Experience of electronic lab notebook systems?

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f95toli
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I was wondering if someone has any experience of using a "large-scale" ELN system for experimental physics (mainly)?
That is, ELNs that are used throughout an organisation to ensure compliance, proper handover etc

Where I work there is now a discussion about buying a site-wide ELN to replace the current mix of paper, OneNote, Word docs etc.
I am in favour if the general idea, but am a bit nervous about ending up with a system everyone then have to use (the place where I work has a very mixed track record when it comes to buying IT systems)

The Gurdon institue maintains a list of ELN, most of them seem to be aimed a chemistry/biotech.
https://www.gurdon.cam.ac.uk/institute-life/computing/elnguidance

Has anyone used an ELN system for physics/engineers research?
 

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I've used homegrown (or at least heavily customized) ELNs for decades. Experience is mixed, but I think this is more an issue with collaboration culture than the tool per se. In one experiment, the culture is "as soon as something unusual happens, write it down". In the other, it's "only write it down once it's understood". I found the first one much more useful - people would be reading it at all hours and used to for communication as well. For example, a comment might appear "The same thing happened three weeks ago, but it went away on its own before we could figure it out".

`The second tool was certainly heavier. An entry was a more formal thing, it could not ever be adjusted (the first let you highlight past postings and comment on them), and it sent email to the entire collaboration whenever an entry was made. So people tended to "consolidate" entries, which was the experiment's culture anyway.

Compatibility per se was not an issue, as everything was browser-based. They heavier system supported all attachments (the first supported text and screenshots) so one could always attach something in an oddball format that someone else couldn't open.
 
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We used Lotus Notes (now called HCL Domino) at work. Notes allowed you to collaborate with email and maintain shared documents that could be edited by whoever had permission.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HCL_Domino

The problem is in the organization of documents because after awhile you collect so many that you can get lost in the mix. Document management then becomes an issue determining which are active/valid and which have been obsoleted.

ISO9000 was an attempt to create an organized set of documents on company/lab procedures that were reviewed and updated annually. If followed it might manage the organizational mess but people hated the process in general as yet one more thing that had to be done.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_9000

Another approach is to use a source code management system like GitLab where you can create projects for code and docs and you can create wiki pages. Everything will have tracking so you know who edited what document, when they did it, and if provided why they did it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GitLab

One nice feature of GitLab is the use of markdown format for documents. Markdown is a simple formatting scheme that can be updated using any ASCII text editor (vi, emacs, notepad...). This means that you aren't dependent on any particular word processor. It also means that your formatting choices are more limited and so you have consistent looking documentation.

There are several major word processors: MS Word, MacOS Pages, Open Office, and Libre Office

People will use their personal favorite unless forced to use the corporate chosen one in creating their documents. While you can use one word processor to import another word processor's document, it doesn't always work out well as formatting can be broken in the switch and hard to fix later on.

I once tried to maintain a document in Open Office while reviewers were using MS Word as I merged changes formatting started to breakdown and I had to eventually create a whole new reformatted document in MS Word and abandon Open Office. Needless to say, it was quite time consuming and painful.
 
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f95toli
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People will use their personal favorite unless forced to use the corporate chosen one in creating their documents. While you can use one word processor to import another word processor's document, it doesn't always work out well as formatting can be broken in the switch and hard to fix later on.

Indeed, at the moment people are using a variety of solution (including paper) but that is causing more and more problems and the experiments become more complicated and the amount of data (of many different formats) increases. Handover is also a major headache when people leave.

The idea that being discussed is to have a good ELN that people would have to use . There are "local" rules about documentation but the platform being used varies wildly (i.e. in some groups you have to use OneNote, in others Word etc)
It would also make data management compliance much easier, which is becoming increasingly important even for grant funded work .
 
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At the most basic level is you could force people to publish as Adobe PDF file format for all docs. It prevents docs from being changed (not strictly true) and everyone can read them.
 

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