New tech scouting teams need to establish a clear scouting process early on to avoid mistakes down the road. Most scouting units are less than three years old, and as such, many are still experiencing growing pains and uncertainty. If your company has recently formed a scouting unit, there are some important issues to consider.
Where do problems begin?
Wall Street doesn't have the patience for traditional R&D. Most scouting and innovation units are formed to accelerate time to market for major product breakthroughs, or identify new market adjacencies. These teams are hunting for loftier, longer-term opportunities that can potentially generate the next billion-dollar product line. Scouting in this way requires a set of skills entirely separate from more common open innovation tasks like crowdsourcing. While crowdsourcing companies like NineSigma or Innocentive may help organizations solve very narrow, highly defined problems, they are poorly suited for the more opaque and broader strategic initiatives typically solved via technology scouting.
At the same time, new technology scouting units need to interact with traditional R&D and business development in a coordinated way. New teams are often linked to a strategic business development area, and are tasked with developing solutions in conjunction with R&D. As companies attempt to incorporate open innovation into traditional R&D and business development functions, some major problems are likely to occur.
Problems with new units
One of the greatest challenges new teams will face is defining the strategic areas that they should investigate. How do marketing, product, R&D, and business development come together to identify these potential opportunities? How can a new technology scouting manager quickly determine which broad area of new technologies to investigate?
In a general sense, every new scouting group will need to answer these questions, and the internal mechanics of how groups function will vary greatly between organizations. However, there are a few things new scouting managers can do to ensure early success. They include:
- IP and Emerging Research Landscaping – Teams should begin mapping the technology areas that are already heavily protected by competing IP while also noting broader sets of emerging research with less established IP protections. These landscaping reports are critical to pointing new teams in the direction of the most promising technology fields. Furthermore, IP and research landscapes change frequently and maintaining an accurate map requires some degree of automation.
- Internal Project Portals – R&D, Business Development, and Marketing teams need access to the same strategic areas of focus. Coordinating the efforts of multiple units across an organization is challenging enough without having to worry about where and how to store basic information. Many new groups that rely on a mixture of email and file sharing sites quickly find the information impossible to accurately maintain. Teams need to think about scale early on.
- Organized Portfolios – New scouting groups need to consider internal projects, efforts, and strategy as much as they need to look for external opportunities. How do groups track the R&D initiatives within their own company while also looking for complementary technologies in their partner network? Managing the network of knowledge assets is the number one problem that new scouting groups face, as even small teams of 2-5 scouts need to track dozens of projects all at different stages of maturity.
Process structure and workflows
Many technology scouting groups lack a defined process for managing the creation of new strategic areas of interest, collaborating with internal partners in different units or departments, or for organizing the large portfolios of projects, partners, and internal initiatives they need to track. In short, forming a new scouting team is no small task. However, if groups are willing to cement formal processes early on, their probability of success is much greater.
Technology scouting groups need to master four essential tasks, defining strategic areas of interest, identifying the technology assets that exist within those broad initiatives, collecting and evaluating those individual technologies, and managing large portfolios of complex data. No team can accomplish these tasks without the help of modern tools and the expertise of people who have been there before.