Pharmaceutical companies are constantly seeking ways to improve efficiency in order to increase productivity, all while speeding up innovation and protecting intellectual property (IP). The use of mobile applications (apps) in the laboratory has been investigated as a means to achieve these goals. By allowing scientists to move freely around the laboratory, mobile apps add value to suboptimal processes requiring non-value-added steps. Why should a scientist have to leave the laboratory to record a procedure in an electronic system located outside the laboratory or manually transcribe notes? In order to be successful, however, an app needs to be designed with scientists in mind, with a focus on tasks that are specific to the execution of work in the laboratory.
Easy data capture
The Accelrys Capture mobile app has a user-friendly interface that was designed with scientists in mind. It runs on small devices like a smartphone or a tablet, which saves space at the bench since a larger laptop or Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) is no longer needed. Scientists just pull out the mobile device from their laboratory coat pocket to access the experiment and enter observations and other experiment-related data right at the laboratory bench. They capture images, record notes and upload these details to the experiment which was previously initiated using their in-office PC residing on a secure server. This information is immediately available to the scientist and any colleagues with permission to access the experiment.
Data can be captured in real time in the laboratory without the need to take handwritten notes that must be transcribed, potentially introducing errors. Likewise, there is less risk of losing valuable intellectual property if a researcher forgets to enter relevant experiment details. Scientists are free to move about the laboratory as they work at the bench without wasting valuable time leaving the lab or lining up at kiosks to use in-lab computers―time that could have been better spent on science.
Currently, whenever scientists want to add visual information to an experiment, they often take a picture with their own smartphone. The picture then gets emailed from a personal email account and added to the experiment information at a later date. This process is highly problematical with no guarantee of data integrity and security.
Using the app and camera feature on a secure mobile device maintains security. Once data are captured, they are linked to the related experiment and can immediately be uploaded to the application server. This means that data doesn’t live on the mobile device, but rather on a secure server. This not only ensures data security and integrity, but also helps to protect valuable IP. And, if a device is lost or stolen, there is a configurable capability to wipe the device clean, further enhancing data security.
Image, voice and handwriting capture
With Accelrys Capture, scientists can use the camera feature on their mobile devices to snap pictures of a sample or an experiment, adding a useful visual element to an otherwise all-text experience. With these images directly linked to the corresponding experiments, scientists can readily reference this important visual information later. Without this capability, this information wouldn’t be available, or it would be difficult to retrieve. The voice capture feature can also be used to record observations, which is vital when it’s impossible for a scientist to take written notes. The handwriting capability allows those scientists who prefer to jot down their notes to continue to do so. Only now, the app transcribes the notes into readable data that can be shared with colleagues, enhancing collaboration.
Per-person, shared or BYOD?
There is an ongoing discussion about whether mobile devices in the laboratory should be used in a per-person, shared or bring-your-own-device (BYOD) environment. Per-person devices are company-supplied smartphones or tablets assigned to and used by one user at a time. Because these devices are company issued and owned, companies can configure the devices with preferred security settings to maintain tight control over device usage and data collection. Like per-person devices, shared devices are also supplied by the company, but are used by multiple users. Shared devices provide some cost savings, but can also result in too few devices for the number of scientists requiring them. Sharing also requires scientists to log-in for every use, while per-person devices allow individual scientists to remain logged in. The BYOD environment allows scientists to access the Accelrys Capture app on their own devices. Although BYOD carries the highest potential data security risk—as companies must ensure that devices can be remotely wiped clean if lost—benefits include the highest cost savings and the fact that scientists can work most efficiently with their own devices because they are familiar with them.
The future of mobile devices in the laboratory
With businesses increasingly turning to electronic initiatives as a way to maximize efficiency, the future of mobile devices in the laboratory is greatly expanding. Wearable devices, such as Google Glass and units worn on the belt or wrist, are piloted as another way to allow scientists to access information hands-free and move around the laboratory more freely. Devices utilizing motion-sensing technology to recognize hand gestures used to access data also show promise, because this technology doesn’t require the scientist to touch the interface, which can risk contamination. Introducing mobile devices in laboratories is a step toward a more productive future, as it enables scientists to familiarize themselves with this rapidly expanding technology.