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4 Steps For Enhancing Environmental Scanning Capabilities

Elizebeth Croeser
Thursday, Jul 8, 2021

End2End Innovation Management begins by asking the fundamental question, Where to Play. Answering this question relies on several congruent activities and internal capabilities that primarily fall within the discipline of Foresight and Strategy. Organizations equipped with strong Foresight capabilities can align their strategy with future scenarios and build resilience in an increasingly uncertain and competitive landscape.

Essential in Foresight and Strategy is an organization’s capacity to scan its business environment. Environmental Scanning helps make sense of the various elements that have relevance and impact in this environment. It focuses on activities that enhance innovation intelligence, thereby enabling the identification of new opportunities for growth, informing strategic priorities, and shaping future goals.

The practice of Environmental Scanning has been around for as long as people have tried to preempt threats and capitalize on opportunities. However, the systematic collection and interpretation of relevant data for strategic planning—Environmental Scanning as we know it today—was popularized by futurists in the mid to late twentieth century. 

Sometimes referred to as Futures Scanning Systems, Early Warning Systems, and Future Intelligence Systems, Environmental Scanning methods can differ but share an exploratory process, a future-oriented lens, and output of actionable intelligence.  

 

What Is Environmental Scanning? 

Environmental Scanning is the capability to scan the (business) environment comprehensively and continuously.

The business environment comprises internal and external drivers of change, including capabilities, trends, disruptive and emerging technologies, startups, competitors, markets, business models, risks, regulations, and customer needs. 

Common terminology that Environmental Scanning practitioners will encounter includes:

Term

Definition

Scouting Scouting is the process of observing shifts and developments by collecting pertinent data, contextualizing change to uncover discernable patterns as weak signals, and identifying Trends and Emerging Technologies that hold both impact and relevance.
Weak signal A weak signal—supported by several signals—represents the first sign of discontinuity or change, often with unclear origin and meaning.
Trend As an expression of new consumer attitudes, expectations, or behaviors, trends present consumer and market shifts that drive new change. Trends are an indication of market PULL; guiding innovators in knowing what consumers need, desire, and occasionally demand.
Emerging Technology The development of new, emerging, and evolving technologies are designed either in response to needs or as a precursor to nascent demands. Emerging Technologies represent a market PUSH; driven by R&D and innovation, these are the tools capable of meeting—and sometimes, creating—new needs, desires, and demands.
Inspiration An inspiration is evidence of how organizations or individuals are responding to a trend or emerging technology in the real world. Inspirations serve as springboards for ideation, helping innovators look beyond their category, connect information in new ways, and nurture fresh thinking.
STEEP STEEP—social, technological, economic, environmental, and political—is a framework for segmenting the environment across dimensions to facilitate scanning and analysis. It indicates where an observed change is occurring.


The ultimate goal in Environmental Scanning is to find the “fairy dust” that will ignite new thinking, catalyze action, and engage customers.

 

The Fundamentals of Environmental Scanning

Getting started with Environmental Scanning requires a clear framework for managing the flow of information. Foresight managers must first understand their organization’s current scanning capabilities and define the key objectives. This will help establish the scope of Environmental Scanning activities and search fields. Primary activities include trend and emerging technology scouting, capability supervision, and competitor watch. 

The information and insights collected during these activities are only as good as the sources from which they are derived. A rigorous methodology should balance tangible scientific, technological, and social data insights while also recognizing the significance of the intangible, value-driven changes in society. 

Valuable sources of data and information can be found across four quadrants—from analytic to visionary and from interactive & intuitive to evidence & expertise.

Sources of Data and Information in Environmental Scanning

A common challenge that organizations face in Environmental Scanning is mitigating the “noise” to find and act on relevant information and impact. Internal, collaborative evaluation of trends, technologies, and other drivers of change can serve as a means of discerning relevance and help teams understand what these elements might mean for their business. Based on unique industry- and company-specific criteria, the internal evaluation also helps empower teams with the consensus needed to ensure strategic alignment, strengthen buy-in, and act decisively.

Defining the team and responsibilities upfront ensures that the right competencies and areas of expertise are leveraged. An Environmental Scanning team consists of the following roles:

  • Scout: actively searches for and tracks relevant signals
  • Analyst: monitors the evolution of signals to trends, technologies, and other drivers of change, and eventually to opportunities
  • Expert: evaluates the drivers of change according to defined criteria
  • Foresight Manager: establishes the process and is responsible for the outcomes

Roles in an Environmental Scanning Team

Teams can optimize their Environmental Scanning capabilities through centralization and automation:

Firstly, having a central platform to collect insights can reveal connections between related elements and allow for the sharing of information between team members and business units. A single point of truth helps to create a shared understanding, fosters discussions about the importance of factors, and facilitates internal evaluation. 

Secondly, using artificial intelligence to automate steps within this process means that millions of signals can be scanned from available sources. AI can identify hidden patterns that provide actionable insights and areas of opportunity when combined with analyst knowledge and experience.

 

4 Steps to Enhance your Environmental Scanning Capabilities:

1. Conducting Systematic Scouting and Scanning

Innovation team capabilities need to be clearly defined and understood so that gaps and opportunities for increased output can be augmented with digital tools, machine learning, and AI. The sheer volume of raw data that needs to be collected can easily become problematic. Subsequently, filtering information to display what is most relevant and important is another crucial step. A common assumption would be that these steps become easier when innovation teams grow; however, more team members does not necessarily mean that the scouting and scanning capabilities are enhanced.

Identifying a wide variety of sources from where scouting and scanning information can be garnered is essential for ensuring a complete view. This ‘total’ view often uses the STEEP, or PESTEL (also known as STEP, PESTLE, or PEST) analysis methodologies to encourage ‘total’ Environmental Scanning. Scouting and scanning processes should enable both a birds’ eye and fish-eye view of the environment. This requires the Environmental Scanning process to take an overall approach first, and then through structured steps, views become more partial as connections start to become evident. Connections and relations between weak signals guide the sense-making process, and systems and tools need to be positioned to support this process. 

 

2. Making Sense of Data through Analysis

Thorough and structured scouting and scanning become useful through the sense-making processes. During this phase, teams need to be able to identify patterns from the vast amounts of data, and through connecting data, important patterns appear from which teams will commence their sense-making phases.

Teams need to inquire which factors, directly and indirectly, impact the organization, and internal and external factors should be taken into account. Degrees of impact are crucial to map out as internal factors will determine capacity and strategic planning, and external factors of influence use trend and technology insights that indicate opportunity spaces. 

The sense-making process requires digital and physical interlinkages, as well as scientific and intuitive activities. Having the ability to quickly view the numbers of data points, relations, and current impact is imperative for quick responses. However, leveraging human capital will help ensure a deeper understanding of opportunities and threats.

The future is, in a profound sense, unknowable. But not everything is uncertain; some things are relatively predictable. We can do a respectable job of "sensing" the basic dynamics of the future and the alternative courses they might take.

James L. Morrison and Ian Wilson

 

3. Gain Consensus through Collaborative and Strategic Alignment

Asking questions around what changing environments, behaviors, expectations, and mindsets are and how they will influence the future helps us identify opportunity spaces and threats. Organizations want to leverage opportunities and turn threats into opportunities to gain a competitive advantage. Opportunity spaces may illuminate new markets, R&D of new or complementary products or services, integrating technologies, optimizing processes, realigning purpose, or changing interactions with people.   

To enable firstly, the identification of opportunity spaces, and secondly, shape strategic response, needs to involve cross-organizational input. In addition, robust insights from the sense-making process may also require input and collaboration from experts outside the organization. Involving the right people at the right moments along this part of the innovation journey can significantly expedite and organize efforts—systems and tools that enable systematic collaboration resulting in more efficient and ultimately successful innovations. 

4. Continuously Engaging in Environmental Scanning 

To respond to rapid changes, organizations must integrate continuous Environmental Scanning processes into strategic mapping. Environmental Scanning serves as an early warning system that helps organizations adapt quickly and effectively. As opposed to project-based scanning, continuous scanning can only be sustainably implemented when efficient systems and tools can optimize the processes.

As a next step in the Foresight & Strategy Process, innovators should engage in Scenario Planning. Our upcoming Masterclass session will provide a deeper understanding of how to create different scenarios with relevance to the success of the organization's future. 

Register Now


How Using ITONICS Explorer Enhances Environmental Scanning

The ITONICS Explorer helps innovation architects discover, collect and evaluate emerging trends and technologies in one central location. 

The automatic discovery of weak signals from a wide variety of sources globally speeds up the scanning and scouting processes significantly and assists teams in the systematic organization and evaluation of elements during the sense-making process. The ITONICS rate and review functionalities provide easy ways to garner collaborative input and visualize the input in ways that immediately indicate intelligence. 

Using connections, tagging and relations enable quick identification of relevant intelligence, and the configuration of Explorer views and workspaces enables uncomplicated and effective decision-making touchpoints. 

ITONICS Explorer

 

ITONICS Trend Radar - Explorer

 

TIP 💡

Enabling continuous and easy ways for all your employees to capture what they deem relevant for organizational innovation, can provide a wider scouting and scanning lens and encourage awareness to actively participate in the innovation journey.

 

FAQs:

How do I view my Information in the ITONICS Explorer?
How do I create my Elements in the ITONICS Explorer?
Can I comment on an Element in the ITONICS Explorer? 
How do I rate an Element in the ITONICS Explorer? 

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Have more Time?

Listen to THE GOLDEN AGE OF STRATEGIC FORESIGHT
Read 10 Factors To Help You Evaluate A New Technology  
Read How To Identify Relevant Trends And Technologies For Your Organization

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