Organizational future orientation is build through identifying and interpreting change in the environment and systematically taking action to build a competitive advantage. One tool which we want to discuss today is Technology Scouting.
The general idea of technology scouting is simple: Use a network of experts to scan the technological environment, monitor key technologies and channel the information into the company. On the basis of the information companies might react in different ways:
- assessing the risk from a new and disruptive technology
- planning own research and development (R&D) activities in the new technological field
- preparing the acquisition of the emerging technology by for example licensing, acquiring the Intellectual Property Right (IPR) or buying the company
In all cases the company will have to get additional information, reach out the the source of the initial information and start interacting with the respective organization. Therefore Technology Scouting is a combination of Foresight and Technology Management (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Definition of technology scouting, source: Rohrbeck 2010, p.3
To ensure effective inflow and utilization of insights on emerging technologies the companies build internal and external networks of scouts. These scouts can be internal employees or external consultants. Desired characteristics are lateral thinker, knowledgeable in science and technology, respected inside the company, cross-disciplinary orientated, and imaginative. The scouts serve as central nodes within a network that channel information and create links that can be used to trigger collaborations between partners within the network (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Generic scouting network, source: Rohrbeck 2010, p. 6
The primary difference between an effective and an ineffective scouting network is its ability to create value creating relationships between the participants. Many companies create scouting activities with the expectation that (1) external sources will always be happy to share their insights into emerging technologies or that (2) they just have to pay consultants to search and retrieve the needed information. Often these endeavours end when the company is tired of paying large amounts of money for information that is neither good nor usable to create a competitive advantage.
Another way to organize is shown in figure 3. Here the four primary actors within the scouting network are linked through value adding relationships that create stability. Particularly crucial for long-term sustainability is the relationship between the internal stakeholders, who are the ones that take the actions (e.g. acquire technologies) and the external experts, that supply the information and are eager to engage into joint R&D projects. Figure 3: Value adding relationships in a scouting network, source Rohrbeck 2010, p. 7
For more details read the full article: Rohrbeck, R. 2010. Harnessing a network of experts for competitive advantage – Technology Scouting in the ICT Industry. R & D Management, 40(20): 169-180. (open access version)