Carrying out a State of the Art is a crucial and systematic step in any R&D project. It enables you to keep abreast of the latest advances in your field of expertise and to respond to your company’s innovation needs.
But carrying out a state-of-the-art review can be arduous and time-consuming, and is rarely seen as a rewarding activity by researchers. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that there are ways of making the exercise less arduous and more relevant.
State of the art: an essential stage in any R&D&I project
It is of strategic importance for companies that their R&D teams carry out a State of the Art. Here are a few reasons why this exercise is essential:
- Identifying opportunities and trends: The State of the Art enables innovation opportunities to be identified and future technological trends to be anticipated. This enables companies to adapt their research and development strategy accordingly.
- Productivity gains: A well-executed State of the Art avoids an R&D team duplicating work already carried out by others, or reinventing what already exists, and instead draws inspiration from it to do things better and save time!
- Competitive positioning: By keeping abreast of advances made by competitors and in research, a company will be able to strengthen its market position and develop innovative products or services.
- Collaboration and partnerships: A state-of-the-art report, overview or mapping can reveal new partners and opportunities for collaboration with other researchers or companies, encouraging the sharing of knowledge, the exchange of ideas and the development of development partnerships.
Why can a state of the art be a difficult and tedious exercise?
The main reasons for the complexity of the task are as follows:
- Too much information: The sheer volume of information now available, from a wide range of sources such as worldwide databases of scientific articles, patents, technical reports, conferences, blogs, etc., is overwhelming. Unless you have real expertise in choosing and combining key words and other search criteria, you can very quickly be faced with a wall of information that cannot be exploited.
- Word choice: the clash of relevance. How do you strike the right balance between controlling noise (the irrepressible quantity of irrelevant information) and silence (an overly targeted search that misses out on useful information)? This preliminary parameterisation work involves defining an efficient search
- strategy. And the time needed to devise it should not be underestimated.
In-depth analysis: Faced with so much information, you need a clear and precise method of analysis. Failing this, there is a great risk of getting lost in the multitude of one-off pieces of information and struggling to identify the main lines of useful learning. Approaches such as semantic analysis (NLP) and its recent developments in AI will be useful, as will datavisualisation techniques and tools for massive data.
- Organisation and structure: to be useful and to bring out the important information, preparing a state of the art requires a clear methodology and meticulous analysis to ensure both an exhaustive review of the important information and its fluid, rapidly usable presentation. Depending on the strategic question it is supposed to answer, the state of the art will include different parts or appendices from one case to another (e.g. a focus on a few players/start-ups, a detailed analysis of a patent, an overview of a market hitherto little known to the company, etc.).
- Updating and monitoring: Scientific and technological advances are now so rapid that it is essential to plan from the outset for the need to update a state of the art report produced at a given point in time. This is particularly important if the project becomes a reality, or if the strategic question is postponed until a later date (due to a lack of maturity in a technology, for example: it will be necessary to monitor scientific advances and those of competitors, so that the strategic question can be asked again at the right time in the future).
How can you write a state-of-the-art report more efficiently?
Faced with these challenges, it is essential to optimise the methods and tools used to draw up a state of the art report. Here are a few best practices to consider:
- Define a clear methodology: Establish a systematic research method for identifying, sorting and evaluating relevant sources of information. Provide systematic support for gathering requirements and implementing the research strategy.
- At the beginning of each document, state the strategic question that led to its creation, the methodology used, the scope and research strategy used, the sources exploited and the experts called upon (internal and external).
- Collaborate and share tasks: Involve several members of the R&D team in drafting the State of the Art, sharing the workload and drawing on individual expertise. This seems obvious from the point of view of the workload. But it is even more obvious in terms of the relevance of the deliverable. The initial question is rarely well posed. It requires rebuttal, additions and clarifications, which may arise during a review of the work in progress. For example, this meeting involving the requestors and business experts is essential at the end of the search strategy development stage. Once the knowledge base has been built up and analysed, realising that the scope is incomplete or not precise enough can waste a lot of time and effort.
- Monitoring and updating: Automate technology watch and use technology watch tools to keep up to date with the latest publications, patents and conferences related to the field.
- Use bibliographic reference management tools: Reference management tools such as Mendeley, Zotero or EndNote allow you to manage information sources efficiently, organise them and cite them correctly in the finished document, saving future readers time.
- Revise and update regularly: even if it is not systematically monitored, a state-of-the-art document can usefully be revised regularly to reflect the latest advances in research. It is therefore important to allocate time to this task, and to use tools that will enable you to gradually build up a body of knowledge that will be fed by the monitoring process, enabling it to gradually become a genuine intangible asset within the company.
How IPMetrix makes it easier to produce and update your State of the Art reports
The IPMetrix tool developed by TKM makes it easier and quicker to draw up State of the Art reports. If your R&D team is overloaded, or lacks the tools or comprehensive data sources to carry out these monitoring tasks, IPMetrix’s features and TKM’s accumulated expertise can considerably simplify the task and save you considerable time:
- Gathering and combining large volumes and all types of information: patents and scientific articles worldwide, theses, national or regional collaborative projects (in Europe, for example), web sources, etc.
- Automatic information extraction and filtering: thanks to the semantic processing it implements, IPMetrix is capable of extracting relevant information from all the documents needed to produce the state of the art. It allows users to filter according to the specific criteria they wish to apply.
- Similarity and relevance analysis: IPMetrix uses advanced algorithms to assess the similarity and relevance of documents in relation to the specific research field, enabling the most relevant works to be identified quickly.
- A database of players integrated into the tool can also be used to zoom in on a particular player of interest, to put him under surveillance or to publish a monograph that will be a useful addition to the state-of-the-art report.
- Automatic document structuring and generation: The tool facilitates the structuring of the State of the Art by automatically and directly generating media for tools such as Powerpoint or Word, integrating bibliographic references and organising the information in a clear and coherent way.
- Collaboration and sharing: IPMetrix enables team members to collaborate in real time on drafting the State of the Art, analysing documents or stakeholders. Team members can share annotations and comments, add tags and track the progress of the project, which then potentially becomes a real collaborative effort.
With IPMetrix, not only can the task of carrying out a state-of-the-art review prove to be a positive experience for the team, but you can also capitalise on this work over time, which will feed the company’s living knowledge base as projects progress. Depending on the degree of precision required, IPMetrix can provide a methodical user with a detailed view of a (technological or industrial) domain in just a few hours.
If, like us, you are convinced that the State of the Art represents strategic work, not only for your R&D team, but also for your company;
If, like us, you believe that suffering to complete this exercise should not be inevitable.