Breakthrough technology is a ‘game changer’ in both quick-to-market software-based industries and slower and less transparent markets like healthcare. The advantage to be gained from predicting future products and devices is obvious. However, the trajectory of technology evolution, based on former developments, can be misleading.
Horizon scanning can help you map the development of technologies relevant to your company. The first step is recognising the pattern of technologies as they cycle between ‘concentrated’ and ‘dilute’ states. While our needs generally remain consistent, the technologies we use to meet them shift cyclically between these two states. Concentrated forms are found in centralised systems such as power station technology or the hard drives within digital devices. Dilute technologies are more pervasive and are seen, for example, in home pregnancy tests or the communication aspects between digital devices.
To consider how technology can shift from the concentrated to dilute forms, it is worth remembering that power generation was once limited to water mills and small power stations. Similarly, there used to be few options for storing data other than with concentrated technologies such as hard drives. However, to meet demand, both have since made the shift into dilute technologies as seen in clouds of renewable energy devices and data storage. To understand future technological developments in these industries, providers of cloud services should therefore consider how the cloud might eventually cycle back into a concentrated form.
At the same time, mobile health and home-medical devices can provide a clear understanding of health conditions across the general populous. These dilute technologies thereby generate new data and insight, which can inform research and the consequent development of new-generation concentrated technologies.
A word of caution: it’s easy to get lost when day-dreaming about an unreal future. To gain potentially profitable insight requires three elements: wide understanding of leading-edge technology, a precise definition of what a product or service provides and the application of a proven, rigorous and structured process. When these elements are in place, chief technology officers can predict future developments and plan how to shape them to their advantage.