Technology Opportunities Analysis: Integrating Technology Monitoring, Forecasting, and Assessment with Strategic Planning

Article excerpt


The ideological battles of the past decades between centrally planned and free-market economies have been settled in favor of the latter. Ironically, however, with the ascendancy of market ideology comes the widespread realization that strategic planning and governmental collaboration can significantly augment the performance of market economies. In particular, Japan's success in guiding technological development encouraged others to seek information on opportunities and to use such information to manage development processes actively. National and international organizations around the world have implemented technology management programs. These include the United Nations Branch on Science and Technology, which promotes technology monitoring, forecasting, and assessment in developing nations; the Commonwealth Secretariat's Consultative Group on Technology Management; the British Centre for Exploitation of Science and Technology; a 'Technology Prospecting' office established by the Malaysian Science Advisor; and the U.S. Critical Technologies Institute. All of these organizations share a focus on innovation - that is, on the implementation of technologies in commercial (or military) applications. They address opportunities in emerging technologies at a point that is relatively 'downstream' in the course of development.

Technological development is rooted in invention - that is, in the generation of new ideas based in science or engineering. The logical extension of efforts to manage technological innovation is the attempt to manage 'upstream' research and development (R&D) activities. This tends to be less predictable and more controversial. Scientists generally favor the belief that they should dictate priorities in this domain, acting principally through a non-regulated market of researcher interests. Countries more constrained in resources have been the leaders in efforts to prioritize R&D activities. For example, China is actively exploring various means to set priorities through their State Science and Technology Commission and their National Natural Science Foundation (Chen & Zhu, 1990).

Technology forecasting is the scholarly field that focuses on the identification of emerging technologies. A variety of methods have been devised and applied in diverse settings (Martino, 1994; Porter, Roper, Mason, Rossini, & Banks, 1991). The novelty in the approach described herein lies not in sophisticated, new methods, but in relating information about emerging technologies to the strategic management of research in a university setting.

This paper describes an 'upstream' management activity developed and undertaken in a university. Technology Opportunities Analysis (TOA) focuses on emerging scientific areas, new research techniques, and their possible implications for research/education priority setting and resource allocation at Georgia Tech (GT). TOA is conceived as a way to assist strategic planning by providing information on research and technology opportunities. The rest of this article describes experiences in setting up the TOA process and discusses results after 1 year in action.

The TOA Process

The process described herein was initiated at the behest of the president of GT. He sought information on cutting-edge opportunities consistent with the mission and competitive advantages of this university. Planning how to do this took about 2 years. During this time, we informally monitored emerging areas and pointed out one area of special promise - nanotechnology (molecular level design and manipulation) - that generated considerable top-level interest and helped stimulate research collaborations in this domain.

The formalized TOA process seeks to:

1. Identify new and promising research and technology opportunities for GT;

2. Assess their fit with GT interests;

3. Define broad themes and their intersection with established units; and

4. …


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