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Technology Scouting as an early warning system for companies

One of the biggest obstacles to innovation is often the regionally limited way of thinking of companies.

Technology Scouting is a subfield of trend research that deals with the observation and identification of emerging technologies.


However, in order to remain competitive, it is essential to have sound information on emerging technologies at an early stage. Technology scouting is one of the decisive instruments here.

What is Technology Scouting?

Technology Scouting is a part of trend research which deals with the regular and systematic observation of technological developments and the early recognition of emerging technologies.

In contrast to Technology Watching, where the focus is on monitoring existing technologies (e.g. maturity of 3D printing), Technology Scouting can be understood as the proactive search for new technologies (e.g. Scout recognizes the trend towards 4D printing in advance).

Technology Scouting is thus a starting point for a long-term alignment between innovative external technologies and internal requirements of an existing organization for strategic purposes. This matching can be supported by technology roadmaps. The requirements for strategic technology management are systematically processed with the help of the roadmap and the operational research and development is purposefully controlled.

Driving Factors for Technology Scouting

Today, many technology-intensive companies are again strongly interested in systematic technology scouting. This is due in particular to the following driving factors:

  • Globalization:The globalization of technology development makes it necessary to observe technology trends at the global level.
  • Tight R&D budgets: In many industries there is increased pressure on R&D to be effective. The reason for this is the intensification of competition and the simultaneous rise in R&D costs. The focus on internal resources is no longer sufficient; companies must open up to external technologies and ideas in order to hold their own.
  • Short cycles: Shortened development and product life cycles mean that companies have to significantly increase their research and development expenditure on the one hand, and on the other that competitive advantages from innovative technologies are only short-lived.
  • Research activities: In many companies, long-term research activities are being reduced. As a result, the ability to identify and assess significant technological trends, particularly in the field of basic research, is diminished.
  • External technology sources:The increasing recourse to external technology sources requires many companies to continuously monitor possible technology sources.
  • Flood of information:Increasing workloads and an almost unmanageable amount of information make it difficult to identify and track relevant technological trends and developments.
  • Diversification:Increasing technological diversification means that individual companies have to master an ever-increasing number of technologies.
  • Intricacy:The increasing complexity of technology development manifests itself in an increasing overlap of supposedly separate technology areas and makes it more difficult to follow individual trends. In many cases, the integration of technologies comes to the fore. The critical success factor is therefore often no longer technological competence, but the selection of the "best" technologies..
  • Open Innovation:Technology Scouting is an essential element of the open innovation approach. Open innovation therefore drives the importance of technology scouting.  

Technology Scouting Improves Innovation Capability

Technology Scouting not only anticipates technological changes and new markets, but also minimizes innovation risks and reduces the pressure on the R&D department.

1. Increase in innovative strength

Technology Scouting supports efficient and effective innovation management, especially in innovation search field evaluation, idea generation and project management. The integration of external ideas and technologies significantly improves a company's ability to innovate - regardless of the size of the company and its research and development facilities. Compared to Lucent, for example, Cisco had significantly fewer internal resources, but compensated for this disadvantage with technology scouting. The company was constantly looking for promising start-ups around the world to invest in or partner with. Ultimately, Cisco was not only able to compete with its big rival Lucent, but in some cases even outperform him in the market.

2. Reduction of the danger of disruptive technologies

Disruptive technologies have the potential to replace existing products and technologies as far as possible or to completely sweep them off the market. One of the key threats to competitiveness in many industries is the inability to identify long-term technology trends or disruptive technologies too late or at all. Sometimes because they arise outside their own industry and thus outside the corporate radar. One example is Blockbuster, which has long been one of the market leaders in video and film distribution. Due to Netflix's video streaming concept, Blockbuster lost so many of its customers in just three years that it had to file for bankruptcy in 2010. Technology scouting prevents technological trends or potentially disruptive technologies - as in the case of Blockbuster - from being overlooked.

3. Discharge of the internal R&D department

Today, internal knowledge and resources are generally no longer sufficient to meet the current requirements of the competition. In many cases, the capacities of R&D departments are too small to guarantee the necessary degree of innovation for a new product in view of shortened technology and innovation cycles. Technology scouting can relieve the burden on the internal R&D department. The capacities released as a result can then be focused on the core competencies of the R&D department and their effectiveness increased.

4. Identification and development of emerging markets

Corporate growth is an essential factor for the long-term success of a company. Technology Scouting supports a company in identifying emerging markets and their technologies. In addition, it reduces uncertainties with regard to the technologies required in the new market. Misinvestments due to a company's lack of technological competence can be prevented.  

Conclusio: Technology Scouting creates competitive advantages

Passively waiting for technological developments is no longer enough today. Companies must actively screen existing and emerging technologies in order to secure their competitiveness and innovative ability. Technology scouting can serve as an early warning system for relevant technological changes. 

 „The world is becoming too fast, too complex and too networked for any company to have all the answers inside.“

Yochai Benkler, Professor at Harvard Law School



Jannik Böckenholt

As an expert for New Business Development, Jannik is your reliable companion for new commercial ventures. When it comes to the restructuring of innovation processes or the application of innovation methods, the learned project manager guides you to your objective step by step, while making sure there is fun along the way with his inspiring storytelling in the workshops he moderates.

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