Technology managers and investors routinely face choices among apparently equivalent technology investment options. Visualization of technology development trends can provide a framework and a guide for making the most appropriate investment choices. The process can improve confidence in technology investment decisions by allowing both technical and non-technical managers to identify and interpret critical technology-related opportunities.
Technology Triage is a process for finding ideal strategic product development options by mining public records. Most often, we start by mining patent records, but the process can also use scientific, trade and regulatory information.
The secret to Technology Triage is making measurements and visualizing trends. You've heard it said "if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it". Well, it is true in managing technology innovation in emerging new technologies too. However, once you have measured it, you still need to explain it. To explain what you have found from the measurements, you need visualizations. That's what we do. We make measurements to find technology trends. Then, we visualize the trends in different ways to explain them to different audiences.
When you think about it, Technology Triage is a business process and therefore the process can be repeated successfully many times. The illustration below describes the process for mining and the visualizations that lead to technology insights.
Insights into the technology development landscape and and an understanding of the market lead to more effective product development or investment decisions.
Technology mapping is a process composed of a repeatable set of steps, decisions and deliverables.
1. Define the area. Usually, we set the project scope by filling out a project intake interview, Twelve Questions to Define a Project.
2 Build a Sufficiently Broad Patent (or other document) Database. A sufficiently broad database contains representative proportions of key companies and key ideas. As a rule, we recommend searching worldwide using full-text US (issued and applications), EP (issued and applications), WIPO and abstracts of Japan patent databases, but sometimes a US only focus is sufficient. We typically combine the results from several search strategies, crisscrossing the area of interest to form a database that broadly covers the topic of interest, to form the master database.
Validate. A first project step is to determine if the database contains the expected companies AND to determine if expected ideas are present by running additional keyword searches. If the conditions are not met, we continue to add to the database.
Eventually, data is loaded into a Data Matrix, a repository and search system.
3. Categorize and Segment to form a Model. Categorizing and segmenting divides the database into groups of patents (documents) that help to isolate the information needed and helps to tell the technology development story.
Categories can include manufacturing process, product features and materials that are arranged in a manufacturing sequence to form the technology stack
A segment is part of one category and represents a specific solution within the category. Segments are defined by keywords or keyword sets. Most critically, the segments formed are of technical AND business interest.
Categories or segments can be freely created using marketing research, expert opinion, the IPC code, process flow charts to tell the story. We also use text clustering and a special form of co-word analysis that we call adjacent word analysis to help define segments and categories.
The set of categories and segments constitute a model. Model construction is not usually a one-time process. Typically, the first model is incomplete but gets the discussion going. The second model is often too broad and the third model version is better tailored to answer the questions. Model construction is best done as a collaborative effort.
4. Visualize and Measure. Once the model has been constructed, we can very rapidly build detail oriented visualizations for scientists, engineers, CTI practitioners and analysts.
A Visual Index (patented) is a highly structured presentation of a patent (or other document) data collection or a segment (see above) that is designed to reveal technology development patterns and trends. The pattern of patenting or publication activity tells a story. In a typical area exploration, multiple Visual Indexes are formed from a variety of word searches, each search exploring a different aspect of the product space. Often, an exploration of a strategically significant area will result in 30-50 Visual Indexes.
The Area Visual Index shows patterns of activity by companies within a segment.
The Company Visual Index shows the pattern of activity for segments in which one company, organization or individual participates.
To measure the acceleration or deceleration of activity in a segment, we use the Vitality Plot, a method to measure technology development. Using the Vitality Plot, you can SEE which segments are exploding onto the scene, a possible competitive threat, and which segments are cooling down.
5. Summarize and Interpret Results. In this step, the "story" is developed by interpreting the visualizations.
The Company Matrix Table presents a multi-colored visual display which reveals where the strategic focus lies for each individual company, organization or inventor in the database. From the Strategic Focus Summary Table, you can sort to find the most active players in each area, quickly look at a single company's patents.
The Technology Stack View visualizes the product development risks for senior managers and strategists. Using the Technology Stack View, senior managers can form project teams and monitor product development risks and compare the risks taken with those taken by competitors.
On a Technology Stack Chart, the categories are rows. You typically need one solution from each category to build a product.
Within each category (row), the position of a segment shows what type of risk may be involved in using that segment for your product development. A segment on the left is typically new, just emerging and probably a Technology Risk as the solution may not really work. A segment on the right is technologically mature and one might expect multiple companies to have well developed solutions in this area but you many not be able to acquire or license the solution for your development.
Scenario Identification and Selection of an ideal use of the Technology Stack Chart. From the Technology Stack Chart, a variety of product development scenarios emerge. Each scenario will have pluses and minuses for an organization. The Technology Stack Chart is designed to stimulate discussion and guide choices so that the best possible product development pathway can be chosen.
6. Communicate the results in reports or presentations.