01 September 2003
Identifying emerging technologies
Intelligent collaboration rests on road mapping and using current intellectual investments.
By Richard Neal and Douglas Marks
One-half of the wealth creation in the U.S. since World War II is the direct result of investment in technology. So said a recent study by the U.S. Senate.
The U.S. government spent about $84.9 billion on research and development (R&D) in 2002. The private sector probably spent more than double that in 2002. In the year 2000, the U.S. industrial R&D was $199.5 billion.
Although these numbers are impressive, the reality is that innovation is expensive. Studies show that one innovation-based company forms for each $77 million R&D investment.
Based on the Small Business Administration's projection that 20% of new companies become profitable, it is reasonable to assume that the cost of a successful innovation-based company is $377 million.
There are many reasons why R&D investment is expensive and risky. The pursuit is for new discovery, and new discovery does not come easily. There is a need to accept risk and support unstructured research in certain areas where the potential benefit outweighs the cost.
However, poor planning and insufficient due diligence often accompany this mind-set. In actuality, much of the public and private investment in R&D is unfocused.
While research dollars have increased, the investment in applied research declined by 26% from 1993 to 2000. This reveals a failure to advance a significant portion of research to applied development and delivery of solutions.
Mitigating this problem through better strategies and solutions for technology management and implementation is certainly possible.
The Integrated Manufacturing Tech-nology Initiative (IMTI), a nonprofit partnership between industry and government to support the nation's manufacturing infrastructure, addresses the need for emerging technology awareness and implementation planning through a systematic approach that highlights the use of technology road mapping.
Technology road mapping is a valuable tool to define what needs to happen and ensure a plan of action to deliver success. With Internet-accessible information systems, it is possible to provide broad visibility into R&D, best practices, and emerging technologies.
If one understands the needs and maps what is currently being done, leveraging existing R&D investment can serve to identify opportunity and fill voids.
With the identification of the critical voids, one can then make a compelling case for investment in filling the voids to deliver solutions.
Subject matter experts
The solution for effective technology management and implementation is comprised of three steps:
- Technology road mapping—identifying the needs
- Understanding current investments and solutions
- Creating intelligent collaboration
Technology road mapping is a methodology born of necessity.
In the U.S. in the early 1990s, several industry sectors—most notably, electronics—faced challenges that threatened their business foundation.
Many of these companies had strategic plans, but most plans did not demand action to deliver the right results. This realization led to the genesis of technology road mapping.
The IMTI road mapping process begins with the creation of an initial functional model of the subject area. The term functional is key.
The process does not look at technologies per se and guess where they are heading; rather, it identifies all the functions the enterprise must perform to execute its missions.
This ensures that the resulting road map focuses on identifying the capabilities required to enhance those functions' performance.
The second part of the road mapping process is to extend and validate the functional model through review and discussion with subject matter experts. This happens through informal contacts, by way of widespread dissemination in the industry sector, and as part of a structured workshop process.
This ensures that the functional model is accurate, comprehensive, and logical in structure. With this validation, the model and a review of research related to the subject area provide the backbone for a prereading package that prepares the selected participants for the workshop.
Develop rich vision of future
With the functional model validated and the attendees prepared, a workshop is conducted. Typically, a workshop runs two to three days and involves 30 to 60 experts representing a broad cross section of the technology user and developer communities.
Participants divide into breakout groups of 8 to 15 individuals, with each group assigned to one element of the functional model. Each group has a trained facilitator who leads the process, and support also comes from a professional scribe, who documents the group consensus at each step of the process in a preestablished road map template.
The objective of the workshop is to develop a rich vision of the future state of practice for the subject area and then define the specific goals and requirements to achieve that vision.
The first activity in the workshop is to define attributes of the current state of practice for every element in the functional model. Although this includes identifying best practices, the primary objective of the current state assessment is to identify deficiencies and barriers that stand in the way of success.
Next, the group defines the future state vision for each functional element. The vision answers the question, "If this function were perfect, what would be its attributes?" Attendees are to ignore the constraints of current technologies and practice and envision themselves in the future performing the function in the very best way possible.
Upon ascertaining the visions, the group establishes the goals through which the process must travel to bridge the gap from where it is today to where it wants to be in the future.
This is the start of the process of defining the migration strategy. The goals script as well-defined capability statements. A functional element may encompass only a few goals or may have a dozen or more.
After identifying the goals, the team identifies the requirements to achieve each goal. The requirement statements define specific actions to develop the capabilities required to meet the goal.
The objective of a requirement is to provide sufficient definition and clarity to organize a collaborative R&D project that will deliver a new system, a new tool, a new product, or a new capability that can be implemented across an entire industry sector or across many different sectors.
Collectively, the goals and requirements can be time-phased to provide a baseline plan for performing the required R&D.
The visions/goals/requirements methodology repeats for each element and sub-element of the functional model. In this way, a complete technology road map for the topic area is the product.
The advantages of this methodology include the ability to quickly and efficiently convert the workshop notes to an easily recognized compilation that the workshop participant owns.
Further advantage accumulates through the ease of indexing for Web-based distribution and analysis. For example, the hierarchical structure of the road map document readily lends itself to a mapping of ongoing government and industry R&D projects against specific road map goals.
The final workshop process is prioritization. As a precursor to implementation, it is important to determine the recurring and most compelling themes for immediate attention. Through a process of individual scoring and group consensus, the group selects the critical capabilities for priority emphasis.
The decision processes for prioritization, the number and structure of the priority themes, and the disposition of the themes vary with each application. The primary objective is to define a project slate of funded activities that will execute the plan and realize the vision.
Road mapping process
Technology road maps are important tools. However, R&D to address the needs defined in the road maps is expensive, and leverage is mandatory for success. To start with a technology road map and declare that organizations will perform all of the needed work is probably impossible and certainly unwise.
Also, there is little way of easily or cost-effectively knowing what ongoing work exists in a particular area. As the Internet has matured, access to information has continually and exponentially increased. As a result, research tools are also continually emerging.
Many of these information resources focus on specific content. For example, RAND provides an excellent database of government R&D called Radius (research and development in the U.S.).
Massive amounts of valuable data are also available from many other sources. Yet the organization, interpretation, and reuse of data by the various organizations are often difficult and costly to transform into meaningful information that can yield analytical and competitive advantage.
So IMTI created a system, Manufacturing Analyst for Science and Technology (MAST), to harness relevant data that is mapped against a technology road map.
MAST provides the capability to identify needs and align existing research to fill those needs. Also, this process supports gap analysis to identify critical voids. This type of information system provides clear visibility to specific demanded R&D activities to achieve the goals of the road map.
It also supports an organization's ability to optimize results of technology planning efforts by focusing clearly on solving the critical problems identified in the first step (technology road mapping) and effectively delivering the critical solutions.
MAST is a Web-accessible information system that maps current federally funded R&D, industry best practices, and other key data against more than 700 manufacturing technology areas that IMTI road maps identified.
By aligning current research activities to the contents of the goals and requirements in the road maps, MAST allows users to rapidly assess the current state of R&D of any of the technologies identified in the road maps.
MAST also provides insights into patterns of technology activities by assessing data at various levels of abstraction. One can evaluate data by funding levels and by detailed analysis of funding or performing organizations.
Currently, MAST has more than 10,000 records and data representing technology-related funded activities from 1990 to 2015. Data for MAST originates from dozens of databases and Web sites.
Subject matter experts—manufacturing strategists—systematically extract and export data for review. They evaluate the activities and determine the specific road map technology areas that the activity encompasses.
In addition, for each of the project summaries, subject matter experts also link the projects to industry sectors that the technology would affect. This additional index offers a way for users to more finely control the results of searches as well as provide a distinctive analytical and reporting capability for the database contents.
The ability to map current activities to the road map content has wide applicability and value to all members of the research community:
- Companies can quickly find solutions to problems by matching their specific needs to current capabilities across industry.
- Technology suppliers can use MAST to quickly identify areas of opportunity for their products and services.
- Technology investors can have clear visibility into the nation's collective investments in specific technology areas.
- In addition to supporting a wide variety of users, MAST also provides a variety of data views that support technology assessment activities across an organization:
- For the scientist in the lab, it provides a resource to evaluate similar R&D activities and evaluate solutions that others in the field are pursuing.
- For the technology manager, it provides a resource for quickly pinpointing funding sources. The technology manager can also use it to identify potential partners developing needed R&D capabilities his company does not plan to develop internally or, conversely, to identify future potential competitors in the field if the R&D is performed internally.
- For those tasked with technology direction and budgeting, MAST provides an overview of the entire domain of an organization's R&D needs and an assessment of the current expenditures related to that domain.
The system has applied successfully to a variety of domains, including manufacturing and construction. It can be implemented within an organization as effectively as across an industry sector.
Strategy of alignment
Although industry and government agree collaboration is key to successful technology development, effective collaboration is difficult.
In the manufacturing arena, organizations such as the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, the Consortium of Advanced Manufacturing-International, and the Intelligent Manufacturing Systems organization have worked diligently for effective collaboration.
Government/industry programs such as the Partnership for the Next Generation Vehicle and the National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Technology Program seek collaborative success. In some cases, impressive outcomes resulted. In most cases, it appears that strong industry support and government investment are prerequisites to success.
During the past decade, a new model of collaboration has emerged. The semiconductor industry came together in an organization called SEMATECH, sought government assistance, developed a technology road map, and rigorously executed the road map.
The Department of Energy Industries of the Future program targeted 11 critical sectors of the manufacturing community and worked with these sectors to develop road maps. These road maps are implementing, and some great success stories are emerging.
The continually improved lithography capabilities of the semiconductor industry have their roots in the collaborative R&D in direct response to their road maps. Achieving a further extension of this new collaboration model by mapping information about what is being done against the road maps and by marshaling the energy of existing programs is a must.
As an example, in the modeling and simulation (M&S) community, the need for a standard architecture for M&S systems has played for years. There are approximately 1,000 funded projects working such architecture, but there is little connection or communication across these projects.
By bringing these projects and researchers together, the resources would be sufficient—and likely much faster—to deliver the definitive solutions that are needed.
This strategy of alignment is important but not sufficient. Additionally, critical needs exist that current funded efforts do not meet. White papers that define these needs and present a compelling business case for investment must be prepared to spur the launching of activities that satisfy the critical needs.
Also, the solutions must be integrated to deliver robust change and solutions.
In the IMTI methodology, creating intelligent collaboration and delivering solutions are the most important activities. However, we are convinced that the foundation must be laid in step one and step two to make step three successful.
Fostering collaborative R&D
The investment in R&D is, appropriately, large and getting larger. A national necessity exists to move this research investment to applied development and delivery of solutions that support our economic well-being and security.
To achieve this goal, an integrated strategic solution is a must. The solution comprises the following:
- Defining what needs to be done through technology road mapping
- Identifying projects, activities, and solutions that could help meet the needs defined in the road maps
- Creating cooperation within and across existing programs, conducting gap analyses, identifying critical voids, and fostering collaborative R&D to deliver the needed solutions
We are early in the process, and we are making great progress in implementing this solution for defining and meeting the nation's technology needs. AIT
Behind the byline
Richard Neal has a B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering. He has more than thirty years of management experience in manufacturing technologies and is the executive director of IMTI. Douglas Marks is the editorial director at IMTI and has twenty years of experience in technical communication, strategic planning, and business development. He has a B.S. in communications.