Near the close of 2012, I summarized the 9 reasons why I felt SAP should be integrated with ELNs. Three years later, here’s my take on why this integration is now a necessity.
The R&D silo is history: gone are the days when R&D worked alone in a corner and their work was isolated from the rest of the enterprise. Today R&D is a committed partner in the value chain, with whom colleagues expect to share both work processes and the data they need.
Recent research has highlighted this again, with respondents indicating that their biggest obstacle in their day to day role in laboratory informatics was integration of other non- informatics software systems1.
Key in my view, this exchange of information has been the essential trend over the last few years and its why integrating core R&D software such as the ELN with core Enterprise Systems like SAP is crucial. If productivity gains are the objective when you’re installing either of these core systems, you’ve got to consider the benefits of being able to integrate these two core systems. I’ll summarise the integration benefits here:
1. Knowledge sharing – from R&D to the Enterprise: to streamline the handover between R&D and the functions that succeed it. Information that used to be locked in separate databases can be automatically available to colleagues outside R&D who depend on it. For example, this could be Process Development who wants to review potential process variables for optimization in the ELN.
2. Knowledge sharing – from the Enterprise to R&D: although the benefits may not be as obvious as sharing data from R&D, this is one area where R&D groups can leverage enterprise resources to gain time. Examples include:
- Integration of ELN with SAP Finance: R&D is a significant cost center for most organizations and transparency on costs is critical to maximizing the return on investments. A single source of truth that avoids double checking costs in two systems is indispensable. ELNs can provide detailed records of time spent on every R&D project and by integrating these records with Finance; there is a single real-time view of costs to date on each project.
- Integration of ELN with SAP ERP (compliance): although R&D utilizes specific equipment and instruments, they are subject to the same compliance guidelines as full scale production equipment and instruments, for example with scheduled maintenance, calibration etc. R&D Equipment that is out of compliance is a costly write off of work done on it. SAP can anticipate and alert busy R&D colleagues to upcoming compliance issues. This compliance gain is also possible if enterprise documentation is shared, for example with the latest versions of MSDS documentation.
- Integration of ELN with SAP ERP (strategic sourcing): R&D explores new raw materials, which inevitably could have a significant impact on cost of goods or ease of procurement. Sharing knowledge on existing suppliers or materials that the enterprise has already validated can be a means to optimize the cost of goods for new products and build in a Right First Time approach within NPD.
3. Minimizing the number of systems to be managed: there are typically three systems used along the path from R&D to QC to Manufacturing: ELN, LIMS and ERP (e.g. SAP). However, a growing number of organisations are looking at completely eliminating the LIMS system by replacing it with the Quality Management module of SAP, integrated with the ELN.
4. Standardizing processes, and getting the most from these two core systems: one of the qualitative benefits of working with core systems like ELNs and SAP is being able to standardize best practices and processes along the value chain. A common corporate standard can also be applied across different sites by using ELN & SAP systems. A couple of examples:
- ELNs provide templates for experiments that can be pre-populated to save time, and ensure completeness and set up scientific data so it can rapidly searched. SAP also works with standardized formats for each of its modules. Data in both is standardized, and also legible in the case of R&D!
- Workflows to automate experiment signing and witnessing are a key benefit of ELNs, just as SAP works with defined processes. Being able to integrate ELN with SAP also means faster execution of shared processes.
- Both are global tools i.e. 24/7 availability of data and documents to colleagues in teams at any site.
So, in conclusion, today’s competitive market demands that we simplify and integrate so that we can work faster and easier. ELNs and systems like SAP are core tools to do this and integrating the two of them seems to me the obvious target.
1 IQPC Publication: “2015 Laboratory Data Knowledge Management Report”