Nokia has overslept the trend towards smartphones, Kodak has completely misjudged digital photography and General Motors (GM) has recognised the demand for greener cars far too late. Technology scouting would have prevented these companies from overlooking or misjudging relevant developments. Digitalisation is accelerating the pace of technological change. This promises many opportunities. But especially for established companies, the risk of underestimating the potential of a new technology or even overlooking it is increasing. The attitude “We have our market niche, in which we will still generate our sales in the next 10 years” can even become the fate of really large companies.
What is Technology Scouting?
Technology Scouting is a part of trend research which deals with the regular and systematic observation of technological developments and the early recognition of emerging technologies. In contrast to Technology Watching, where the focus is on monitoring existing technologies (e.g. maturity of 3D printing), Technology Scouting can be understood as the proactive search for new technologies (e.g. Scout recognises the trend towards 4D printing in advance). Technology Scouting is thus a starting point for a long-term alignment between innovative external technologies and internal requirements of an existing organisation for strategic purposes.
Technology Scouting Improves Innovation Capability
Technology Scouting not only anticipates technological changes and new markets, but also minimises innovation risks and reduces the pressure on the R&D department. The key benefits of technology scouting include:
1. Increase in innovative strength
Technology Scouting supports efficient and effective innovation management, especially in innovation search field evaluation, idea generation and project management. The integration of external ideas and technologies significantly improves a company’s ability to innovate – regardless of the size of the company and its research and development facilities.
The risk of underestimating the potential of a new technology is increasing.
2. Reduction of the danger of disruptive technologies
Disruptive technologies have the potential to replace existing products and technologies as far as possible or to completely sweep them off the market. One of the key threats to competitiveness in many industries is the inability to identify long-term technology trends or disruptive technologies too late or at all. Sometimes because they arise outside their own industry and thus outside the corporate radar. One example is Blockbuster, which has long been one of the market leaders in video and film distribution. Due to the rapid development of video streaming services (e.g. Netflix), Blockbuster lost so many of its customers in just three years that it had to file for bankruptcy in 2010. Technology scouting prevents technological trends or potentially disruptive technologies – as in the case of Blockbuster – from being overlooked.
3. Less burden on the internal R&D department
In many cases, the capacities of R&D departments are too small to guarantee the necessary degree of innovation for a new product in view of shortened technology and innovation cycles. Technology scouting can relieve the burden on the internal R&D department. The capacities released as a result can then be focused on the core competencies of the R&D department and their effectiveness increased.
4. Identification and development of emerging markets
Corporate growth is an essential factor for the long-term success of a company. Technology Scouting supports a company in identifying emerging markets and their technologies. Moreover, the globalisation of technology development makes it necessary to observe technology trends at the global level.
Conclusion: Technology Scouting Creates Competitive Advantages
Passively waiting for technological developments is no longer enough today. Companies must actively screen existing and emerging technologies in order to secure their competitiveness and innovative ability. Technology scouting can serve as an early warning system for relevant technological changes. Technology scouting works best in cooperation with an external service provider. This cooperation prevents the blindness of companies of any size from suffering. Indeed, on numerous occasions we have seen that our technology scouting services have saved Gibraltar based companies from spending huge amounts on developing in-house solutions, while we were able to match them with the right technology provider at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, through our contacts in over 50 countries, and through Innovation Tours that we organise (where clients meet 10-15 innovative solution providers, either in-person or virtually) Gibraltar-based companies are able to access technology ecosystems in different corners of the world, thereby giving them exposure to new ideas and solutions that many local companies may have never heard about.
If a company is serious about responding quickly to the ways customer behaviours are changing, the start-ups that are gaining momentum in its industry, and the new technologies that ought to be integrated into its offerings, then active technology scouting will ensure it will maintain its competitive edge.