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Foresight

Having established a successful business based upon a technological entrepreneurial vision, the problem facing management is how to ensure they are not overtaken by changes in technology or new players entering the market. The conventional approach—business planning to define future action—is of little use in responding to major change, being based upon extrapolating from past events. Hence because only weak signals exist during the early stages of newly emerging scientific or technological discovery, examining existing information will be of little benefit (Farrington et al. 2012).

The only solution to avoid being overtaken by technological advances is for the organisation to develop foresight about new technologies, market trends and the activities of potential competitors. Foresight involves the active scanning and monitoring of the external environment. Analysis involves interpreting relevant environmental forces and seeking to determine their impact. The benefit of foresight is to support the identification of trends, drivers, uncertainties and key future influences. This knowledge provides the basis for guiding future entrepreneurial technological developments and assessing the risks of failing to act to retain market leadership over the long term (Zahra and Bogner 1999).

Within the German biotechnology industry Metzner and Reger (2009) identified alternative types of foresight which assisted in the early identification of emerging trends. These included:

  • 1. The technology/science-driven approach
  • 2. The network-oriented approach
  • 3. The market-driven approach
  • 4. The gatekeeper approach.

The existence of the biotechnology industry has been made possible by close, collaborative relationships between universities and business. The founders of biotechnology companies are typically academics. Linkages with universities are positively associated with a firm’s innovative outputs as a result of their foresight activities. Methodical elements include formal and informal R&D discussions, scientific conferences and analysis of academic publications. Many of the customers of these firms are scientists or scientific institutions involved in publicly financed research projects. The close relationship with such customers provides access to knowledge of cutting-edge new technological or scientific outcomes, which provides the basis of very early understanding of their potential for commercialisation.

In the network approach, acquisition of new knowledge occurs as a result of informal and formal networking by employees across the organisation. This can be contrasted with the market-driven approach where the focus is upon on the collection and systematic analysis of downstream data from the healthcare sector and by monitoring competition. The compilation of data occurs through feedback from sales staff, inquiries from members of the medical profession and tracking content on selected websites. Usually it is the firm’s marketing or business development unit which is responsible for the early diagnosis of emerging trends. Market data tend to emerge at a somewhat late phase in the R&D process for new next-generation products. Hence sole reliance upon this source may delay trend identification and the subsequent initiation of research activities within the organisation (Uotila and Ahlqvist 2008).

The gatekeeper approach uses key persons in the company, such as lead scientists who acquire information from participation in both formal and informal networks. These gatekeepers are strongly networked, for example by sitting on relevant national committees, assisting the organisation of major academic conferences and interacting with funding agencies and politicians. Where foresight activities are only carried out by the gatekeepers, there is the risk that their control over information access and opportunities and may create an excessively powerful influence over trend identification and the R&D programmes selected for progression within the organisation (Hervas-Oliver and Albors-Garrigos 2014).

The activities of individual firms may be accompanied by government- sponsored foresight programmes. The aim of these projects is to identify opportunities for exploiting science and technology as the basis for enhancing the future prospects for national economic growth. The typical structure of such schemes is to draw upon the expertise among leading academics and industrialists to examine emerging trends and to recommend which areas of R&D should receive priority in relation to government funding (Calof and Smith 2009). The potential drawback to this approach is that the advisers selected may be influenced by their bias for and against certain areas of science, technology or industry sector. The government may also favour ‘near-to-market’ opportunities over ‘blue- sky’ technology which, over the longer term, has the potential to provide the foundations for totally new industry sectors.

 
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