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Environmental Scanning | Disruptive Innovation

Discovering Innovations: Insights From Silicon Valley

The careful monitoring of an organization’s internal and external corporate environment to spot the first signs of relevant business opportunities and threats is one of the most important steps in holistic innovation management and strategy development. We interviewed Philipp Schett, Director of Strategy and Innovation Consulting at Detecon Silicon Valley Office, on the importance of environmental scanning, the role of software solutions to foster innovation and potential advantages of being closer to startups in Silicon Valley.

What does environmental scanning mean?

Environmental Scanning can be described as the task of scanning the environment for signals that you can use to make strategic decisions differentiating noise and signal. I believe that organizations can have a competitive advantage when they master this art of scanning the environment for new opportunities, challenges and anything that might in the future influence the business.”

What’s so special about performing environmental scanning in Silicon Valley?

“I would say, that you can find out about new technologies equally well from Nuremberg or wherever you are because you are able to follow the right people on Twitter, read tech blogs, listen to podcasts, follow google alerts, as well as scan patent databases. However, here in Silicon Valley, you have the opportunity to learn about new things and new technologies before they make big waves in mainstream media.

From being in Silicon Valley, we learned that ideas are cheap and that in the end, it’s all about the execution. So, in my opinion, being here in SV is more of an advantage when it comes to the execution of ideas. You can read about a new technology on TechCrunch and then assess whether it’s interesting. You can easily reach out to people, which due to the distance works best through a phone call. Furthermore, you need to convince them that you are also a viable partner for them, which is extremely difficult from the other side of the world.

So, if you just see Environmental Scanning as we look at what happens in the environment, the SV advantage is meanwhile diminishing. But if you look at the whole value chain from: “Hey, we identify ideas” to “We make stuff happen”, then being here is still a major advantage.”

You believe that the business value of being in Silicon Valley is establishing a direct connection between the startups and the big companies, correct?

"Yes, and that’s still hard to do when you are not here. An interesting aspect of Silicon Valley is: no matter how digital everything is here, networking is completely analog. That’s why Burning Man here is still so popular for so many SV VCs. People go there without cell phone reception and then network.”

What tools can you recommend or do you use for environmental scanning?

“We use ITONICS Radar as a tool to structure the results of our scouting. The Radar that we use is twofold. It is extremely easy to get lost in too much data due to a lack of structure in a tool. You won’t achieve any result. For this reason, ITONICS Radar is a great tool for us since it allows us to make what we find from all those sources available in one tool. Additionally, by making it more visible, we help our colleagues understand the information more easily. Things become more clear: these are the trends we found, these are some ratings that we apply, this is an evaluation of those trends and new technologies.”

Do you think that software-supported solutions give a competitive advantage to your clients?

“I am absolutely sure that without software, you will never be able to make sense of all the information. So, yes, I believe that software can absolutely be a competitive advantage. If you are absolutely serious about Environmental Scanning and if you want to build a competitive advantage, you need to leverage the technology. So, no doubt there.”

Do you maybe have an example in which industry you leveraged the software?

“We started a project in the aviation sector last year. We wanted to understand how much innovation is happening in this field. Especially, with regard to airports, which are more efficiency and security driven, but are not really focused on innovation. In the US, airports are public entities and these tend to be a bit slower than others. Thus, together with our colleagues in Germany, we used the Radar tool to collectively identify and rate trends.

A subjective rating of one person might not be an ideal data form, but when you add the experience of many consultants together and ask many different people to rate something, you get data that is actually reasonably reliable. As a result, we went to our client and presented what our experts evaluated. We also showed them the areas that are most valuable for them.”

What do you think are the most important features of the innovation radar?

“The collaborative feature is, of course, great. And then the main interesting feature is to connect trends and new startups. I believe a trend or technology is useless unless you have a use case for it and some kind of business impact. When it comes to implementing new technologies, most of our clients need partners and this can be a startup. The startup can then help them evaluate whether this new technology is able to have a business impact on them.”

Do you think that environmental scanning is becoming more important?

“Most companies ran out of business, not because they did some mistakes, they just continued doing what they were doing for too long and didn’t change their strategies. They either didn’t see what was happening in their environment or they saw it but were not able to internalize these changes into their processes. So, again, if Environmental Scanning has a real impact in organizations it can actually differentiate survivors and companies that die out. Therefore, I believe that ES will become even more important in the future.”


Philipp Schett is the Director of the Strategy and Innovation Consulting at Detecon Silicon Valley Office. Detecon is a leading, globally operating technology management consulting company. Detecon helps clients with their digitization and innovation strategies across industries around the globe. Detecon unites management consulting with great digital technology expertise and has supported customers in more than 2,000 projects in over 165 countries.

Detecon Innovation Radar, powered by ITONICS, makes it possible to structure, analyze, and assess the available information on trends, risks, or startups and to use these results for future-oriented strategies and innovation projects.