The term ‘Technology Roadmapping’ (TRM) refers to various kinds of forecast or Foresight studies including visions and detailed projections of future possible technological developments, products or environments: A roadmap is an extended look at the future for a chosen field of enquiry composed from the collective knowledge and imagination of the brightest drivers of change in that field.
“Roadmaps communicate visions, attract resources from business and government, stimulate investigations and monitor progress. They become the inventory of possibilities for a particular field.” Robert Galvin, Chairman and CEO of Motorola
Usually, roadmapping is a normative tool, like relevance trees and morphological analysis, i.e. the desired future state (or possibly states) is pre-determined. Two key interrelated functions have emerged as central to the technology roadmapping (TRM) methodology:
• TRM usually includes graphical representations in which ‘nodes’ (past, present or future states of the art in S&T development) are connected by ‘links’ (causal or temporal relations) showing the nature, rate and direction of potential S&T developments from or towards those nodes. As such TRM is a technology forecasting and foresight methodology.
• These representations can be put to practical use, in illuminating the way forward and in informing decisions about possible future options. As such, a roadmap is also a planning methodology, “a traveller’s tool that provides essential understanding, proximity, direction, and some degree of certainty in travel planning.” [Kostoff & Schaller 2001]
Growth of the use of TRM has taken place almost entirely independently of Foresight and has largely ignored its existence. Since the mid-1980s TRM has been developing within R&D and strategic planning teams in high-tech companies. Corporate TRM aims at supporting the development of new products by placing a causal or temporal relationship between the technology possibilities/choices and the business objectives thereby highlighting the necessary steps to reach the market with the right products at the right time.
As the concept and methodologies of TRM have matured it has been extended and developed to consortia of companies and even entire industrial sectors. The rationale is that an entire industry becomes more competitive in the long run by sharing R&D investments and results in the pre-competitive domain, thereby creating common technology standards and platforms, sharing risks and avoiding duplication of efforts. Each partner is thus able to identify and develop the technologies needed to succeed in the highly competitive global market. Industry TRM is used as an information and strategic planning tool and also as an action-oriented tool. It is about developing, organising and presenting information on the critical technological milestones to be completed within certain time frames by those players aiming for key roles. It aims at providing the information needed to make trade-offs among different technology alternatives.
TRM is also used for the forecast and development of ‘trans-disciplinary hi-tech goals’ implying collaboration between various partners. These goals may be objects or environments (e.g. the connected home or vehicle, etc.), functional objectives (e.g. reducing manufacturing defects, hazards to workers and environment, time and cost of manufacturing or competitive objectives.
More recently, a number of research institutes and think-tanks have made significant efforts to adapt this methodology to the provision of intelligence to support the policy-making process. In the context of rapid scientific and technological developments, it can contribute by providing strategic intelligence needed to optimise public R&D investments and ensure their relevance to society. Typically, experts in the technologies under investigation are involved into the developments of the roadmaps.
The construction of the roadmap consists of collecting, synthesising and validating the information, and representing the trends within graphical displays associated with support documents. It is neither practical nor desirable to attempt to develop a single, standardised methodology. Rather, the approach should be based on a light and modular process using a ‘toolbox’ with different modules depending on the roadmapping areas, issues, context and objectives.
Schematically, the methodology consists of relating major political or socio-economic challenges, seen as potential outputs of R&D developments, back to the present S&T policies through various technological paths. Traditional TRM tends to focus on the development trajectories of technologies to provide new products (Corporate TRM) or on detailed enabling technologies in the pre-competitive domain (Industry TRM).
The most important resource is to get the key people in the field involved in the roadmapping process.
The main characteristic of (Science and) Technology Roadmapping, in comparison with other forecasting or Foresight methods, is that the output includes graphical representations, just as scenarios include stories. In the case of corporate roadmapping they represent the future of one or a family of products integrate relevant strategic information such as technologies, products, markets.
The main characteristics of successful roadmaps are their clarity, relevance, focus on the information displayed in the graphics, and a clear synthesis and presentation of the core issues. Ideally, decision-makers can concentrate on what is relevant for the strategic decisions to be taken rather than being distracted by excessive detail.
Pros and cons
The graphical representations are an effective and intuitive way to demonstrate actual and possible causal and temporal relationships between successive or parallel steps or ‘nodes’ and thus to provide assistance to executives policy makers under severe information overload and time pressure to grasp effectively the most important elements and relations within a complex systems including scientific and technological, economic, political and social dimensions. Some inconsistencies, such as those between estimations from different sources or those arising from technological co-dependencies, can be put into evidence through the construction of respectively the ‘nodes’ or the ‘links’ of the roadmaps.
The drawback is that TRM traditionally focuses on technological developments, applications and products. It is not straightforward to adapt this method to the evaluation of fundamental research for which there is as yet no application nor to take into account the economic, political and social dimensions, and the complex interactions between them.
TRM is a well-structured method which does not easily allow for large-scale participation.
Either one desirable state of the future is highlighted, in which case a normative approach is taken, starting from this state and going back to the present, or any kind of future is to be considered, and so an exploratory approach is used, starting from the present and following the possible technological developments, whether they are desirable or not.
Scenarios illustrating the various technological developments highlighted by the roadmapping could complete it fruitfully by illustrating what these technological developments really mean for the society and business.