Innovators in the R&D environment are expanding their efforts worldwide, with a recent R&D Trends Forecast report showing that the trend towards an increasingly globalized R&D approach is set to continue. Organizations work in multiple locations across the world, but their successful function relies on tight communication and a collaborative culture. Many R&D organizations are expected to collaborate externally, for example with universities and government labs, but often without experience of optimizing their own internal collaboration practices across sites.
A key trend is the rate of increase of R&D investment, technological advances, and research output and outreach in developing nations compared to developed nations. As these countries catch up, it will present more collaboration opportunities within and between organizations. The market is reaching a point where technological developments are allowing organizations to realize these opportunities, but some challenges remain. Reluctance to adopt new technologies to facilitate a collaborative environment exists within R&D, whether due to security concerns or hesitancy to share knowledge.
New sophisticated collaboration tools, such as cloud-based knowledge management solutions, address some of these challenges by making it simpler for organizations to communicate and share information across numerous sites, in various geographies. The use of Electronic Laboratory Notebooks (ELNs) is on the rise in R&D laboratories in a range of industries, encouraging the standardized input of data and improving the coordination of experimental activity. Innovative technologies such as this will help produce more connected, efficient and insightful R&D collaborations between an organization’s multiple locations, ultimately unifying research outcomes and progressing development faster.
Collaboration in practice
Regardless of an R&D organization’s size, cloud-based collaboration tools will benefit laboratory running and output. One early stage biotechnology company has seen the advantages of utilizing a real-time, collaborative environment for its researchers working across four different sites, in three continents. As an early-stage biotechnology company focusing its efforts on solving human health and agriculture challenges, streamlining communication and aligning research actions is vital. Integrating a cloud-based knowledge management framework has halved the time taken to complete key tasks, in the field and in the laboratory.
One of the company’s primary research interests is combating a disease called ‘citrus greening’, a devastating bacterial disease affecting the major citrus-producing geographies around the world. The company is working on a solution to target the plants immune response to infection, to ultimately modulate that response using a unique technology platform. This research means the company must be able to operate a lab in the environment where citrus greening disease originates, such as tropical climates. Whereas its molecular analysis would take place at its headquarters in an entirely different continent. Therefore, the need for a virtual, real-time tool to coordinate the research activity across decentralized international sites is vital.
Benefits of research coordination
There are numerous advantages of implementing a cloud-based collaboration solution, including better communication between members of staff, higher participation levels, improved access to larger files, and real-time updating. This last point is particularly useful for the example above, as each member of the project team can be updated as and when results come in. Similarly, upon design and approval, the experimental standard operating protocol (SOP) is uploaded onto the cloud-based system, and executed from there. This provides an overview of when actions were completed and when samples were taken, so experiments can be easily associated with results for complete transparency across sites.
In practice, one researcher can run a gel or a QPCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction), while another researcher in another location studies the phenotype of a plant. Information on both steps is exchanged and stored in the same hierarchy as a milestone experiment in the system. The application is web-based, so users can log in from growth rooms, greenhouses and molecular labs alike. A gel can be run in one lab and it will be seen remotely from another lab, and samples can be taken in the molecular lab and collaborators will be immediately alerted in the field lab. A comment on an action can be posted in one location and immediately seen in other. This degree of communication and coordination is hugely beneficial to R&D organizations, and many sophisticated collaboration tools allow users to “tag” specific areas of a document for comments which are delivered in real-time to the viewers.
The future of collaborative knowledge management
Cloud-based R&D collaboration tools vastly improve laboratory efficiency. When bottleneck tasks are handled through such systems, important timesavings can be made, by completing the tasks themselves and also on communicating when these tasks have been completed. Solutions such as ELNs also help R&D organizations maintain an audit trail across sites and, as a single software tool, it meets a multitude of collaboration requirements instead of relying on numerous tools. Companies across the globe are now taking their research to the next level by unifying their laboratories, in real-time.
About the author:
Steve Yemm is CEO at BioData, a Digital Science company providing lab informatics products—including Electronic Lab Notebook, Lab Inventory, Chemical Registration and Biological Screening solutions—to biopharmaceutical and academic life sciences organisations in addition to other science based industries. The company’s solutions are powered by Labguru, a web- and cloud-based informatics platform. Prior to this, Steve held the position of Vice President of Sales at BioData and Digital Science and has over 20 years of experience selling and marketing solutions (software, services and automation systems) to science based companies. To learn more about Labguru, BioData’s cloud-based lab management solutions visit www.labguru.com.