What is an Innovation Radar?
An Innovation Radar is a visualisation tool that supports long-term innovation planning. It is inspired by the radars used on ships and in air traffic control. It shows external factors that the company might, at some point in the future, choose to (or be forced to) react to. This might mean adopting new production techniques or business processes or developing new products or product features. The Innovation Manager or Technology Manager uses the radar to collect and monitor external factors such as developing technologies or market trends that might affect his/her company in the future.
You can find several examples of radars on the Internet. One of the most interesting and attractive ones (we think) is the BMW group technology trend radar.
The Innovation Radar is divided into concentric circles, which can be thought of as time horizons. These represent how long it will be until the factors can be exploited. Usually, four rings are used, called Hold, Assess, Trial and Adopt. Factors in the outermost horizon Hold are so immature or uncertain, that the company chooses to wait for further developments. In the next ring Assess, factors are evaluated for their potential, in the third (Trial), they are tested, and when they reach the innermost ring Adopt, they are ready for use.
An example of a technology that is currently at the Hold stage is room-temperature superconductivity. At the moment it is still being developed in universities and research laboratories, but as soon as the scientific breakthrough is achieved, companies such as General Electric and Siemens will begin to assess its viability for use in power generation and power distribution.
A technology that recently made the transition from Trial to Adopt for many applications is Artificial Intelligence, which are currently seeing a surge in use, for example in chatbots and data analysis.
BMW uses only three horizons that they call Watch, Prepare and Act. We recommend a four-ring variant with Observe, Assess, Prepare and Act to our clients.
The Innovation Radar is divided into sectors that resemble cake slices. These represent different categories for the topics. Typically four to six sectors are used. In the above image, the sectors are Customers, ICT (Information and Communication Technology), Competition, Government, Society and Other.
Of course, the sectors depend on the application; the product development of a consumer goods company may use broad categories like the above, while a software development team might have very specific categories such as Programming Languages, Development Platforms and Testing Procedures.
Each technology or future influence is represented by a small geometric shape on the radar called a blip. Each blip is located within a particular sector and horizon and carries an ID. The ID is a reference to the documentation on that particular topic.
Blips appear on the radar when a new factor is identified, and they can also disappear, if a factor becomes irrelevant. Otherwise, they advance slowly (perhaps taking years for each step) from the outside towards the centre. Each transition triggers an activity. For example, the CRISPR gene editing technology was announced by scientists in the late 2000s, and the healthcare industry soon began evaluating its potential for gene therapy.
Blips can be customised to carry additional information. For example, they can be colour-coded to show that their status has recently changed, and their size can indicate their estimated business impact.
Here are some questions for the application of the Innovation Radar:
- What events, publications and organisations should we monitor in order to learn of new blips for our radar?
- What does ‚Observe‘ entail, and who is responsible for executing it?
- How will we decide when to move a blip from one ring to the next?
- What criteria will we use to assess a blip and how will we know we need to start preparation?
- Will we get resources from management when we need to start the Prepare stage?