KMWorld Magazine has a nice overview of electronic lab notebooks in the June 2006 issue from David Raths, Scientists take a closer look at ELNs:
Despite the range of sophisticated software in use in the pharmaceutical industry, it may be surprising to many people that the vast majority of research scientists still record their experiments the same way Leonardo da Vinci did hundreds of years ago--by scribbling the results in a paper notebook they carry around with them.
Electronic lab notebook (ELN) software, which lets scientists access, search and share results of their experiments, has been available for more than 10 years, but due to legal, technological and especially cultural issues, the transition from paper notebooks to ELNs has been slow, with several well-publicized failed implementation attempts along the way.
Of course, pharma isn't the only industry in which ELNs apply, but it is an industry that happens to be loaded with regulation. ELNs were coming to the fore just as the rules on electronic records & signatures were coming into force for the pharma world (21 CFR Part 11). Along with many of the other legal and cultural issues, it's taken a while for ELNs to gain adoption.
I like that the author talks about the large cultural change associated with moving to electronic notebooks. In most industries, a scientist's notebook is the place where she records everything from new ideas to mundane experiments to half baked solutions. Scientists treat these books as "theirs," even though they know the books belong to the company. Generally, the paper notebooks are not seen by anyone other than the scientist's supervisor - and even then it's the version that has been "clean up." Shifting to an electronic medium changes much of this interaction, starting with the potential viewership of the notebooks. This is a good thing for the company, assuming people make use of what they see, but culturally scientists are not comfortable with the idea.
During my days in the industry, I was a part of the Collaborative Electronic Notebook Systems Association (CENSA), which was instrumental in bringing together users (companies) and vendors and in setting standards around how these kinds of systems should work and how they should inter-operate with other lab-based systems. Most of the big pharma companies were represented, as well as a number of larger chemical companies.