Horizon Scanning is a form of market research and engagement with the aim of discovering and building awareness of new technologies, solutions, and suppliers. Unlike traditional market engagement, which is usually prompted by a defined need, horizon scanning is an open-ended intelligence gathering activity with the purpose of understanding the current state of play and trends in technology markets, and anticipating future opportunities. Horizon scanning refers both to actively soliciting engagement from suppliers and systematically documenting unsolicited introductions and proposals for future use.
Responsible – Digital & IT Teams
Digital & IT teams should continuously engage with the market to understand new technological developments and discover innovative suppliers, regardless of whether there is a defined technology need.
Accountable – CIO / CDO
The CIO / CDO is ultimately responsible for ensuring that digital and IT teams are conducting horizon scanning activities, aware of new technological developments, and informed as to how these could contribute to the digital transformation roadmap.
Consulted – Service Teams
Digital & IT teams should consult service teams to understand their process flows, user needs and pain points with their current technology systems. This awareness will contextualise horizon scanning activities. Digital & IT teams should feedback to service teams to make them aware of the ‘art of the possible’.
Informed – CIO / CDO & Procurement Team
Digital & IT teams should inform the CIO / CDO when they have discovered a solution they wish to procure or pilot, and inform the procurement team when they have the green light to go ahead.
Horizon scanning should be a continuous process that informs strategic planning and decision making around procurement. As such, the sooner you get started, the better. You should make an effort to ensure that active horizon scanning is a regular activity, with dedicated time set aside to manage inbound supplier engagement and plan recurring outreach events.
Here are a few key practices to adopt to effectively stay abreast of innovative suppliers and solutions, capture information systematically and consistently, and build constructive and rewarding relationships with the market.
Manage Inbound Engagement
In principle, having an inbox full of emails from suppliers who want to tell you about their product is a great sign that the market cares about you as a customer. In practice, however, it can be overwhelming and burdensome to address and purposefully utilise cold outreach from suppliers. Nevertheless, if handled correctly, inbound engagement from suppliers is a useful way to learn about the market, and can significantly cut down time spent on market research.
We suggest embedding a digital form on your website, through which suppliers can express their interest in working with you and provide information that you request. This form should be linked to a database such that, every time a supplier fills in the form, a new entry will be created in the database. This database will help you systematically keep track of suppliers that have reached out. With tags and categories designed to reflect your business needs, as well as search and filter functionality, you will be able to find and reach out to relevant suppliers as and when necessary.
We have produced a detailed guide (with images and a live demo) on how to set up such a database with a corresponding digital form using Airtable. Airtable is free to use for these purposes. Whether you choose to use Airtable or an alternative solution, it is important to:
Setting up a shared database between boroughs, or sharing access to Airtable bases is a great opportunity to share knowledge between authorities, and enhance the horizon scanning capabilities and efforts of each.
Set Up Horizon Scanning Workstreams
The most appropriate manner to set up horizon scanning workstreams will be dependent on the organisational structure of your borough. Boroughs with centralised Digital and IT teams, who are responsible for technology procurement and digital transformation across all service areas, should set up workstreams for key emerging technologies. Assign a key technology (eg. AI/ML, Blockchain, IoT, AR/VR) to each person on the team, and make them responsible for staying abreast of developments, innovations, applications and suppliers of that technology. This approach works best for centralised Digital/IT functions because a single technology can have applications in multiple service areas – focussing on a technology type rather than service vertical prevents duplicative horizon scanning efforts across service areas, and allows for the identification of technology capabilities that can be procured and deployed across service areas.
Where the Digital/IT function is not highly centralised or strategic responsibility for technology procurement is highly fragmented, each service area should have a Digital/IT lead who takes responsibility for horizon scanning activities within that service area. For example, the housing digital lead should take responsibility for the housing services horizon scanning workstream, continually meeting new suppliers, staying up to date with what comprises cutting edge housing technology, attending housing technology events and speaking to other local authorities about service innovation.
London is one of Europe’s leading technology and startup hubs, with a range of industry events happening year round. Certain kinds of events tend to be a locus for showcasing innovative technologies:
In addition to attending externally organised events, organise regular opportunities for suppliers to meet you, learn more about your problems and aspirations for digital transformation, and to ask general questions about procurement processes and contracting. Such events, not only help you learn more about the market, but are also an opportunity to signal your business needs to the market. Setting up a supplier database, as outlined above, makes inviting suppliers to horizon scanning events easy. See our guidance on Pre-Procurement Engagement for an overview of the different kinds of events your can organise to engage with the market. The success of any event will be dependent on how well it is publicised, so we also suggest you read the guidance on Publishing & Advertising when planning an event.
Sharing information and experiences amongst local authorities is an effective way to stay up to date with advances in technology innovation in other boroughs for those with limited time. Consult the LocalGov Digital Pipeline and Thirty3 to see what digital projects other boroughs have planned and to understand the general direction of travel for local authority digital roadmaps.
Local government unconferences and networking events are also an opportunity to share your thinking and problems with others, and gain insights, suggestions, and feedback from peers. LocalGovCamp brings together digital leaders and innovators from across local government to share best practice and experiences around digital transformation.
Lastly, reach out directly to digital leads who have expertise in a certain field in other boroughs to discuss their experience and insights. We have put together a list of thought leaders in London boroughs to facilitate this. You can also consult our guidance on sharing best practice across London:
Share Insight & Best Practice Across Boroughs
A Practical Guide: Introduction to Horizon Scanning in the Public Sector