According to Smith & Nephew a roadmap has “allowed us to clearly prioritize and communicate our technology investments and activities to the business and has generated real interest from our commercial team who can see the direct relevance to their own goals and objectives. This roadmap isn’t just to give us comfort that we’ve done it but rather it’s driving our daily activity.”
Predicting the future is something that all companies find hard, especially part of that future could involve radical change. Nonetheless, companies are constantly expected to make the right bets on their technology portfolio, identifying future innovations that will make their products and services not only competitive but winners in a global marketplace. Often, the executive dialogue required in order to make these choices stalls, principally because there is no mechanism to create a bridge between ‘commercial strategic intent’ and what might be possible technically both in the near future and the longer term.
National and regional governments have used Technology Roadmapping to develop a view about how to invest in the future in terms of broad technology funding. This is useful instrument for developing macroeconomic policy. Many companies are now adapting this approach to help guide investment decisions.
Companies also struggle to maintain a good linkage to customer needs and commercial strategy – this leads to difficulties in implementation, arising from a disconnect between what is technically possible and what the market requires.
Where ownership lies solely with R&D, the roadmap can be regarded as a self-justifying exercise that misses potential new entrant technologies/innovations or new insights from outside the company’s own sector.
Smith & Nephew’s strategy
Forward-looking companies, such as Smith & Nephew are looking to make investment choices around key and emerging technologies for their product areas in order to deliver growth. Making investment choices requires you not only to identify what set of technologies will be relevant to achieving future commercial success, but also to understand the likely cost of acquiring those technologies. In short, you need the ability understand the cost, capability and resource implications for a specific commercial choice, based on the likelihood and availability of any given set of technologies and the size of the growth ‘prize’. Smith & Nephew recognized the need for external perspectives and expertise in order to strengthen the insights generated during the process.
Nu Angle’s approach
During 2010 and 2011, technology strategy consultancy nu Angle worked with Smith & Nephew to deliver Technology Roadmaps in 2 key areas for one of its business units, each with the aim of identifying potential areas for innovation, product leadership and growth.
The roadmaps were delivered via a combination of internal analysis of scope, development of an external subject matter expert network, remote working and workshops.
The end results were investment scenarios and outline action plans that were agreed by the relevant executive team. The approach adopted has turned what can be an academic exercise, into a highly relevant strategic decision-making tool for managing growth opportunities.
The approach included: –
- A well-defined roadmap scope based on a clear articulation of customer needs. This scope definition helped to focus attention on areas that would really make a difference to the business. Furthermore it provided the basis for the initial structure of the roadmap.
- A powerful network of external subject matter experts was assembled, providing relevant information for the roadmap, plus insights into additional technologies that should be included.
- The roadmap was applied to several ‘commercial contexts’ –that defined the future strategy of the business – in a joint working session between Smith & Nephew staff and the external expert team.
- A significant body of IP analysis throughout the effort to ensure that IP information was factored into decision-making and securing a sustainable competitive advantage would be possible before any investment was made.
- The results were translated into outline action plans that in turn were built into investment scenarios. Preferred scenarios were recommended to the executive team who then made a choice.
- Work on the selected scenario began immediately.