TECHNOLOGY MONITORING FOR ITS FORECASTING
Technology is fast changing. If one has to reduce uncertainty, there has to be a system for monitoring the signals of technological change, followed by analysis of the meaning of signals of change. Forecasts based on trend or growth curves assume that there is a fairly good continuity between the past and future. Hence, these methods are inherently incapable of predicting breakthroughs. ‘Technology monitoring’ is one of the techniques, which can be used for monitoring breakthroughs through precursor events. Most large manufacturing and trading organizations abroad have formed systems for continuously scanning the technological environment, variously known as technology scanning/monitoring/intelligence etc.
A forecaster has thus to become aware of the diverse events, as they occur, that have a bearing on the technological area, determine their possible significance, ensure they are not forgotten with the passage of time, and relate them to future events as they occur and assess their combined significance. In large organisations where several technological fields are to be monitored, scanning has to be carried out by a ‘team consisting of people from various disciplines.
Monitoring process consists of the following steps:
Step 1 : Information scanning
Step 2 : Screening the scanned information
Step 3 : Evaluation of the screened information and development of ideas.
Step 4 : Utilization of the evaluated ideas for R&D planning, project formulations, product diversification, etc.
There is no specified methodology for technology scanning; the general principle is to have access to as much relevant information as the resources permit not only from primary sources like journals/patents documents etc. but also from commercial data exchanges/sources etc.
However, the aim is to get data or information related to the technological field on the following aspects :
i) Competitor’s R&D plans, approach/ideas, manufacturing programme, marketing thrust/share, financial health etc.
ii) Environment/health of the industry/sector
iii) Government’s policies, incentives/disincentives, regulation/control
iv) Manpower capabilities: educational/skills development, R&D etc.
v) Social attitudes/preferences/prejudices.
vi) Demand and supply estimates
Scanning has to be comprehensive to be useful and it has to be done on a regular basis. The scanned information is stored after coding, preferably indicating the source of the information.
Screening of the scanned information
Volumes of information stored may not be of much use to the organisation unless they are properly screened and subjected to further evaluation. It is, therefore, essential that the information of relevance be identified, according to short and long-term objectives of-the organisation, for detailed scrutiny and evaluation.
Evaluation of the screened information and development of ideas
At this stage, the forecaster or the group of forecasters will subject the relevant information to detailed scrutiny and evaluate them in-house or even in consultation with external experts as to their usefulness to trigger newer activities in the organisation. In other words, the forecaster would be in a position, depending on the trend/signal identified on a specific technological field, to advise the decision maker to embark on new plans for initiating appropriate action in areas like R&D/production/marketing/diversification of product range etc.
Utilisation of evaluated ideas
The decision maker would now be in a position to dovetail all relevant inputs i.e. technological forecast, Government policies, financial commitments, business environs etc. in order to make up his mind as to whether particular course of action could be pursued or not.
Technology monitoring is a useful tool for anticipating changes through continuously monitoring the signals of change, especially for the following:
a) to plan R&D
b) to obtain new ideas on products/process/technology
c) to identify areas for corporate diversification/investment/collaboration
d) to identify possible sources for technology acquisition/licensing etc.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
The advantage of this method is that it can be an efficient early warning device on threats to existing products/process/services; or may provide signals on opportunities for new products, processes or services. It is a useful technique for senior level management and decision makers. The disadvantage of the method is that it is very cumbersome. To enable it to be useful a team is needed for carrying out the monitoring work and at least two years of basic data collection as well as storage is necessary. The database has to be multidisciplinary and fairly large. Lastly, all these may be possible only in the case of comparatively large corporations or industry associations or government. Comprehensive monitoring systems are expensive and need substantial resources for their regular operation.