In a recent article, Jeffrey Phillips discusses which of Porter’s Five Forces drive the need for more innovation and adds one important force – the pace of change. Innovation, Phillips argues, improves the speed of an organization by improving the product development cycle and by generating new ideas more effectively. Organizational speed is vital to survive today’s faster markets, shorter product lifecycles and the decreasing ability to give outdated products/features new life in developing markets.

As this infographic demonstrates, the technology adoption rate by U.S. households has been accelerating:

adoption rates of innovationsInforgraphic by Karl Hartig

The trend continues, as can be seen in this less detailed, but more up-to-date infographic:

technology-adoption-rate-centuryInfographic by Visual News

Technology scouting is a key way to accelerate the product development cycle, adding inspiration, enhancing market understanding, improving process efficiency, reducing risk and even opening access to technology outside the organization’s realm of expertise. There are many departments within an organization that may come into contact with, have an impact on and be impacted by scouting, including marketing, product development, R&D and industrial operations. However, like most other business processes, there are several considerations that organizations must take into account in order to maximize the benefits of tech scouting.

Strategy alignment

Aligning technology scouting with company strategy is vital, both for maximum efficiency and for uncovering the best quality and most pertinent technologies. Organizations should carefully communicate their strategic needs and goals to technology scouts to ensure that the scouts do not waste time and effort pursuing opportunities that are not of interest for the company. There is, after all, a significant difference between scouting for disruptive technologies and for filling short-term gaps in the pipeline. This includes grounding scouting efforts on the requirements of the end users. Ideally, scouts should be able to discuss and collaborate with the R&D and technical teams, gaining a  better understanding of what their needs really are, what they’re committed to developing in-house, etc. By setting their filters correctly, scouts are able to uncover the best intelligence and opportunities out of the plethora that exist.

Want to know more about aligning innovation goals and strategy? Check out this white paper.

Siloed information

The wide dispersion, both in the geographical and the organizational sense, of technology scouts makes accurate and complete information sharing difficult. Even for small teams of scouts, information management poses a problem as a result of the enormous amount of information and details that come with each technology. For many scouts, most of their time is spent attending conferences and tech shows, limiting their opportunities to sync up with fellow scouts or different departments. When information is not kept up-to-date, there is a high risk that efforts will be duplicated and time wasted. Additionally, scouts need to share information with the BD and R&D teams, eventually transferring opportunities to be pursued for licensing or acquisition. Without the ability to efficiently and securely share intelligence, important information and insights may be lost, slowing down the acquisition and integration of the asset and thus, its profitability. Siloed information can be combatted by deploying a unified system that spans departments and maintains a central repository, providing universal access to up-to-date, consistent information.

Learn more about migrating to an integrated information system by checking out this use case.

Sluggish assessment

With technology scouting, assessment typically comes in two phases: first, an initial triage to separate promising opportunities that merit further investigation from those that do not and second, a final evaluation on whether or not to acquire the technology. To avoid an information overload, an effective triage system is crucial. For those opportunities that make the cut, more information should be obtained, for example regarding IP or patents, and internal reviews and collaboration should occur. Expert reviews are especially important during this phase, given the many complex factors that require consideration, such as the business potential, cost of goods, suitability, processing/production requirements and more. However, reviewers are often not decision-makers, making it difficult to get a clear yes/no answer out of them. This is easily avoided by using weighted, multi-criteria evaluations that are, preferably, completed online, eliminating the need for costly and difficult-to-arrange group sessions. Finally, by keeping information centrally, decision-makers are not obliged to spend a significant amount of time gathering up information. Deciding to move from scouting to transaction is an inherently difficult and risky decision, but it is also one of the most important. If the assessment and decision-making process take too much time, organizations might miss the market window or competitors might exploit it first.

To learn more about coordinating reviewers and structuring evaluations to get the job done fast, check out this webinar.

After scouting activities, it’s up to the business development and project teams to acquire the asset, integrate it and make the relationship a success. Next week, we’ll discuss some of the difficulties inherent in technology alliance management and how organizations can overcome them.