Technology Forecasting

Emerging technology is, unquestionably, the most certain source of new products, new corporate opportunity and new growth. On the flip side, the phenomenon is also the most certain factor in the obsolescence of existing brands. Take your eye off emerging technology and it won't be long before you discover a competitor has just eaten your lunch.

Beyond a universal consensus that forecasting technology into near and long term future is a Class 1 priority, there's little agreement as to how to go about it. And even less agreement concerning the predictions generated by the disputed process. The real problem is the old bugaboo "Universal Buy-In." Most managers are leery of their own corporate strategists and downright suspicious of external gurus claiming omniscience. There is, after all, only a fine line between vision and hallucination and the difference will have a profound impact on long term corporate prosperity. Perhaps even survival.

For that reason it's critically important to involve key corporate officers and functional managers in the search for tomorrow. And equip them with the facts, trends, hard data and best-guess suppositions of those few individuals on the leading edge who your managers agree will actually drive the emerging technology.

Technology Forecasting is designed to predict the five and ten year impact of an emerging technology on the acceptance of a new product -- or the obsolescence of a currently healthy product platform that is for all apparent appearances still in its prime. The tool addresses three separate functions: predicting the nature, functionality / productivity and time line of the evolving technology itself...determining the impact of the technology on market penetration and end-user demand curves...and generating sufficient confidence in the forecast among managers who must thoroughly commit to the forecast before they can act decisively on the projection.

Of the three considerations, the soft issue -- commitment -- is the most important. Paralyzing dissent can indefinitely stall the formation of actionable goals; tentative or half-hearted compliance by doubters will invariably emasculate downstream efforts to achieve any goals & objectives suggested by the forecast. For that reason the tool requires hands-on involvement of corporate managers who ultimately will "own" both the forecast and the responsibility of converting it into reality.

Initial efforts execute literature / library searches to identify, map and assess the relative importance of emerging trends in demographics, social or cultural changes and behavior patterns in consumer populations that impact the corporate mission. If they exist, lead-users who have experienced a forerunner of the technology and technology enthusiasts and potential early adopters are surveyed in in-depth qualitative interviews. In an economic model these issues collectively represent the influential demand-side factors impacting acceptance.

Next step -- the supply-side factors. Efforts center on recognizing the influence the makers and shakers working on the leading edge of the most important trends will have on the final configuration of the technology. These include ivory tower scientists and ivy entangled academicians -- often from other converging technologies that will impact the subject technology. Efforts also include assortments of commercializing technicians, vendors, retailers and gatekeepers whose pecuniary instincts will find ways to convert pure science into customer demand. And ultimately hard currency.

To capture universal buy-in, client R&D and business managers interact -- in workshops or one-on-one interviews -- with factions representing both demand and supply-side economics to pursue the specific issues relevant to the corporate opportunity. However it is the interaction with the leading edge technicians that, more than anything else, leads to the resolution of doubts and concerns of managers who must ultimately adopt and implement the long term forecast.

After agreeing on what the commercial technology of the coming decade will most likely be, it's a matter of investigating the consumer impact of the most promising commercial configuration. To forecast demand, a modified version of MIT's Sprinter Model is used to establish and adjust target market size estimates and the rate at which key adopting segments will enter the market. The model factors levels of consumer purchase intent among the target population against anticipated awareness curves and product availability. Using simulation techniques to model prototypes, foisting best-bet performance expectations as proven fact and presenting the end-benefit in a carefully crafted product positioning that enhances credibility, it is possible to employ quantitative consumer research to reliably forecast adoption rates and map the evolution of end-user acceptance.

Photo Refractive Keratectomy procedures using lasers to sculpt corneal tissue clearly threatened the very foundations of Allergen's contact lens care business. Because Allergan managers actively worked to achieve -- rather than passively receive -- wisdom, the forecast ended a two year deadlock centered on the role PRK would play, domestically and world-wide, in the brave new world of 2007. Having reached consensus that growth in contact lens care would continue after the launch of PRK, the issues settled down to renewed commitments to lens care new product development efforts and a concurrent decision to back away from a contemplated alliance with a laser manufacturer. The participatory process proved to be a catalyst that ended dissension. Guided decisions. Precipitated action.

Silicon Valley is gridlocked with potential applications: will Oracle's vision of a $500 Internet TV be boom or bust in 2007? Does US Robotics or Motorola have the "right" modem technology to become the industry standard? In the world of biotech, what is the best read on the future of genetic engineering? What impact will smart-card technologies have on Visa -- or Sears -- in 2002? How many of BofA customers will prefer online banking to brick and mortar configurations in 2007?

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