Determinants of technological innovation : an exploratory study of the Asia-Pacific rim electronics manufacturing industry
The rapid progress of the Asia-Pacific rim countries during the past three decades has attracted world-wide attention, especially in the field of technological innovation. By the mid 1980's, researchers had acknowledged that the Asia-Pacific rim region had redefined the global balance of competition while at the same time, the western nations were suffering a decline in world market share. The perspective of the Asia-Pacific rim thinking tends to gravitate towards an endogenous model, where factors are more amenable to the influence of the organisation. An investigation by the World Bank on East Asia (including Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong) has uncovered emphatic evidence that the three dimensions propounded by Ohmae's model of people,finance and assets have been instrumental in enabling these economies "to acquire and master technology".This research explores the philosophy and strategic thinking of the Asia-Pacific rim electronics manufacturing industry with respect to the determinants of technological innovation. The study is divided into three major phases. The initial phase examines the respective strands of literature pertaining to the strategic issues of technological innovation. Special attention has been focused on the functional utilisation of people,finance and assets within the perspective of the Asia-Pacific rim electronics industry, leading to a broad-based framework for the study. Phase two is comprised of two main activities: the first involves exploratory interviews with four notable electronics companies and the second has entailed the gathering of data from 111 companies within the five Asia-Pacific rim countries (Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong) operating in Singapore and the United Kingdom, by means of a mailed questionnaire survey. Phase three involves qualitative as well as quantitative analyses where statistical methods such as one-way ANOVA, Chi-square test and t-tests have been undertaken to verify the data gathered from the primary research. The findings have uncovered that there are several determinants that are associated with the high rate of successful technological innovation in the sampled companies. For the people's dimension, there has been a high emphasis on training, resulting in a "nurtured" model of a worker, where numerous process innovations have been initiated by trained shop-floor technicians and engineers. At group working levels, various discussion groups (such as quality control circles and productivity discussion groups) have given rise to a collective learning process where shared knowledge enabled new products and processes to be innovated more rapidly than in the conventional departmentalised models. Other aspects of group dynamics has been the continuity (or smooth transition of innovative ideas) and good communications between functional groups thus acceleratingtechnological innovation. For the assets' dimension, the strategic foci have been shifted toautomation, flexible manufacturing process and increasing usage of information technology (including both computer hardware and software) so that new products can be brought to the market faster through the intelligent deployment of such assets and know-how. Finally, funds were found to have been allocated to expedite innovation through investment in R & D and staff training.