How Canon and Sony Drive Product Innovation Through Networking and Application-Focused R&D
To ensure the ongoing vitality of a company’s product offerings, R&D professionals must play a daunting array of roles. The already rapid, yet still accelerating, pace of technological change may lead some companies to devote more resources to intensive internal research efforts. However, the shift toward global competition demands a more market-oriented focus from R&D; clear understanding of current and potential markets must drive R&D efforts. And efficient, cost-effective manufacturing of new products requires an R&D organization that understands and interacts effectively with the production department. How does a company create an environment in which its R&D organization comprises market-savvy, production-friendly experts in diverse technologies?
With case studies of R&D efforts at Canon and Sony, Sigvald Harryson identifies and illustrates the key mechanisms that these companies use to foster product innovation. His examples show how Canon and Sony use a combination of external and internal networking mechanisms to identify and acquire key technologies and related skills, gain market knowledge, improve the results of internal R&D efforts, and ensure the successful transfer of these results to efficient production processes.
He identifies four key mechanisms underlying successful product innovation at Canon and Sony: strategic training and job rotation for engineers, application-driven R&D, direct transfer of development teams from R&D to production, and extensive networking with external centers of excellence and key suppliers. At Canon, the initial training program for all researchers and engineers begins with three months of work on a production line. Sony’s new researchers and development engineers spend one month in production. Both companies also give their new R&D professionals three months of training in sales and marketing.
The emphasis on market-driven research at both companies means that researchers have identified some commercial application for almost every initial research proposal that gains approval. Neither company treats research as a long-term assignment; almost all engineers at both companies eventually move from the labs to production. And rather than viewing this job rotation strategy as a drain on the technological expertise in their labs, both companies rely on strong external networks with key suppliers and university-based researchers as important sources for acquiring new technologies and the competencies needed to support them.