Ordino - Services - Technology Planning Services

By: Ordino  09-12-2011

Technology Planning Services

This section provides more detail on the role of technology planning in overall technology management. It examines the role of planning for different levels of organization and the separate facets of technology planning that may be adopted. By setting the right kind of plans in place, the rest of technology management has a greater likelihood of falling into place.

Government/Institutional strategy

The benefits of technology development to economic development have been widely recognized: however, it is not always true that investments in technology always provide benefits at the national economy level. How to make the correct choice of technologies and programs to pursue is a critical matter in setting government level policy.

Institutions have to face similar considerations: whether they are supported by governments, by industries or by a combination of both, they have to provide something that could not be provided by industry for itself directly. They are in effect middlemen in the technology business and they have to justify the price they charge for their product. Institutions may be research establishments or universities: each have potential benefits to offer, but they need to understand where they can contribute and where they cannot exploit their particular capabilities.

It is also important at this level to understand that technology is a worldwide opportunity and presents worldwide competition. It has been demonstrated that in economic terms import substitution does not lead to rapid economic development: the better model is to find those technologies which add substantial value to the commodities produced within the economy in question. This is the necessary world focus.

Corporate Technology Strategy

Corporations engage in research and in the application of technology because it offers them a financial benefit, either in the short term or the long term. Research organization often have as much focus on training as they do on result production, and they frequently serve as sources of information. This leads to differences: commercial research tends to focus on need, whilst institutional and academic research focuses more on opportunity. Whilst an exclusive focus on the short-term would not be beneficial to the overall health of a business, neither can the company afford to put all its investments in technology into the long term future. To meet both requirements simultaneously the corporation will adopt a balanced strategy which allocates appropriate parts of its technology investment to short, medium and long term goals.

Technology Creation Strategy

Technology creation strategy is a subset of the overall technology strategy. Once the overall strategic goals have been established the possibility of meeting these through technology creation is considered. The alternative of technology acquisition should always be considered in this context.

The key issues are what are the key technology areas for the corporation i.e. where has technology leadership been established, or where might it be established? This combines with the understanding obtained from the higher level strategy and addresses factors such as what are the exact requirements for competitive advantage, what are existing cost structures and where might technology offer a benefit, and what is the position of the external competition.

Technology Foresight

Technologies change in two ways: first by incremental improvements and then by breakthroughs. After a breakthrough there is a period of successive incremental changes which after a period start to show a plateauing effect, so that each successive improvement offers a diminishing benefit.

Technology foresight addresses this problem by trying to anticipate when a technology will enter its sunset state and no further incremental improvements will offer a significant return, and will endeavour to bring about the conditions under which a replacement technology will emerge. It may be found that a product depends on a series of technologies rather than a single technology. Replacement of a key technology may well have a ripple effect which entails change or replacement of subsidiary technologies.

Technology Forecasting

Where is the technology in its lifecycle, what are the changes occurring to it, and what are the potential successors? The key information to be determined is changes in performance, reliability and cost. When this is known product development can proceed more confidently on the assumption that certain inputs will be available at a given price at a planned future time.

Technology Acquisition Strategy

Successful technology acquisition requires as much if not more planning than technology creation: this is because effectively timescales get compressed but still the same number of considerations have to be applied.

The first stage is to understand and identify exactly what the target technology is. It must be understood what level the technology is at: is it a base technology or an applied technology. Acquiring a base technology may mean entering into an extended relationship with the technology supplier and the implications of this need to be considered. Acquiring an application may mean that the recipient will not have the depth to move the technology further, or be able to address issues that arise with the technology in use.

Start-up Company Planning

Many start-ups evolve from a technology base: the issues that need to be addressed are whether this offers enough to make a viable company, or whether the technology should be sold to an existing player in the market.

The first assessment is whether the technology has enough impact either on the market, whether this is through cost reduction or performance enhancement, or on the internal cost structures of the company. The higher the degree of novelty the harder this is to assess.

If the technology offers enough benefit and the market is plausible then the company as a technology developer and technology applier has to be evaluated.


Technology Creation

Technology creation is R&D. The complete creation cycle, from start of investigation to completed product is lengthy: it varies in different disciplines but typically 5 or 6 years should be considered from basic research to product or service creation. If the cycle starts at the applied research or experimental product development level then it will be significantly shorter, subject to any learning cycles.

What skills are needed? Both R&D and Management.

To execute a project successfully there must be technical skills and management capability which can address the specific needs of R&D. Part of the project planning process is the assessment of technology competence of the group proposing to undertake the project. Gaps will be identified if they exist. If the group has substantial prior experience in the same field then the risk of the project is substantially diminished and the probability of project estimates being accurate is substantially enhanced.


How beneficial to the corporate plan?

R&D only creates value for a business if it addresses the problems that the business has and is closely linked to the company's overall strategy. At the operational level it is the linkage of R&D to marketing and production that needs to be examined to see that the right technology is being created and that it is reaching the place where it is needed.

Partnering Opportunities

Partnering varies from joining a consortium to jointly fund long term fundamental research to partnerships with one other company which may be a supplier, a competitor, or a customer. In any case the questions address whether the extra resources or the sharing of scarce resources make sense, and whether non-exclusivity is a risk that can reasonably be borne.

Managing R&D

Managing R&D is a multilevel topic. At the highest level there are issues about managerial process and reporting. What are the reasonable ways of demonstrating the progress of R&D and the expected outcomes? The requirements vary from the assessment of actual benefits realized, to recognition of intermediate outputs that can act as surrogates for the long term, ultimate outputs of R&D programs and projects.

The manager who looks after R&D resources will be interested in R&D efficiency i.e. are those resources being as productive as they might be? Ordino has produced a refined way of measuring efficiency in R&D departments.

Project management is the most fundamental level of R&D management, and one which is crucial: the task is often assigned to technical resources who do not necessarily have the complete set of skills needed.

Mentoring

Ordino will assist R&D managers at any level by providing a mentoring function. This may vary from periodic discussions of issues that arise, to looking over the shoulder and taking the larger view. At project reviews a second opinion can be provided either as part of a review meeting or from a review of papers so that privacy can be maintained.


Technology Use

Introduction of Technology

The introduction of a new technology to an organization requires a careful plan to make sure that anticipated benefits are obtained. The match of capabilities of the new technology to the expectations of the organization is the first stage in this, the installation of the technology follows, and the process completes with the elimination of the old way of performing the upgraded task.

Technology Training Requirements

This requirement is often associated with the introduction of the new technology and is also an important part of technology transfer. The training requirements can usually be determined easily, but there is also a need to capture the experience of those trained so that repositories of frequently asked questions and similar mechanisms can be used to support the new trainees as they perform their tasks.

Technology Assessment

This is usually a precursor of technology acquisition and requires an assessment of all aspects of the technology including performance, support requirements, extensibility and adaptability, and total cost of installation and operation. This provides the objective information which can then be used to determine whether an acquisition is economically justified.

Technology Acquisition

The technology acquisition process starts with the assessment described above and then proceeds to develop the infrastructure which will be required to support it. This includes training support, maintenance requirements and changes that may flow from the new technology.

Technology Communication and Marketing

This is a broadly based activity which may focus on ways of presenting the work of an R&D group to a wider public so as to gain support for it, or to prepare materials that can be used in the marketing of a technology based product, or of the technology itself.

R&D Evaluation

Evaluation of Plans

The planning process for R&D occurs at two levels, the program and the project. The program plans define the high level and the criteria for the projects and the mix of projects that will be undertaken.

Project plans will define milestones and review processes as well as the anticipated way in which the goal of the project will be achieved.

The assessments that need to be undertaken are whether the program plans accurately meet the goals of the organization and define the project selection process in sufficient detail, and whether project plans provide realistic detail and estimation of timescales and resources needed to complete them.

Evaluation of performance and usability of technology: Benefit Assessment

When a project has completed by meeting its goals the question is whether it provides a good enough margin over what it is intended to replace, the incumbent technology, and whether it can practically be put into use. R&D passes through a series of prototype stages which move from demonstration of principle with the laboratory prototype, to demonstrable use in the commercial prototype, to demonstrable production capability with the production prototype. The determination that one of these levels has been met usually requires an assessment by an independent body to ensure objectivity.

Project Review

R&D projects are harder to evaluate than other development projects. This is because of the fundamental uncertainties being addressed regarding whether something can be done at all, or what is the best way of doing it. Milestones can be set but it is hard to ensure whether they have been fully met or not. A milestone implies a black or white decision, but in practice there is a greyness associated with the choice.

Diagnostic: What happened in this project?

Projects sometimes hit barriers and progress towards a milestone is no longer apparent. At this point the R&D Manager has a hard decision: is the project dead, or does it need refocusing? An external assessment takes some of the difficult human dynamics away from such a decision, particularly if the refocusing solution requires taking the project to a new group of researchers.

Technology Financial Valuation

When a technology has been developed there are occasions when it is important to assess its value, either because it is being sold, or because it is being used in a start-up company and represents a part of the assets of that business. Valuation is not a simple economic process: some consideration has to be given to alternatives technologies. It frequently occurs that whilst a technology is being developed to achieve a specific goal, an alternative way of doing the same thing will also emerge from an unrelated source.