick or simple. A plethora of ELNs exists with various specialties and organizational strategies. The size and structure of your team along with the complexity of the projects you contribute to may guide you in one direction or another.  

Integrations with specific apps like DNA sequence visualization or drawing chemical molecular structures may also influence your choice. The regulatory environment in which you operate is another factor to consider.  

In order to achieve the best results possible, it’s worth taking the time to do some comparison shopping before adopting an ELN. To assist in your decision, we have thoughtfully reviewed the marketplace and identified the top 5 ELN software solutions along with 3 runner ups. 

  • eLabJournal
  • BIOVIA
  • SciNote
  • LabGuru
  • Benchling

Which features do you need for your ELN? See the whole chart here.

 

Overview of the best ELNs. Overview of the features available in the best five ELNs.

 

 

eLabJournal

eLabJournal is a software product developed by Bio-ITech, a dutch software company. It offers a comprehensive electronic lab notebook that can be expanded to a laboratory information management system. Eppendorf acquired Bio-ITech in 2017.

The eLabJournal entry-level solutions are three public-cloud plans classroom, academic, and industry ranging from $3.55 to $35.95 per user per month for up to 50 team members.  Private cloud hosting and on-premise installations are also available. 

They boast compatibility with Microsoft Excel, making it easy to upload and analyze data from your experiments. You can even sync and add files to the experiment section of your ELN with your mobile device. They also provide 20GB of storage with each plan per user and offer expanded plans for larger groups. Daily back-ups, experiment timelines, and sample tracking are all available as well.    

They have extensive multi-user sharing features available, so sharing with collaborators across the world is a breeze. PIs and project managers have easy access to seeing the progress made by their team, which is also made available on a mobile device. 

Despite offering extensive sharing and oversight features, they do not compromise on security features. They offer electronic signatures, counter-signatures, two-step identification verification, and various other features that seek to preserve the confidentiality of your study.

Every change within their ELN is followed by a full audit trail, leading to extremely efficient accountability. Their compliance features, general stability, and respectability seem to set them apart from others that offer similar products: making them a solid choice for your organization. 

eLabJournal operates out of three geographical locations on three continents, making them accessible to all in times of potential crisis. To top it off, their customer account managers all have backgrounds in life sciences, making them quite efficient at resolving potential sources of confusion.

BIOVIA

BIOVIA is a software company based in the USA but has a presence in Europe and Asia. BIOVIA acquired Contur Software AB in 2011 and rebranded its ELN product. This ELN is part of a much larger offering of applications supporting the life cycles research and development projects. 

Since it is not possible to access their blog posts without creating an account, it can be challenging to get product information from the website. However,  they regularly provide product demonstrations in very informative webinars. 

They recommend their services for organizations of all sizes. They offer a hybrid cloud approach, hosted with Amazon Web Services. Like many others available, their online ELN syncs with an on-premise integration. The ELN fits in seamlessly with its online workflow management system tools.

This product is compatible with Windows and Mac. Its interface is depicted intuitively for all using hierarchical flow charts to show the workflow stages during your experiment, follow-up communication, and data analysis. They also offer cool visualization features (BIOVIA Draw, MarvinSketch, ChemDraw, and ISIS Draw). So drawing and storing images of your synthetic chemical structures is a breeze. 

In terms of regulatory compliance, the product provides timed digital signatures and counter-signatures as a part of their workflow experience. It is also 21 CFR section 11 compliant, making them a great option to automate your processes and accelerate your workflow while exceeding FDA compliance regulations.

SciNote

SciNote is an open-source ELN originally developed by a team in Slovenia. The company is now headquartered in Wisconsin and is a joint venture between BioSistemika LLC and Gilson Inc

They offer academic and corporate plans allowing users to choose between a private cloud or on-premise deployment options. A free plan allows a single user to manage unlimited items in one inventory per user and 1 GB of free storage. They have three other pricing tiers geared towards single teams or slews of teams within a major organization.

SciNote has a project-centric approach to record-keeping. It helps users to describe their projects using a hierarchy – from the project all the way to individual tasks. 

In some ways, SciNote can be regarded as a workflow management system. It keeps track of the tasks completed by different people and generates reports on demand. The platform also includes an intriguing add-on to assist in writing manuscripts by automating the process of pulling data from the system. 

Most notably, SciNote also enables audit trails and electronic signatures as a part of its 21 CFR Part 11 add-on within the Industry license. SciNote is also GDPR, GLP & GMP Compliant and provides immediate data encryption during collection. 

Their suite of audit trails and regulatory compliance makes them another attractive option to customers. 

LabGuru

Founded in Israel in 2011, LabGuru has been a major player in the electronic lab notebook industry for some time. They offer a secure, cloud-based ELN with more than the normal suite of ELN tools. 

LabGuru hosts a suite of the typical services offered from ELNs, but have optimized their inventory tracking and budget assistance tools, making them indispensable to CROs. With their budget and inventory tools, they lean closer to a hybrid ELN/LIMS system than a baseline ELN. 

Specifically, they have implemented smart coding and barcoding, which syncs with your ELN and lab inventory easily. As a result, you’re able to search for data and reagents quickly as needed. 

They also have a strong application programming interface, making it easy to connect and analyze data from various other software applications. 

Like the other leading ELNs on the market, LabGuru has been optimized for global collaboration and regulatory compliance. Users can access your profile from any device without issue. They offer advanced editor features for drawing and storing chemical structures, editing text, tables, or sketches. 

Benchling

Benchling is the most recent ELN products. This San Francisco-based startup has produced a sleek and stylish product. Funded in 2012, it has received more than $60 M in funding so far. 

In a market where a lot of players seem to have received limited attention, Benchling has become a rock star in academia. It is widely praised by innumerable academic institutions, especially for its molecular biology geared tools. The fact that Benchling offers a free hosting plans for Academics probably helps. 

Benchling's success doesn't end in academia though. Many biotechnology companies also utilize the upgraded versions to great success. Reviewers cite the ease of collaboration, compliance, sleek design, and inventory management as the main features that incite such a following.

There is an abundance of features available that most people love, but some reviewers have said that the options can feel slightly redundant.

Overall, Benchling consists of a suite of software solutions, including a lab notebook, but the tight integrations between the different modules make it more than an ELN. A very distinctive feature of Benchling is the abundance of bioinformatics tools that are embedded in the system. Specifically, they have CRISPR design guides, primer design guides, and sequence alignment tools deeply integrated with their ELN product.

They also have add-ons that provide LIMS features and workflow solutions.

Other ELNs to consider

RSpace, LabFolders, and LabArchives are document management solutions positioned as Electronic Laboratory Notebooks. They may be suited to large deployments involving groups working in different disciplines.