Technology integration: Managing technological evolution in a complex environment
Using field observation data from 27 projects and 61 different "problem solving attempts", Marco Iansiti shows that differences in performance (as measured by product lead time) are associated with skills and routines facilitating technology integration. He argues that high-performing organizations use a "systems focused" approach to product development which try to gauge the effect of technological changes on the existing routines and capabilities of the firm developing the product.
Iansiti's offers three major findings. He argues that the more effective organizations were associated with
- A focus on technological integration activities.
- Firms dedicated a substantial amount of resources to measure the broad impact on new technological changes on the existing capabilities and resources of the firm during the product development process.
- The use of individuals who had extensive previous product development experiences.
The paper also defines a construct around system focused organizations which they argue are characterized by three points listed above.
He offers three propositions (quoted verbatim from the paper) which are connected to each other in a triangle or loop:
- In a complex environment characterized by technological discontinuities, high problem-solving efficiency (and development performance) will be associated with approaches that sample a broad base of disciplinary expertise - involving the search for and processing of information from disciplinary knowledge bases which were previously unrelated.
- System-focused organizations will be associated with high levels of development performance in environments characterized by discontinuous technological change.
- System-focused organizations will be associated with a broader approach to solving problems than other organizations-this will involve information search and processing activities that cross a broader base of existing disciplinary expertise.
Iansiti tests his propositions using data from the mainframe computer industry and, to ensure comparability, focus on the development of multi-chip modules. His dependent variable is lead time. They find broad support for his propositions and argue that success in environments marked by technological discontinuities are associated with with the creation of "integration groups" with people focused on identify integration problems early on addressing them.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
Iansiti's article has been cited almost 300 years in the 15 years it was published. It has been cited in the product development literature but also more broadly in the literature on innovation, problem solving, and organizational capabilities.