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Technology management education - High Technology Supplement

Companies in the United States are beginning to realize that management includes more than optimizing return on investment by focusing on the financial aspects of the business. Important as the financial structure is, the technology structure of the company is at least equally important. There is an increasing demand for business education that reflects the centrality of technology management in today's technology-dominant world. Technology management education emphasizes the global, holistic nature of technology management and the consequent requirement that technology management education reflect this holistic or system principle.

During the 1970s and '80s, corporations in the United States were told by business theorists (especially at business schools and by consultants) that buying and selling product lines and businesses was the optimal way to help companies grow. Market share and return on investments were considered in large part to be the determining factors in investing in or harvesting the business. Technologies and core competencies were not explicitly considered and were held in many cases to have little quantifiable economic value. In many cases the CEO and the other senior management had little or no background to understand the impact of technology in strategic decisions since technical management did not participate at the senior management level. This view is changing somewhat, mainly due to the impact of global competition, especially from Japan. The need to educate management to manage technology is being recognized albeit slowly in the U.S., Europe and Japan.

Technology management education is a phrase that sounds important but which in reality sends a confused message. The major reason for this lack of clarity is that the words do not have unique meanings to all people, and agreed upon definitions do not exist. To many, technology is synonymous with "high" technology or leading-edge consumer or industrial products; and technology management is primarily product development management. Others question what is unique about technology management and what distinguishes this type of management from general management. In the limited literature that exists on this subject, technology management is heavily related to research and development, to total quality management or other manufacturing-related topics. Despite the importance of these subjects, this view is much too narrow.

The differences between technology management and general management are embodied in different views of a corporation. One view can be characterized as the management of a set of financial assets and the goal is to maximize the return on those assets compared to investments in other assets. The technologies and competencies embodied in these corporations are incidental to the bottom line return on investment. The other view of the management of a corporation is to develop competitive ways to do things (i.e. technologies) in order to produce products and services which people want and will buy and by doing so, provide economic returns to investors. The latter view results in the

management of technologies to produce competitive advantages. Technology management therefore is the management of technology in all phases of an organization to assure that all tasks are being carried out in a world class competitive manner (either in-house or contracted from vendors).

A milestone study by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences defined technology management as follows: "Management of technology links engineering, science, and management capabilities to shape and accomplish the strategic and operational objectives of an organization." This is an adequate definition, but is limited to research and development-based organizations producing manufactured products. The management of technology requires the implementation and diffusion throughout all phases of the organization to produce all kinds of products and services, whether the company is manufacturing-based or service-based.

The unique feature of technology and technology change is that the implementation of appropriate technology can change the rules of competition, be it in the retail industry, the food industry, or the semiconductor industry. Managing the opportunities and threats that technology implementation and technology change provide will make the difference between being competitive in today's world marketplace and becoming a footnote in history. It is necessary that senior management recognize this central role of technology in building competitive advantages. It is also important that functional management understand the linkages between their technologies and those in the other functions of the corporation.

If one accepts the view of the centrality of technology management in building competitive advantage and protecting against competitive disaster, the importance of technology management education at all phases of corporate management needs no further elaboration. However, the risks as well as the benefits of a technology-based strategy must be clearly understood. Technology is like the Hindu god Shiva; it both creates and destroys.

Unfortunately, it is easier to justify the need for technology management education than to devise the mechanism for producing it. Technology management education must be holistic in nature. Since technology permeates all phases of an organization, education by functional emphasis tends to dilute the message. It may be important and useful at the very lowest management levels to concentrate on disciplines, but such functional or discipline emphasis rapidly loses force at higher levels. Most universities are discipline-dominated and interaction between departments have strong institutional barriers. Also, there is no role for generalists in such discipline-dependent settings.

While the need for better education in technology management is important at all managerial levels, it is perhaps most crucial at senior management levels. The effective management of technological resources should be a central part of a CEO's responsibility. If the CEO does not understand the importance of technology in building competitive advantage, it cannot become a unifying theme uniting the functional departments and business divisions of the company. Unless the CEO clearly understands what is involved with successful technology development, adaptation, and implementation, it is unlikely that lower managerial levels can entirely overcome the lack of recognition of the impact of technology management on the corporation's success.

The aim of every technology management program, should be to emphasize the holistic nature of technology management. Effective technology management requires the integration of the functional areas back into a complete system. This need for reintegration of functional thinking requires a reintegration of the educational experience.

A technology management educational program should have the student gain a deep understanding of the relationships between technology and productivity in all parts of the organization's value chain. The student must also learn to expect and welcome new paradigms in thinking, technology change, and organizational confusion during the drive to build competitive advantages. The educational program should allow the student to grasp that technology is not machines but encompasses the complex interaction of tools, equipment, procedures, and people. Ultimately, it is this complexity that gives a company competitive advantage because it is difficult to copy. Finally, the student should learn that accepted wisdom in the industry or company must be examined with an open mind. He or she must be reminded that new paradigms in technology application rarely come from the established leader (e.g. IBM did not introduce the personal computer, Xerox did not introduce the personal copier, and the Swiss did not introduce digital watches).

Over the next decade, technology management education will receive increasingly greater emphasis, as more companies concentrate on the importance of their technological base to competitive survival.

Source:   Seymour Siegel "Technology management education - High Technology Supplement". Los Angeles Business Journal. . 01 Apr. 2008.

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