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Yum! The alphabet soup of lab data management.

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

6 Laboratory informatics systems – explained.

Like many industries, the industrial laboratory testing market has taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. Yes, we’ve seen headline after headline about COVID-19 lab data challenges and striking innovations, but we’re talking industrial testing here – not clinical. As manufacturing has stalled, the equipment maintenance, environmental, electrical, product certification and other testing that comes with it has also declined. Despite being an $18 billion industry, these testing labs have seen a projected decline of as much as 9.5 percent in 2020. Yowzers.

To combat this drop-off, testing labs are looking to adopt new software solutions to help create efficiency gains and recover some of that loss. Of course… if you start looking into lab data management tools, you find out pretty quickly that:

  • There are lots of them

  • They all have acronyms

  • It’s pretty darn hard to keep them straight

Let us do some of the heavy lifting for you in terms of the alphabet soup. Here’s a quick breakdown of six of the common laboratory software acronyms you’re likely to come across.


Full name: Electronic laboratory notebook

Purpose: In simplest terms, an ELN is a digital tool that replaces the old paper lab notebook. It enables researchers and analysts to record and store much larger volumes of data more conveniently. ELNs also offer additional functionality such as the ability to create templates, standardize workflows, and search for and correlate data. They allow for a lot of personalization by the user and work well in research labs where the data and the processes can be unstructured.


Full name: Laboratory execution system

Purpose: This is getting hairy already. An LES is actually a type of ELN. It’s designed specifically for the QC environment and often used in manufacturing. The purpose of the LES is to ensure consistency in tests with high repeatability and a clearly defined standard operating procedure (SOP – bonus acronym!). An LES records each step of a test and prevents lab technicians from skipping steps or completing tasks out of order. An LES can also assist with real-time standards and compliance checks.


Full name: Laboratory information management system

Purpose: True to its name, a LIMS helps you manage the information of your laboratory. Like the ELN, a LIMS can help optimize your workflows and analyze data. Where it differs is that a LIMS is sample-centric, meaning its primary purpose is to track and analyze large batches of data with visibility into individual samples. As such, its workflow customization is geared toward the sample/testing criteria rather than toward the person. It’s kind of like the LES in that it works well in labs where there is high repeatability like fluid and electrical analysis, food and beverage testing, chemical testing, etc. – commercial and industrial labs, essentially.


Full name: Laboratory information system

Purpose: This one often creeps into the mix but a LIS doesn’t really belong in the industrial testing space, so we’ll just give you a brief explanation. It’s very similar to a LIMS in functionality, but a LIS is best suited for the clinical setting. It’s a patient-centric informatics system designed to securely manage the health information of an individual. You may even be accessing a LIS when you view your strep test results online.


Full name: Chromatography data system

Purpose: Chromatography testing is its own beast, requiring intense specificity and precision, so it’s no surprise that it has its own informatics system. The purpose of a CDS is strictly to manage all data related to chromatography instruments, system suitability, test types and resulting chromatograms. Typically, a CDS will integrate with your LIMS (or LES or ELN) so that further tracking and analysis can happen.


Full name: Scientific data management system

Purpose: An SDMS feels a little like a catch-all because it functions as a document management system (DMS – bonus acronym #2, you’re welcome!). It captures, catalogs and archives data, both from instruments and from other systems like a LIMS or an ELN. The differentiator here is that, unlike some of these other systems, an SDMS is built to handle both structured and unstructured data coming from all different import sources and in all kind of formats. It can assist with data fetches, complex calculations, compliance and security issues, data validation, and more.

It’s 2021! Can’t we just have one platform already?

We know what you’re thinking and you’re right – there is an awful lot of overlap in the functionality of these systems. Can’t the lab software world just get it together and consolidate this stuff? Yes, and no. There is some pretty clever work in the area of customizing these platforms to get more out of them and, perhaps, eventually there will be the one elusive single source of truth for the lab market. However, so much of the work done in testing labs is incredibly nuanced and wrapped in all kinds of security and compliance concerns. In that sense, it really is beneficial to identify the system that best needs meets your needs.

Need help deciding? Give us a shout! We’re always happy to talk through your lab data management needs.

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