Researchers at two U.S. universities are examining the long-term, strategic thinking used by industrial decision makers to build innovation capabilities and competencies for future competitive advantage.

Their project stresses the data and information requirements for effective industrial innovation planning and management; taking into account emerging global trends in science, technology and management practices.

Alden Bean, executive director of the Center for Innovation Management Studies (CIMS) based at North Carolina State University College of Management, and Mariann Jelinek, the Richard C. Kraemer Professor of Business at the Mason School of Business at The College of William and Mary, and CIMS academic fellow, are co-principle investigators on the joint project.

Their research is supported by grants of $129,000 to each of the schools over two years. The grants were awarded by the Science of Science and Innovation Policy (SciSIP) program at the National Science Foundation.

“Growing emphasis on open innovation and R&D outsourcing have broad implications as to where R&D is performed, by whom, and how in the future,” Jelinek said. “Increasingly, firms face decisions about whether to outsource R&D, to collaborate with others, or to carry out the research in-house, but there are few guides for making these decisions. This study will examine how such decisions are made at firms responsible for the bulk of R&D and innovation expenditures in the U.S.”

Understanding the logic behind those decisions is critical, Bean said.

“The industrial R&D investment process has implications for the U.S. national innovation system,” he said, “as well as for the NSF in its science and engineering indicators databases activities and in its advisory capacity to Federal decision makers and industrial firms. It also has implications for industry decision makers considering how to position their firms for future competitive advantage.”

Questions being addressed in the study will assist the federal government in identifying strengths and weaknesses in public and private databases and analytical tools available to support innovation planning in globally competitive environments.

With the collaboration of NASA’s Langley Research Center, IBM and the Industrial Research Institute’s (IRI) member firms, Jelinek and Bean will use an innovative approach to explore these questions.

They will study the decision-making practices and the concerns of the IRI’s member firms in a multiple-stage, Internet-assisted dialog with IRI member companies, asking them to characterize the R&D lab of the future – looking forward to 2025 – and the trends and events that are expected to shape it, along with the data sources and analytic tools used to track trends and make relevant business decisions.

Surveys and follow-on interviews conducted with selected firms will provide detailed documentation of internal data handling and decision-making processes.

This project was initiated on Oct. 1, 2008, and is scheduled for completion September 30, 2010.