A platform approach to management of technology risk
The Conventional View
Platform engineering can be a powerful approach to technology management. A platform includes a family of key technologies or product attributes which are common across an organisation’s product portfolio. Technologies are identified, developed and validated at a platform level before being made available company wide. The cost and risk of new product development is then improved by integrating ready-proven technologies from the various platforms.
Organisations typically have a broad scope of activity and a wide product range, with each product delivering a different mix of benefits, functionality and performance. The technology platforms embody real technology modules that collectively deliver this product functionality.
“The key to managing the product innovation and risk lies in explicit management of the underlying platforms.”
In the diagram above, for example, the products may have a well proven heat exchanger comprising a hollow stainless steel coil through which water passes. Different boiler capacities are then achieved simply by specifying a longer coil length.
This is the conventional view of platform engineering applied to product management and new product introduction. However, there are a number of tools and approaches that support platform evolution.
Augmenting Platform Management
Approach 1: Technology Roadmapping
Technology roadmaps can be used to ensure that innovation and technology development is aligned with consumer needs, external threats such as policy changes and competitor technology developments which erode market share. The roadmap provides a mechanism to clearly define short term projects and investments while also mapping out the shape and direction of longer term development activities.
The process to establish a roadmap typically builds on input from multiple stakeholders, both technical and commercial. The activities may include:
- Identifying technology and performance trends and levels of maturity
- Identifying boundaries of current performance
- Identifying market demands for future performance and the gaps to be spanned
- Predicting feasible and likely evolution and identifying technology drivers that might shape future platform performance
- Validating new technologies and deciding the extent and timing to bring them online
Technology roadmaps ensure that technology projects are aligned with customer needs and business priorities –as well as other external factors-, thereby reducing risk and cost while improving potential return on investment. Putting a roadmap in the hands of the platform managers ensures that their development projects are kept aligned with these priorities and with regular reviews the roadmap can be redirected as market and business needs evolve. This helps to ensure that technologies are developed which give the business a real competitive advantage.
Approach 2: Technology Scouting
Another augmentation of platform thinking uses technology scouting as a significant enabler of innovation. This opens up the global space of technology opportunities as a resource for the platforms and enables companies to balance innovation opportunity and technology risk.
“It is important to identify functional needs to scout for technologies.”
Technology scouting is a process of identifying both emerging and existing technologies in the wider world. Technologies may come from universities, individual inventors or companies in other industry sectors. There are numerous tools available to carry out technology scouting, not least searching of patent databases and academic literature, as well as simply networking and attending relevant conferences in fields of interest. The difficulty is, of course, knowing what to look for, which is where the platform owners step in.
Platform owners can identify their aspirations for new performance and identify gaps and ceilings in capability. These requirements can be used to drive directed technology searches as well as wider scanning. The task now becomes more focussed on steering a new technology opportunity towards its use in a platform. Technologies can be identified, characterised, proven and tested, and then, as risk is eliminated, be made part of the platform and ready for use in new product developments.
Platform engineering is a compelling technique for managing technology and product development cost and risk. We have shown how platform engineering can be further augmented.
- A technology roadmap can be used to create a consensus about the maturity of technologies within a platform, identifying boundaries and future evolution while managing future risk and obsolescence.
- Technology scouting enables access to innovations from a global range of external opportunities. Platform strategies set the direction for technology scouting. The new technologies can be assessed and the risk managed before incorporation into a platform and ultimately the range of products.
If you would like to discuss how platform engineering could enhance your technology management processes then contact Chris Walters or Charles Boulton at firstname.lastname@example.org.