Happy’s Essential Skills: Roadmapping Essentials


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Wikipedia has one of the best definitions of technical roadmapping: “A technology roadmap is a plan that matches short-term and long-term goals with specific technological solutions to help meet those goals. It is a plan that applies to a new product or process, or to an emerging technology.”

Developing a roadmap has three major uses: It helps reach a consensus about a set of needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs; it provides a mechanism to help forecast technology developments; and it provides a framework to help plan and coordinate technology developments.”

At both the individual, corporate and industry levels, technology roadmapping helps develop consensus around needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs; it provides a framework for planning and coordinating technology developments. This invaluable strategic planning tool enables better technology investment decisions by identifying critical technologies and/or technology gaps creating barriers to product performance targets and by identifying ways to leverage R&D investments through coordinated research activities, either within a single company or among alliance members.

However, as with any powerful tool, the potential for misuse leads to abundant dangers and can render a technology roadmap useless, or worse. Risks exist at all stages of roadmapping. Early in the process, expert opinions and market data form the foundation of the roadmap. Clearly, bias on the part of experts and/or inaccurate input data weakens this foundation. Another risk lies in focusing on the technology roadmap as a product, rather than as a process. Viewing the roadmap as a product masks many of the uncertainties associated with forecasting, while the communication about potential scenarios central to the roadmapping process generates the tool’s greatest value. Perhaps the subtlest danger from technology roadmapping lies in the potential to stifle innovation. If creative ideas deviating from the roadmap’s strategic plan never receive resources, the roadmap ultimately quashes progress and roadmap improvement.

Introduction

Globally, businesses face diverse challenges that require improved focus and deeper industry and market understanding including:

  • Global markets and more intensive competition
  • Shorter time-to-market and product life-time
  • High cost and risk of research and development
  • Stakeholder demand for near-term profits
  • Increasing government regulation
  • Customer pressures on costs
  • Increasing technology and product complexity
  • Greater environmental sensitivity

Companies now focus on their presumed core competencies for the future, experience teaching them that cutting costs only impacts the bottom line in the short term. Technological innovation alone guarantees long-term growth and security.

A needs-driven technology planning process, technology roadmapping helps to identify, select, and develop technology alternatives satisfying an anticipated set of product needs. It brings together a team of experts to develop a framework for organizing and presenting critical technology planning information to support appropriate technology investment decisions and to leverage those investments.

Motorola coined the word “roadmapping” thirty years ago, with other companies and industry sectors more recently adopting roadmapping as an essential part of their strategies. While gaining popularity across the globe, many of the technology roadmaps issued thus far originate in the United States. 

Uses and Benefits

At both the individual corporate and industry levels, technology roadmapping finds various applications and resulting benefits. Three major uses include:

  1. It supports developing consensus around needs and the technologies required to satisfy those needs.
  2. It provides a mechanism for helping experts forecast technology developments in targeted areas.
  3. It provides a framework supporting the planning and coordinating of technology developments within a company and/or an entire industry.
Information supporting improved technology investment decisions represents the primary benefit of technology roadmapping. It accomplishes this by:
  • Identifying critical technologies and/or technology gaps creating barriers to product performance targets
  • Identifying ways to leverage R&D investments through coordinated research activities either within a single company or among alliance members

Types of Technology Roadmaps

Three different types of technology roadmaps exist, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Industry sector roadmap: The first type of roadmap covers a major industry sector such as electronics or petroleum. Development of an industry sector roadmap involves a large number of people including users, suppliers and supporting industry groups. 

Fig1.jpg

Figure 1: Types of technology roadmaps.

An industry sector roadmap presents the industry’s consensus on a number of topics: a vision of the industry at a set time in the future; what new types of products (or services) markets will demand; the enabling technologies required to create those products; the feasibility of developing the needed technologies; the technological alternatives for achieving the expected results; and how to address these needs through R&D. The roadmap addresses the role of an industry’s suppliers in creating the desired future, human resource needs, governmental and non-governmental barriers, and other topics.

By focusing on common needs, companies can more effectively address critical research and collaboratively develop the foundational technologies. For example, the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) Semiconductor Technology Roadmap addressed the requirements for semiconductor manufacturing and the iNEMI Technology Roadmap addressed the common needs for information products to connect to information networks. This level of technology roadmap allows industry to collaboratively develop the key underlying technologies, rather than redundantly funding the same research and underfunding or missing other important technologies.

Significant benefits accrue when a particular technology requires investment beyond resources of a single company or would take too long to develop, given the resources that an individual company could allocate. However, combining the resources across companies justifies developing the technology and consequently enhances the viability and/or advancement of the industry as a whole.

Technology-specific roadmap: These roadmaps need fewer participants and impact a narrower segment of markets, products or applications than an industry sector roadmap. Otherwise the characteristics remain similar to those of an industry sector roadmap.

Recent examples of technology-specific roadmaps include:

  • Nano-composites
  • Nano-materials
  • Alumina technology
  • New process chemistry
  • Colloid and interface science

Figure 2 presents a recent technology roadmap for nano-electronics.

Fig2.jpg   

Figure 2: Nano-electronics roadmap.

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