Social Software for Uncertainty Reduction in R&D Programme Planning for Custom-Built Products

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R&D programme planning is an essential phase of R&D management aiming at the optimised selection and planning of R&D projects. Shortcomings in this phase cannot or only partly be adjusted in later phases. Thereby, R&D programme planning highly influences the success of all other phases of R&D. It creates the link between strategic and operational planning and the transfer into R&D projects. Through factors like an increasing technological complexity and globalisation of markets, R&D programme planning is getting more and more important in today's economy also in sectors that are traditionally not technology oriented. R&D programme planning can in general be divided into the following phases:

  1. Strategic orientation: Definition of the strategic orientation of the R&D programme.
  2. Generation and collection of R&D project ideas: Identification, generation and collection of ideas for R&D projects in and outside the organisation.
  3. Evaluation and selection of R&D project ideas: Structured evaluation and filtering of R&D project ideas.
  4. Development of R&D project concepts: Concept development for selected R&D project ideas to allow further evaluation based on product, technology or market information.
  5. Capacity planning for R&D projects: Capacity planning for the R&D programme.

Especially for industries with a focus on custom-built products, the planning of the R&D programme is one of the major challenges. This is mainly due to the (1) relatively low resources spent in central R&D activities, (2) products that are individually developed to fit the specific customer needs and (3) a ecentralised and project based organisational structure. Herein, technological requirements and production facilities are constantly changing (Schön, 2004: p.287). Examples for industries with a focus on custom-built products are the construction industry, the information technology industry, and the sector of mechanical and plant engineering.

There are various instruments in R&D management to support the planning of the R&D programme, however these are only rarely adapted to the use in specific industries. In the case of custom-built products, these instruments are too resource intensive to be applied for each single product.

In this context, the increasing importance of the Internet as a source of information on developments and trends is opening new opportunities for uncertainty reduction in R&D programme planning for custom-built products. The availability of public scientific databases, on-line journals and articles that are available through high-speed Internet access for a relatively low cost can give access to information about developments and trends with far less costs and time than in the past. However, the large amount of available sources complicates an efficient search for information satisfying the user’s needs. Especially the recent emergence of social software and its widening acceptance in the Internet allows faster collection and evaluation of specific information on developments and trends. Moreover, it can be applied for the location and extraction of novel information. Its application in organisations enhances the creation of clusters and communities of interest between information seekers and information providers that are geographically distributed.

The proposed paper will present a concept for the application of selected social software applications to reduce uncertainty in R&D programme planning for custom-built products. The concept is based on requirements that have been collected in a qualitative study. The envisioned impact of this work is an advance in R&D programme planning for custom-built products through the use of social software systems.

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