You can't rush genius; maybe you can track it
Kathleen G. Tatterson
CARLISLE, Mass. -- Is it possible to track the invention of photonics technology so that the marketing and funding of the technology can follow in a logical and competitive fashion? One theory that attempts to predict the development of technology suggests a pattern that companies can follow to achieve "concurrent development" -- that elusive synergy among innovation, development, manufacturing and commercialization functions, and the financing of all of them.
"Innovation is not something you can plot on a PERT (project evaluation and review technique) chart," explained Tim Fohl, president of Technology Integration Group Inc. of Carlisle, which specializes in bringing together technology sources and needs in the fields of light and optics. He suggests that technological development areas such as laser diodes and holographic optics move slowly initially and then advance in an explosion of change, tapering off into the classical "S" curve.
In a traditional research/commercial relationship, marketing of a technology would have to wait until after the program is complete -- which could delay commercialization by two or three years -- or would have to rely on the research managers for an estimate of program completion. "Those responsible for marketing and finance are not willing to take the research manager's word for it -- sometimes with good reason," said Fohl. Tracking technology using Fohl's theory would allow everyone to see the innovation process firsthand, saving time and money in manufacturing and commercialization phases.
Fohl, a former research executive with GTE, noticed this trend as he worked on a way to monitor the development of halogen and compact fluorescent lamps. Because the GTE team could accurately track how the technology development was going, its members could strategically plan the building of manufacturing facilities and the launching of products. And not only was GTE able to monitor development internally, but it could track that of its competitors.
Now Fohl's 4-year-old consulting company is applying this strategy for the manufacturers of holographic optics, guided light systems and light sources using gas-discharge and semiconductor technology. Although mum on specific photonic projects, he said that the firm was involved with "integrating these trends to look at possible applications in areas where they haven't been applied before."
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