Axel Lab Transforms from Primitive Notebook to iLab's Advanced Web-Based Lab Management Tool

Research Lab Profile

The Richard Axel Lab of Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Columbia University has 29 researchers, including post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, research specialists and research technicians. The lab faced significant challenges in ordering, organizing, and tracking spending on research reagents.

Situation

The Richard Axel Lab of HHMI and Columbia University has 29 researchers, including post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, research specialists and research technicians. The lab faced significant challenges in ordering, organizing, and tracking spending on research reagents.

Prior to the adoption of the iLab platform, the Axel Lab relied on a notebook to track all lab orders and inventory. Although most items were ordered through an institutional procurement system, this system did not extend to the individual lab members who actually needed the products. In order to place an order, researchers hand-wrote information such as vendor name, price, and date of order. “It was very time consuming because every time someone placed an order, the researcher had to rewrite the information. People were always complaining that it took too long,” said Adriana Nemes, the lab manager. Moreover, this system also made it difficult for the lab to track spending and adhere to budgets. “It is very important to pace my spending so that there will be enough money for research. Before iLab, I would just add by hand from the notebook,” Nemes said.

Among the key challenges the Axel Lab faced were:

  • Wasted time on searching products and filling out request forms;
  • Mistaken orders due to illegible handwriting or missing information;
  • Duplicate orders across different lab members;
  • Research delays or spoiled products because of difficulty in identifying the proper recipient for items delivered to the lab;
  • Difficulty in tracking lab spending.

Solution

In 2008, the Axel Lab adopted iLab Solutions’ lab management module, transforming their primitive notebook method to an advanced web-based tool. This software is delivered as a web-based service, with all software, server management, and customer support provided by iLab. The key pieces of functionality for the Axel lab included:

  • A centralized, web-based “shopping cart” available to all lab members, including technicians, students, and post-docs, with the ability to leave product reviews, negotiated discounts, and “favorites”;
  • Orders and variable approval processes depending on the cost of the order;
  • Real-time, dynamic spend tracking, including the ability to view spending by lab member, vendor, product type, date, and other dimensions;
  • Inventory management, including location tracking, expiry dates, file attachments, and other flexible metadata on each item in inventory.

Benefits

The Axel Lab saw several primary benefits after implementing the iLab system:

  • Reduced spending on consumables – Survey results from across the Axel Lab indicate that the average lab member avoids 1.75 unnecessary orders per month thanks to iLab, primarily because researchers find that a colleague has recently ordered the product that they need. “iLab has made it very easy to flag different orders, find the right product, and find out who ordered what,” said Nemes. Given that the average order size, even for small orders, is over $50, this translates into over $2,500 per month in savings across the lab, or more than $30,000 per year that can be reinvested in research. (Figure 1)
  • Time savings – In surveys, Axel Lab members described a dramatic reduction in the amount of times it takes to find and place product requests with iLab. The average lab member indicated that she saved more than 9 hours per month, for a total savings of more than 3,000 hours per year across the lab. “Everyone in the lab likes it and we think it is an improvement in our life,” said Nemes. (Figure 2)
  • Increased Transparency: “iLab gives me reports of who spent what,” said Nemes. “It is very important to get weekly, monthly, yearly spending reports and I can do that and more with iLab.”
  • Improved inventory management – Thanks to iLab, Nemes explained that the Axel Lab has transferred records from folders and boxes containing maps of different reagents and samples to a central, searchable electronic platform: “Now everything is in iLab. I keep our mouse collection, plasmid collection, virus collection, and cell line collection. It is now easier to see and access all this information.”

Figure 1:

Figure 2: