Technology Scouting: A Path to Innovating Better
“Not all smart people work for you” – Bill Joy, co-founder of Sun Microsystems
Innovation and the Intellectual Property (IP) sector often go hand in hand – it is a dynamic and often highly competitive industry. Due to this, it is vital companies routinely scan the world of emerging technologies, assessing the potential of their new ideas, and simultaneously identifying opportunities for new partnerships, acquisitions, licensing, or co-development initiatives.
New innovative ideas often originate in smaller organizations that are innovative by necessity. Further, they also tend to be less influenced and constrained by hierarchy and bureaucracy when compared with enterprise level corporations. The caveat, however, is that smaller organizations do not have the resources or scale to commercialize their innovative ideas. This is where technology scouting and open innovation comes into play – connecting the innovative ideas from smaller enterprises or universities to the market access offered by larger organizations in theory presents an ideal scenario.
Technology scouting has become an essential part of the recently popularized open innovation strategy, in which companies look externally for technical and market opportunities. There has been debate surrounding best practices for technology scouting and open innovation, questioning whether an external or internal approach is best. In a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review, they make a case for external technology scouting but admit it can end up being a double-edged sword if executed poorly. They found that connecting with external resources (universities, other companies, research institutions, etc.) can increase the rate and potential for innovation but dedicating too much of your employee’s time to these efforts can decrease productivity. Due to this dilemma, they suggest companies turn to external technology scouting consultants to aid with their scouting endeavors.
External scouting consultants like Strategic Allies search globally to assess potential partners that can help solve challenging problems their clients are facing, explore and exploit new markets or offer opportunities to differentiate their current offerings. They have established networks, which they use to uncover real innovation opportunities and fill ‘gaps’ in a company’s technology roadmap. External scouting consultants offer a wide range of services, including the two we highlight in this article: Open Innovation Services and Landscape Reporting.
Open Innovation Service
An example of open innovation services is the Open Innovation Search (OIS) offered by Strategic Allies Ltd, (SAL) which is a “tailored, continuous worldwide trawl of innovative technology, product and other alliance-oriented opportunities aimed at delivering business growth for our clients.” The objective is to secure relevant, value enhancing, potentially disruptive opportunities as quickly and inexpensively as possible.
With the Open Innovation Search, the Strategic Allies team works with clients to understand the markets being served, their strengths & weaknesses, and positioning in their market to help identify the type of opportunities that would strengthen their client’s position or fill an otherwise identifiable gap in the market. This results in a confidential profile of the clients’ requirements, aligned with their corporate strategic direction. The profile optimizes the data such that creative or “out of the box” discoveries that are valuable to ‘seed and feed’ the innovation process are not discarded, while being sufficiently filtered down that the data is digestible.
Through this tried-and-true search process, involving wide and narrow searches via their established network of people worldwide, they will actively assist clients in securing opportunities. From the initial submissions, Strategic Allies will further aid their clients by assessing opportunities in greater detail using their 20+ years’ experience in this activity and when the time comes, initiating the appropriate relationships with the sources that will hopefully lead to securing a final deal. The client is in control of this process via regular meetings, but essentially sub-contracts out the activities maximizing the potential for innovative partnerships.
An example of landscape reporting is the technology landscape offered by Strategic Allies Ltd, which draws upon multiple sources of insights, including publications, patents, trade press, subject matter experts and more. Technology landscaping addresses several key questions including the technology’s potential performance, applicability to current or future processes, key players, and technology readiness.
Given that technological innovation can significantly affect a business in many ways – deciding which technology to invest in and when to invest, can be a stressful process. Through a technology landscape, the Strategic Allies Ltd team works with their clients to analyze the effect a specific technology may have on their business, enabling them to make better informed business decisions with regards to their potential investments. They work collaboratively to assess the technical and commercial criteria of new technologies, taking factors such as ‘appetite for innovation’, risk-level, investment, and success criteria into account to ensure that even if the technology appears impactful on paper – it is the right fit for their client.
Similar in approach to technology landscaping, market landscaping focuses upon a specific market of choice – the market currently operated in, or perhaps a market being considered for expansion. Strategic Allies Ltd’s offering of market landscaping conducts a detailed analysis of the space, focusing on four key areas: the market, the suppliers, the buyers, and the future. These insights can be used to identify potential opportunities within a market and provide the make-or-break recommendations for venturing into previously uncharted territory.
For Strategic Allies Ltd, their process begins with discussing the challenges being faced by their client, as well as the client’s expectations for the research. Subsequently, the Strategic Allies Ltd team commences with a phase of secondary research from public and private data sources, and then a phase of primary research from their vast network of subject matter experts. During their primary research, they have many technical conversations, hearing first-hand about the newest technologies and innovations, gathering expert opinions on new applications and developments, and gaining a deeper understanding of where there may be room for improvement. Using this data to develop their landscape reports, Strategic Allies Ltd can then confidently provide their customers with objective recommendations on not only what they should do, but further provide tangible actions on how they can do it.
Passively waiting for technological developments is no longer enough, companies must actively analyze emerging technologies and markets. By embracing open innovation and technology scouting, companies can identify not only new technologies, but new ideas for success. They can anticipate technological changes and new market potential, while minimizing innovation risk and reducing pressure on R&D departments. Tech scouting helps firms collaborate with competitors, SMEs and large corporates, universities, startups, or even individual inventors, leading to enhanced portfolios, expanded business efforts, and effectively offer companies a competitive edge over their industry.