eRecordManager is designed to meet the unique requirements for storing and sharing analytical data
In February 2001, Thermo LabSystems announced its acquisition of spectroscopy software specialist Galactic Industries Corp. This has resulted in the recent launch of a new product for electronic record-keeping and knowledge management --

eRecordManagerT, which can offer many benefits to the coatings industry.

As laboratory throughput increases, the volume and variety of data generated is growing exponentially, putting pressure on science-based organizations to manage analytical data more effectively. The major challenge to lab managers is the long-term, secure storage of the raw data, method details, and results that accumulate. Providing the means to easily search, explore and retrieve, and share any piece of data for inspection, visualization, and manipulation becomes the next hurdle, and is where the real commercial benefits and competitive advantages lie. Such challenges can be almost insurmountable in laboratories where there are various types of instruments, data systems and file formats from many different manufacturers. eRecordManager has been developed to relieve this burden.

eRecordManager is a solution for the management of electronic records. The 'eRecord' aspect refers to 'electronic records,' their secure archiving and the ability to retrieve records in the future. The 'Manager' aspect refers to knowledge management and the ability to share this information across the organization.

Much of an organization's analytical data is required to be stored for a lengthy period of time to be used as evidence in potential patent infringement or intellectual property protection cases. eRecordManager meets the requirement for long-term secure storage of spectral and chromatographic data from multiple types of instrumentation (such as FT-IR, GC, LC, MS, NMR, UV-Vis, Raman, NIR) and multiple data formats, while eliminating the reliance on the original instrument software, operating system and hardware to search, restore, view, and manipulate the data. In fact, the system can store any entity that can be captured as a 'file,' including optical and electron microscopy pictures and X-ray data obtained from the electron microscope. The issue is whether the data requires translation in order to be viewed. If an image is a JPG, PNG or GIF then it can be viewed on almost any software, therefore it could be retrieved from the eRecordManager archive and viewed locally. As the eRecordManager product and the data archival software market evolves, it is anticipated that viewers will be developed for many other platform-neutral formats, including images and PDF documents.

Data that was created 10 years ago might still be needed in 10-15 years' time to resolve questions of product liability or regulatory compliance. Imagine the headache of archiving so many data file formats and keeping them easily accessible to search and restore. With eRecordManager, lab managers are no longer required to retain legacy, or obsolete, computer and software systems so they can access the archive of proprietary, often binary, data file formats.

eRecordManager showing retrieving data from Atlas chromatography data system.

Knowledge Management

Spectra and chromatograms are the fundamental providers of data upon which calculated results and subsequent conclusions are based. Putting this data into one place in a common format provides the ability to data-mine, compare and visualize instrument data that is so vital in improving R&D productivity.

The ability to easily access data from throughout the organization also aids the development of new ways of analyzing samples and predictive models that are impossible when the data is scattered across the company in individual instrument workstations. Access to past research avoids redundancies such as the repeating of work on identical compounds. eRecordManager helps organizations to improve efficiency by providing a structured central repository of knowledge.

This is possible because of eRecordManager's library of over 150 file converters that automatically generate XML versions of the original data. The archived information can be viewed and reworked on nearly any platform long into the future, effectively future-proofing a customer's data.

Why has Thermo LabSystems adopted XML as its converted file format? XML (eXtensible Markup Language) has become the standard format for data storage and exchange, mainly because it allows the accurate representation of any data structure. Such acceptance ensures XML will predominate for many years to come, regardless of the evolution of operating systems and computer hardware. XML files are ASCII text-based and therefore retain the 'knowledge' in the data. Many large organizations -- each with much more at stake than Thermo LabSystems -- have made significant commitments to XML.

There are many aspects in favor of XML, including the following.

  • It is publicly available; managed by the not-for-profit World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

  • Being both self-describing and open ASCII text, XML-based files are essentially 'future proof.'

  • Public-domain schema for specific data types are used to guide its use and against which documents can be externally validated.

    eRecordManager archives both the original raw data files from the instrument software and the normalized representation in XML. Users with access to the archives can view the normalized version of the data from any workstation. In addition, the XML or the original data files can be retrieved for use with other software applications, though the latter relies on the original software and hardware being available.

    Real Access to the Real Data

    Due to the archival of XML-based files, Thermo LabSystems claims eRecordManager is unique in terms of its ability to free so many types of data files from the software applications that created them and to make them available for viewing and manipulation.

    Using any workstation, the user is able to view the real data as acquired by the instrument, including 2-D and 3-D representations of complex data structures such as FT-IR and LCMS. eRecordManager allows the user to view right down to the individual XY data points of a trace as they came off the detector. For example, it is possible to expand the signal to see precisely where the original chromatography data system positioned the baseline and peak characteristics. Such detail is imperceptible from a picture saved as a PDF or Windows Metafile, where expansion would merely 'thicken the curve.'

    Thermo LabSystems contests that conventional data archiving systems only allow the restoration of data into the original data system application, or as a 'picture' of a report that, in fact, only provides half the story.

    Organizations that rely on the archiving of a graphical representation of a final report would be advised to consider its limits. The content of their archived file is restricted to that data the scientist included in their report. What if a colleague wishes to view other information not incorporated in the report? Furthermore, the ability this type of picture file presents to view, rework or manipulate the real data is extremely limited.

    A further problem with relying on mechanisms such as Windows Metafiles is that the same fonts and symbol sets must be available on both the original workstation where the image was created and the workstation where it is viewed. Unlike systems that rely on uniformity in computing environments, application-independent data archived by eRecordManager is complete and self describing, ensuring that the electronic record will not 'change' when it is viewed on different workstations. This is clearly a pre-requisite for any system needing to be relied upon during patent litigation.


    Thermo LabSystems' acquisition of Galactic Industries has resulted in the launch of a powerful single integrated application that looks set to position Thermo LabSystems as a formidable player in the electronic record management software sector. eRecordManager enables data-mining, viewing and comparison of data across the enterprise with no reliance on the original instrument data system to allow customers to benefit from genuine knowledge management.

    For more information on electronic records management, call Thermo LabSystems, phone 888/888.8173; e-mail; or Circle Number 87.