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During the last two decades, we have become familiar with a whole series of industrial indicators, such as falling U.S. market shares, slow productivity growth, and trade deficits, all of which imply declining U.S. competitiveness. It is frequently argued that over the long term this is leading to a reduction in U.S. living standards relative to our more successful competitors, and the topic is hence a source of increasing public concern.

There is by now widespread agreement that technology is a central element in this process, in part because of its sweeping impact on processes, systems, products and services; that is, the things that industry both uses and sells. From both a long term historical perspective and the experience of the last twenty years, it is clear that rapidly changing technology shifts the competitive balance between firms, industries, and even nations. A cursory reading of newspaper science and technology columns is enough to confirm that the technological revolution is continuing unabated throughout the world. A more detailed examination of the current specialized technical literature in fields as diverse as information science and biotechnology, suggests that the gap between the latest discoveries and our understanding of their ramifications may be widening. There is danger that technological progress is not only outpacing our ability to comprehend its impact as individuals, but more importantly, our capability to manage it effectively within an industrial setting. The current wide-ranging debate on competitiveness and technological change suggests we also need new paradigms in setting national policy goals.

Much of the conventional wisdom on managing technology, and many of the paradigms which inform our intuition on the proper conduct of research and development, were established in the 1950's and 60's in a period of U.S. dominance of world markets. These notions tend to emphasize technology-push. They are also drawn from the process and manufacturing industries which provided the most familiar models of industrial innovation at this time. With World War II a recent memory, leadership in science and the spin-offs of defense technology were popularly linked to U.S. commercial dominance.

Today, many of these underlying assumptions on the management of technology are being questioned, to some extent because the Japanese did not follow the same science and defense based U.S. model in achieving commercial success. But today's economy is also different; services now account for over seventy percent of the U.S. GDP. In addition, new models of innovation have superseded the older examples, in part because science and technology itself has changed. Without being able to name the exact date of transition, we have somehow passed from the nuclear to the information age, and now look forward to the universal impact of biotechnology.

The challenge for management and educators in determining what managers in the 90's should know about technology is daunting. What is needed is a new breed of managers who are as adept in managing technology as they are in traditional business skills.|1~ Somewhat surprisingly, given the numerical basis of science and technology, major advances in the field have focused on the development of good judgement in managing the subtleties and complexities created by continual technological change. We have come to be wary of the misplaced concreteness which comes with over reliance on numerical techniques.

Within industry itself there has been significant progress over the last twenty years in bridging the gap between the business and technical communities, and in establishing the language of conceptual frameworks and shared beliefs needed to grapple with managing technological change. A principal difficulty is that the technical community, in addition to simply supporting business strategy established within the corporation, often wrestles with the extent to which new technical insights bring about the need to challenge the conventional wisdom and change accepted business directions. This is not always a comfortable position for researchers as the appropriate balance between support versus change varies significantly by industry and corporate tradition, as well as from time to time within a given firm.

It has become abundantly clear that in fast moving industries, corporations need to be positioned with skills and capability in critical technical areas in order to recognize, react and capitalize on new advances. Identifying and developing these core technical competencies is a crucial part of business strategy. However, as the sources of new technology proliferate throughout the world, no single firm is able to command the range of resources and expertise needed for success. Researchers must learn to become better hunters and gathers of technology through alliances and a variety of cooperative arrangements. Leveraging resources in this way has been particularly important in biotechnology, where both established and emerging firms must look to external sources to commercialize radically new technology.|2~

The measurement of technical output and accomplishment is notoriously difficult. It is much easier to measure the input to the process, i.e. the resource commitments to technical operations. This leads to an inevitable asymmetry in budget discussions that in the extreme can leave corporate management with the sense of "knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing."|3~ An unambiguous coupling of technical input to financial results would be highly desirable. In practice we use a range of indicators and associations. Recently, the patent literature has been used in new ways to throw light on policy, technical position and research effectiveness.|4~ This illustrates that while no single measure has proved adequate to totally characterize technical performance, it is very important that we work to improve them.

1. Schillinger and Weiner, "Development of the Technology Management Curriculum" this issue, page 5.

2. Hamilton, "Strategic Choices in Technology Management: Lessons from Biotechnology", this issue, page 14.

3. Oscar Wilde, "Lady Windermere's Fan" 1892.

4. Narin, "Technology Indicators and Corporate Strategy," this issue, page 19.
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Title Annotation:Symposium: Management of Technology; management of technology
Author:Mitchell, Graham R.
Publication:Review of Business
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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