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What is Technology?

The written definitions of technology found in academic papers are wide and varying. Perhaps this signifies the complexity of the concept. But a picture is worth a 1000 words!

The Technology Triangle

Consider the diagram in which the three vertices are Science, Economics and Policies.

And now for a fairy tale...

Imagine a fairy tale situation in which a homeowner discovers that his garden wheelbarrow is rusting, and so approaches a pure scientist to ask for a solution. The scientist uses totally correct scientific principles and advises the homeowner to gold plate his wheelbarrow! Nobody instructed the scientist to come up with an economically viable solution. So his purest answer was at the S vertex of the Technology Triangle.

The horrified homeowner asks him to think again, and the scientist proposes a second best, third best option and so on until they arrive at an economically viable solution - they decide to paint it! This solution is now represented by a point somewhere in the middle of the triangle where both the S and E balance out. So where does the P for Policies fit in? This stands for the rules that society imposes, in other words, P also indicates the People element. The P indicates such issues as safety regulations, quality standards requirements, health regulations, import/export policies and practices, etc. Continuing our analogy of the wheelbarrow, it is quite legal to paint a wheelbarrow.

This solution where the point lies somewhere in the middle of the triangle is Technology: So an approximate definition of Technology in words is that: Technology is Science that makes Money within the bounds of the Law.

Put another way, technology is the economically viable and socially acceptable application of science to the benefit of the economic process.

So when the S, E and P all exert their magnetic push and pull on a set of possible solutions to a problem, the final technological answer is one which is Scientifically possible, is within the Policies and Regulations formulated by People, and which at the end of the day is Economically viable, makes a Profit for the company, and so adds to the GDP of the nation.

It must also be noted that technology is not only hardware, it is also process. A smarter way of doing things, a shorter process, a less complex process, these are also all technology improvements leading to increased profits.

What all of this tells one is that technology, and particularly technology strategy, is a Boardroom issue. Technology is not something done down in the lower ranks by the guys who wipe their hands on greasy rags. It is Boardroom strategy. If not, then the speed of change will beat the Boardroom.

Scientific Paper on Technology Triangle