The Electronic Laboratory Notebook Trap

January 02, 2009

An interesting discussion is taking place on the LinkedIn Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) Forum regarding the maturity of the ELN market.

Andrew Lemon of The Edge Software Consultancy starts off:

The ELN market continues to see new vendors enter. Despite some consolidation through acquisition by the larger players, it appears that there is still no clear leader in this market place.

The market is becoming segmented into disciplines such as medicinal chemistry, biology, QA/QC, etc, together with generic ELN offerings.

Lets take a mature segment such as Medicinal Chemistry as an example, do you think there is a clear winner in this area?

It appears that whilst the larger suppliers seem to account for most of the top pharmaceutical companies there is an apparent even split across the top 3 ELN solutions.

Whilst I see good solutions to the problems of classical synthesis, solutions for parallel chemistry for example appear to less consistent.

The biology ELN market is at an even earlier stage. There is certainly no clear leader in this area and the real needs are only just emerging as solutions take different approaches to the problem.

It would be great to hear other opinions on the maturity of needs and solutions in across this space.

Here's the response I posted:

Interesting discussion. The importance of the "Who's winning?" question might have something to do with how you view ELN software. Here are some possibilities, but there are no doubt many others:

  1. As a proprietary platform. Think Windows. Winner takes all, driving out all competitors and keeping them out until the next platform materializes. Margins for the winner will be very high, even as the market matures. Innovation will proceed well below potential for fear of fragmenting the market.
  2. As a set of open standards. Think automobiles. Many vendors can co-exists for a long period of time, but margins decrease for most players as the market matures. Innovation will be high for some time, causing frustration with a segment of the market looking for stability.
  3. As a product idea that hasn't yet solidified. Think the Internet in the late 1980s or online advertising in the late 1990s. There are huge opportunities for players that tweak the idea in the right ways. I tend to view the ELN as being in the 3rd category for the simple reason that scientific organizations are still in the early stages of exploring what can be done when each of their scientists can (passively) connect with the activities of every other scientist, in real time, independent of geography and possibly - organization.

Even the term 'Electronic Laboratory Notebook' implies a way of thinking about the concept that may not hold up well over time. To me, this term implies something that does what I'm already doing as a scientist with my paper notebook - just in a new medium. No big deal.

And that may be the trap. Technically speaking, a blog is really nothing more than an 'Electronic Diary'. Its true impact is not technical, but social. The effects are both wide-reaching and extremely difficult to predict.