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3rd i News and Articles

Feb 21

Written by: Colm Ryan
Thursday, February 21, 2013 

 

Abstract

This critique is an analysis of 4 papers dealing with technology management, the role of the CTO in dealing with technological change, and roadmapping as a strategic tool to assist in aligning technology activities with the business strategy. In this critique I look at the key message and persuasiveness of the authors, the papers' relevance to our own experience and how we might apply knowledge from the articles to our own business.

Introduction

The first task in writing this critique is synthesising the application of the four articles to gain an understanding of how they provide a basis for understanding the CTO's challenge. Therein we establish a base where the arguments in the papers under review can be assessed in a coherent and informative manner. We begin by reviewing technology management as a dynamic capability and develop the idea of the technology management framework, leading into a discussion of the role of the CTO. Next we look at some roadmapping tools and techniques and reflections on a case study before documenting final reflections on the applicability to our business.

Technology Management as a Dynamic Capability

The central argument proposed by Cetindamar, Phaal, and Probert (2009) as to why a dynamic capabilities view of Technology Management (TM) is that "technological changes are continuously creating new challenges and opportunities for new product development and industrial diversification" (Cetindamar et al., 2009, p. 237) and in order to exploit these new challenges Cetindamar et al. (2009) propose dynamic capabilities theory to enhance the understanding of TM. The three main advantages highlighted for this view are that:

  • Long term performance is not based on specific innovations, but rather the capability to generate product, service and process changes
  • It becomes possible to break with highly aggregated and static models by observing and analysing the organisation on its capabilities
  • The market and products are not taken as given in this theory, but objects of strategic reconstitution with the role of strategic management key to managing change

 

Cetindamar et al. (2009) highlight the distinction between dynamic and operational capabilities. Dynamic capabilities have the ability to reconfigure operational capabilities and are defined as high level routine. It is in this view that we can visualise the observations in the literature between the Technology management function, the CTO role and the tools and techniques that can be employed to provide this "dynamic capability" to the management of technology. We can now also see, because of its importance in linking the operational and planning aspects, the relevance of roadmapping as an agent of change as described by McMillan (2003) in their case study and relate this as one of the tools and techniques that may be applied.

The three advantages highlighted by Cetindamar et al. (2009) are used to assert the ability of dynamic capabilities theory to address the most critical management capabilities to sustain competitive advantage. This Rush, Bessant, and Hobday (2007) view is not universal however. Eisenhardt and Martin (2000) in their analysis of dynamic capabilities conclude that resource re-configurations, not dynamic capabilities are key to long-term competitive advantage. Loosely interpreting the term "resource re-configuration" to mean "business model innovation", this argument is possibly reflective of the nature of disruptive technical and business model innovations entering a marketplace, where perhaps despite the ability of an organisation to reconfigure itself operationally via a dynamic capability, there are organisational barriers that prevent them from doing so. This is a topic worthy of further reflection in its relevance to some of the competitive interplay and variant business models that have emerged in recent years. Specifically considering the technology sector where previously dominant players appear to be struggling in the face of more recent business models and their associated product innovations.

Technology Management Framework

Cetindamar et al. (2009) propose the use of the TM framework (Figure 1) developed by Robert Phaal, Farrukh, and Probert (2004) to integrate the theory of dynamic capabilities into a TM framework. The framework provides the conceptual tool need to examine how the activities are linked or embedded in the core business processes or strategy, innovation and operations. Cetindamar et al. (2009) indicate the implied time based dimension in the TM framework proposed.

Figure 1. TM Framework, Phaal et al. (2004)

It is in this view we get our first perspective on the utility of roadmapping techniques as part of the technology management toolkit. In their paper Robert Phaal, Farrukh, and Probert (2006) describe how the framework model (Figure 1) integrates with other management toolkits, including the generalised form of the strategic roadmap. It might therefore be a possibility to identify a method of how Cetindamar et al. (2009) could have extended the dynamic capabilities theory integration with the TM framework to make explicit the time based perspective by introducing a time dimensional component such as roadmapping to their understanding of the TM function.

Role of the CTO

The CTO job title as acknowledged by van der Hoven, Probert, Phaal, and Goffin (2012) emerged in the 1980s and is reflective of a number of different senior executive job titles related to innovation and strategic management of technology across the enterprise. Cetindamar et al. (2009) make the point that it is not specific innovations that matter but the ability to implement change to manage innovation.

Both Cetindamar et al. (2009) and van der Hoven et al. (2012) are cognisant of the current rapid change of the technology landscape and the difficulties associated with managing this changing landscape. van der Hoven et al. (2012) discuss the role of the CTO in dealing with the expansion in responsibilities.

Cetindamar et al. (2009) and van der Hoven et al. (2012) deal with activities of technology management. The research conducted by van der Hoven et al. (2012) involved interviews with thirty CTOs across a range of industries. Using cognitive mapping techniques, recordings they deduced the six key CTO activities identified in (figure 2).

The analysis Cetindamar et al. (2009) is based on TM literature and is a distillation of the fundamental supporting TM activities identified. Both sets of authors describe these activities as being unstructured, van der Hoven et al. (2012) referring to the "idiosyncratic" nature of the CTOs role and Cetindamar et al. (2009) describing it as an unstructured, non-linear jigsaw of activities.

 

Figure 2: Activity Comparison

While correlations can be draw between the two views, there does seem to be an issue of abstraction between the two lists. On reflection we can see that van der Hoven et al. (2012) list includes "Aligning technology to corporate strategy and business model" as an activity and it could be cogently argued that this is in fact an objective not an activity, with the other five activities contributing to this objective.

Cetindamar et al. (2009) list appears to parallel the TM framework proposed by Robert Phaal et al. (2004) but with the addition of "learning from the development and exploitation of technology". This could be argued that this is an outcome rather than an activity. Perhaps these anomalies and perspective differences are reflective of a wider issue in the nomenclature and conceptual frameworks in the literature. This is also alluded to by Cetindamar et al. (2009) in their concluding remarks.

Reflecting on the unstructured nature of TM activities, Cetindamar et al. (2009) had introduced the "Jigsaw" view of TM supporting activities to illustrate the non-linearity of these activities. This non-linearity is explained in terms of the "flexibility" required by the organisation and the "art" of TM. However Cetindamar et al. (2009) also acknowledge the natural flows between the activities. This non-linear view would concur with the idiosyncratic nature of the CTO role identified by van der Hoven et al. (2012) and the discontinuities in management priorities caused by the technology transition points they have identified.

In addition van der Hoven et al. (2012) look at the applicability of life cycle models and cite research by Phelps, Adams, and Bessant (2007) that demonstrates the weak relationship between management priorities and life cycle stages. It is this context that it is proposed that transition points should influence management priorities rather than life cycle stages.

The technology transition points identified by van der Hoven et al. (2012) are listed in (figure 3). It appears that we are concerned with sources of transitional change initiated both extrinsically and intrinsically to the TM function.

Figure 3: Transition points for CTOs. van der Hoven et al. (2012)

By implication therefore, if one could anticipate or forecast the technology transition points, it may go some way towards optimising the results of the TM activities. The observation by van der Hoven et al. (2012) that at various times CTOs may need to act in a pro-active or reactive manner is noted.

To facilitate the TM function we can consider roadmapping techniques. "The key benefit of roadmaps is to enable visibility and communications, within a logical structure." (Robert Phaal et al., 2006, p. 328). Strategic roadmapping can be identified as having a key role in integrating tools and processes and can be considered a business or systems framework (Robert Phaal et al., 2006). Other management tools can be related to the structure and content of roadmaps and according to Robert Phaal et al. (2006) they can be developed at various levels, forming a hierarchy of roadmaps.

A key question we might ask therefore is "does strategic roadmapping facilitate change at the key transition points and do we have any empirical evidence to confirm that is does"? In other words, does the roadmapping process contribute to anticipation of the transition points and how flexible is it in adapting to the new circumstances? This in the parlance of van der Hoven et al. (2012) is to ask whether or not the roadmapping tools can be used both pro-actively and re-actively.

Some clues as to how roadmapping techniques might be used to achieve such a utility is given by van der Hoven et al. (2012). In their conceptual framework (Figure 4), shifting priorities are mapped overtime if different paths are taken. Each of these shifting priorities has the potential to re-architect and re-configure a strategic roadmap. Obviously the impact of a major transition can be difficult to anticipate. For example, a change in ownership could perhaps be anticipated in time as to when a company sale would complete, but perhaps little is known about whom the buyer is and what their objectives might be. In this scenario any "what-if" analysis would be purely speculative and the attempt to be pro-active might lead to a dead end. However if the view was taken that an opportunity to sell a particular future vision to the incoming ownership, perhaps there is some value at a personal level for the CTO in attempting to anticipate the changes a new owner might want to introduce, for example in a merger situation.

Figure 4: From van der Hoven et al. (2012).

A conceptual view of technology transition points and changing priorities.

 

As suggested by van der Hoven et al. (2012) perhaps further deductive research on the dynamics of transition points and CTO priorities could be investigated. A caveat to this approach might be that the focus of this research needs to balance the objectivity of the CTO with the transitional changes that are anticipated.

Strategic Roadmapping Techniques and Technology Management

Having established from our analysis a better understanding of the activities of TM, the role and challenges of the CTO and how the roadmapping techniques can provide an integrative framework for TM activities we now explore the suggested approaches to roadmapping provided in the literature by R. Phaal, Farrukh, and Probert (2007) and how this compares with the learning from the Rockwell case study provided by McMillan (2003) and subsequently relates to our exploration of technology management and the CTOs activities.

The initial technology roadmap explorations of Rockwell Automation where led by the technology teams based upon the prevailing technology strategies (McMillan, 2003). For the first time in Rockwell, the role of the roadmap as a communications vehicle with the business teams enabled the method to prioritize perceived needs into actual impactful business performance needs. The lessons learned during this process were:

  • there was a need for commitment from senior management to the process
  • that it was initially a complex and time consuming task
  • the business units needed to endorse and own the process
  • the process was perceived as "mandated" by management rather than delivering benefit to the business units.

No surprise perhaps that the lessons learned involved people, process and technology, a well-trodden triumvirate of business enablers.

Organisations can struggle with the approach because it must generally be tailored to the specific needs of the firm (R. Phaal et al., 2007). In (figure 5 below) the roadmapping fast start or T-Plan approach is illustrated R. Phaal et al. (2007). What is very clear here are the lessons learned by Rockwell during their initial implementation of roadmapping is that the T-Plan approach would very quickly set expectations of the activity required and put in context the available options to the roadmapping instigators. Indeed, the S-Plan approach proposed by R. Phaal et al. (2007) further front-ends the roadmap planning process by setting the strategic landscape, identifying innovation and priority opportunities, as well as setting out the way forward.

Figure 5: "T-Plan" roadmapping fast start approaches. Adapted from R. Phaal et al. (2007)

The conclusions put forward by McMillan (2003) was that roadmapping has been an important driver for cultural change and management thought. According to McMillan (2003), Rockwell still question real value and real return on investment while acknowledging the time and resources saved, the value of the knowledge, strategic alignment and awareness gained through the process. Roadmapping as a change agent perhaps, needs a clearer way of establishing the expected benefits of the process and methods of calculating the real returns over the alternatives.

Reflections on this exploration

I reflect on the literature as a small business owner with an interest in technology and innovation. In our business, we would still consider ourselves in the "startup" mode and would have a number of emerging product and service lines that we wish to develop going forward. For us, the usefulness of the road mapping process was very apparent in terms of helping us think about our strategy and how to progress our knowledge of the customer and to make the best use of the technology and services we have developed going forward to gather the momentum and growth path we desire for the business.

A secondary utility of roadmapping for our business is to encourage its implementation with our clients. Certainly with our clients who are strategising in such a manner are more likely to be pro-active in determining their requirements and this is a straightforward opportunity for us to work with them on delivering their objectives.

In many ways, our task is far simpler than the experience of Rockwell and the roadmap customisation process happened very naturally for us, certainly for the first iteration. We do not have so many people to facilitate in the process and management buy in is very simple. However the utility of the process and insights gained is no less useful in our terms. We can certainly appreciate how putting process around the roadmap to pursue and revise on a regular basis would keep us on track and help us with defining our strategy. Our main current concern is the company strategy in relation to our overall business model and we can drill down into product as necessary.

The roadmap we produced is a reflection of the questions we asked. What technology do we have? What exactly does our customer need? What do we know about where the industry is going? Asking these questions and understanding the technology push, customer pull dynamic of the generalised roadmap R. Phaal et al. (2007) certainly led us to a better understanding of the flow of information between the two domains.

In conclusion, we will very likely continue our use of roadmapping on an on-going basis for both product and business strategy and to evangelise its use with our client base. The exploration of the role of the CTO and the investigation of technology management frameworks and dynamic capabilities that was conducted, while theoretically interesting, is of little day to day operational concern other than how it informs our client engagements.

The decision making processes internally are greatly simplified in our case and the consequence of transitional events for example, are perhaps under more control and have less impact on a range of people as things currently stand. That perspective could change over time, in which case implementing organisation structures & processes that are based on solid understanding of the theory will be important for us.

 

Cetindamar, D., Phaal, R., & Probert, D. (2009). Understanding technology management as a dynamic capability: A framework for technology management activities. Technovation, 29(4), 237-246. doi: 10.1016/j.technovation.2008.10.004

Eisenhardt, K. M., & Martin, J. A. (2000). DYNAMIC CAPABILITIES: WHAT ARE THEY? Strategic Management Journal, 21(10/11), 1105.

McMillan, A. (2003). ROADMAPPING -- AGENT OF CHANGE. Research Technology Management, 46(2), 40.

Phaal, R., Farrukh, C., & Probert, D. (2006). TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT TOOLS:: GENERALIZATION, INTEGRATION AND CONFIGURATION. International Journal of Innovation & Technology Management, 3(3), 321-339.

Phaal, R., Farrukh, C. J. P., & Probert, D. R. (2004). A framework for supporting the management of technological knowledge. International Journal of Technology Management, 27(1), 1-15.

Phaal, R., Farrukh, C. J. P., & Probert, D. R. (2007). Strategic Roadmapping: A Workshop-based Approach for Identifying and Exploring Strategic Issues and Opportunities. Engineering Management Journal, 19(1), 3-12.

Phelps, R., Adams, R., & Bessant, J. (2007). Life cycles of growing organizations: A review with implications for knowledge and learning. International Journal of Management Reviews, 9(1), 1-30. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2007.00200.x

Rush, H., Bessant, J., & Hobday, M. (2007). Assessing the technological capabilities of firms: developing a policy tool. R&D Management, 37(3), 221-236. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9310.2007.00471.x

van der Hoven, C., Probert, D., Phaal, R., & Goffin, K. (2012). Dynamic Technology Leadership. Research Technology Management, 55(5), 24-33. doi: 10.5437/08956308X5505073

 

Copyright ©2013 Colm Ryan

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