Three Steps to Becoming a Better Technology Scout

Three Steps to Becoming a Better Technology Scout

By Erik Willet

Technology scouting is an art and a science. Based on my experiences working with numerous corporate clients on their technology scouting needs, here are some tips to help you become a technology scout (we also put together this infographic to sum things up).

1- Clear up ambiguity with the customer, at the very start.

Whether you are a technology scout as just part of your job, or all of your job, you have a customer. Based on your circumstances, the customer could be:

  • The end customer, who uses your company’s products
  • A marketing team, that comes to you with end customer needs they want solutions for
  • A strategy team, that has determined it would be in the best interests for your company to acquire certain technologies or competencies
  • A product development or R&D team, that would prefer for a solution to be found externally – perhaps because the solution is not core to your company’s competency

Whoever your customer is, clearing up any and all ambiguity at the start will ensure the technologies your find are best targeted to their needs. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • Map out your customer’s understanding of the technology area. If the customer does not know what they want, use your expertise in the area to ask them as many questions as possible to determine what they do know.
  • Look for small references that may be at the edge of the overall problem description. Read any briefing material they have given you very thoroughly. Pick apart anything that might seem slightly out of place. We’ve worked on projects where a small mention of something by a client has become the majority of what we have ended up working on for him/her.
  • Make the ‘impossible’ less ‘impossible’. Some technology needs are difficult. Break down the problem and focus on a particular area. Determine what other industries and disciplines may have had similar problems in the past, for which solutions may already exist.

2- Hone down the technologies found.

Your client is trusting you, the technology scout, to deliver the best dozen or two dozen solutions. They don’t have the time to wade through the hundreds of solutions you may have looked through. To this end, how you hone down the technologies you find is important. I do this quite simply through the following steps:

  • Bucketing technologies into categories. Arrange the technologies, and the articles that support them, logically into categories based on similarity (i.e. technologies that have the same application or same material under different applications)
  • Weeding out the best categories. Identify your strongest three to five categories. Yes, sometimes all solutions in a particular category may be too poor to present.
  • Ordering the technologies in each category. Identify the best technologies by strength/feasibility.

As you go through papers and articles relating to each technology, here are some additional things I’ve learned from experience:

  • Pay attention to the results. Papers that set out to achieve a quantifiable result in the introduction and don’t quantify that result in the conclusion are weak choices.
  • Build a vocabulary list. Look up any industry/field-specific terms that keep reappearing. Build a vocabulary list, which may become useful for when talking to potential partners later, as well as for for working with your client.
  • Build a knowledge base. Papers you choose to exclude from presenting to the client can still contribute to your knowledge of the subject area. Keep a separate list of these.
  • 3- Evaluate technologies using a well-defined measurement scale.

3- Evaluate the technologies using a well-defined measurement scale.

Ultimately, the technology scout needs to evaluate each technology you have found to determine its suitability for your client’s need. We recommend that you supplement your analysis with a measurement scale. Using a measurement scale will allow you to:

  • Have clear expectations with the client, on what is important to them
  • Objectively compare technologies, against the criteria and conditions of that scale
  • Rank order the technologies that you have found, so the client can give their most attention to the highest ranking technologies

In our experience, we have found that the top criteria for most clients is, “how quickly can we get this to the shop shelves?” Thus, PreScouter’s technology scouts uses Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) to rank order findings. This scale was developed by NASA, and they have used it for decades for the purpose of evaluating new technologies.

The TRL Scale
© Innovation Seeds


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