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Appendix A.1 Tools for assessing your current situation & comparing it to others

Environmental Scanning

Organizations use environmental scanning to monitor important events in their surrounding environment. It is a way to answer the question, "What's happening in my environment that will affect my future?" Scanning involves identifying the issues and trends that have important implications for the future. The scanning includes analysis of the information about these issues and trends to assess their importance and determine their implications for planning and strategic decision making.

What is it?

Discover emerging trends of strategic importance. Scanning is different from ordinary information gathering in that it is concerned primarily with the future, emerging trends, and issues that have strategic importance for your organization.

Gather information from variety of sources. It involves gathering information from publications, conferences, personal and organizational networks, experts and scholars, market research, and any source that appears to be useful. Organizations may have formal, continuous processes for scanning, with a permanent unit of the organization responsible. Or the effort may be episodic and organized in an ad hoc manner.

Analyze data for planning purposes. Simply gathering the environmental data is insufficient. It is also necessary for you to interpret the data correctly and make it useful for planning and decision making.

What is it good for?

Take advantage of opportunities. Environmental scanning can help capitalize on emerging opportunities. It can be an important part of strategic planning by helping you shape strategy to better fit emerging conditions. When asked his hockey strategy, Wayne Gretsky is reported to have said, "I just skate to where the puck is going to be."

Anticipate developments to avoid costly mistakes. Scanning also helps avoid costly mistakes by helping planners and decision makers anticipate new developments. This is particularly important in any planning that involves information technology, since the capabilities and costs of IT are evolving at a rapid pace.

Some limitations and considerations

Level of resources required. It's hard to judge the appropriate level of resources to devote to environmental scanning. Where environmental conditions are turbulent and full of potentially significant changes, large amounts of resources may be justified. Even with large efforts, there is no guarantee that some wholly-unanticipated event will cause serious problems or present a great opportunity for which you aren't prepared.

Interpretation an inexact science. More importantly, the interpretation of trend information and forecasting is an inexact science at best. The farther into the future a scan probes, the more careful you must be with the interpretation.