Environmental Scanning: Types, Importance, Process, Methods/Techniques

Environment scanning helps the signals of potential changes in the environment. It also detects the changes that are already under way. It normally reveals ambiguous, incomplete, or unconnected data and information. It involves a detailed and micro study of the environment. Hence, it is also called the X-ray of the environment. The environment uncertainty, complexity and dynamism are studies to assess the trend of environment. It is the base of environment analysis. It is normally done when there is high level of uncertainty in the environment. It is a continuous process. It also helps to evaluate the long term strategic plan that will be aligned with future business conditions.

The scanning system should be aligned with the organizational context. Hence, a scanning system designed for a volatile environment may be inappropriate for a stable environment. Many organizations even use special software and internet for environment scanning.

Also read: Relationship Between Government and Business

From the above discussion, it may be concluded that environmental scanning is a continuous process of study and analysis of environment to detect the emerging trend in the environment.

Types of Environmental Scanning:

Environmental scanning is a process of obtaining information from the environment. It helps prepare an organization to exploit the business opportunity by developing a sound resource base. Further, it also assists in preparing scenarios and to adjust with changes. Environmental scanning may be done in two ways as mentioned below:

Centralized scanning:

If some specific environmental components are only analyzed, it is called centralized scanning. Under this, the important components which are likely to exert considerable impact to the business are only analyzed. For example, if economic conditions are only studies, it is termed as centralized scanning. Since specific components are only scanned, this is economical. Likewise, it helps to save time as well. However, it is not a comprehensive method due to the study of specific components only.

Comprehensive scanning:

"If all the components of environment are analyzed in a detailed ans micro way, it is called comprehensive environmental scanning."

Process of Environmental Scanning:

Environmental scanning is a useful managerial tool for assessing the environmental trend. The following process is adopted for environmental scanning.

Study the forces and Nature of the Environment:

In the first step of environmental scanning, the forces of the environment that have got significant bearing in the growth and development of the business should be identified. They may be political, economic, sociology-cultural, technological, legal, physical environment and global components. After this, the nature of the environmental components is studied. The nature of environment may be simple or complex. It may also be stable or volatile. The nature of the environment affects a firm's ability to predict the future. Some business may be operating in simple environment and others in complex. When there is a high level of uncertainty and complexity in the environment, environmental scanning becomes more critical.

Determine the sources of Information:

After studying the process and nature of the environment, the sources of collecting information from the environment should be determined. There are different sources through which information on business environment may be collected. They are as follows:

Secondary sources:
Newspapers, book, research articles, industrial and trade publications, government publication, and annual report of the competitors.
Mass media:
Radio, TV and Internet.
Internal sources:
Internal reports, management information system, data network, and employee.
External agencies:
Consumers, marketing intermediaries and suppliers.
Formal studies:
Formal research and study by employee, research agencies, and educational institutions.
Spying and surveillance of the competitors.

Determine the Approach of Environmental scanning:

After determining the sources of information the approach of environmental analysis should be determined. There are mainly three approaches to environmental scanning. They are:

Systematic approach:
Under this approach, a systematic method is adopted for environmental scanning. The information regarding market and customer, government policy, economic and social aspects are continuously collected. In other words, the environment is monitored in a regular way. The timeliness and relevance of such information enhances the decision making capacity of the management.
Ad-hoc Approach:
Under this, specific environmental components are only analyzed through survey and study. Ad-hoc approach is useful for collecting information for specific project, evaluating the strategic alternative or formulating new strategies. It is not a continuous process.
Processed form approach:
Under this, the information collected from internal and external sources are used after processing them. Normally, the information obtained from secondary sources are processed and used as per the requirements of the business.

Scan and Assess the Trend:

This is the final step of environmental scanning process. It involves a detailed and micro study of the environment to identify the early signals of potential changes in the environment. It also detects changes that are already under way and shows the trend of the environment. The trend should be assessed in terms of opportunities and threats. 

Techniques/Methods of Environmental scanning:

Environmental scanning is a technique of detail study of the environment. It is done to assess the trend of the environment and prepare the organization accordingly. There are different techniques/methods of environmental scanning. They are discussed below:

Executive opinion method: 

It is also called executive judgement method. Under this environment is forecasted on the basis of opinion and views of top executives. A panel is formed consisting of these executives. 

Expert opinion method: 

Under this environment forecasting is based an opinion of outside experts or specialist. The experts have better knowledge about market conditions and customer taste and preferences. This method is similar to executive opinion method. However, it uses external experts. 

Dephi method:

This method is extension of expert opinion method. It involves forming a panel of experts and questioning each member of the panel about the future environmental trend. Later, the responses and summarized and returned to the members for assessment. This process continues till the acceptable consensus is achieved. 

Extrapolating method:

Under this method, the past information is used to predict the future. Different methods used to extrapolate the future are time series, trend analysis and regression analysis. 

Historical analogy:

Under this, the environmental trends are analyzed with the help of other trends which are parallel to historical trend. 

Intuitive reasoning:

Under this, rational and unbiased intuition is used for environmental scanning. Environmental dynamics are guessed individual judgement. Reliability of this method is questionable. 

Scenario building:

Scenarios are the pictures of possible future. They are built on the basis of time ordered sequence of events that have logical cause and effect relationship with each other. Scenarios are built to address future contingencies. 

Cross-impact matrix:

Under this, environmental forecasts through various methods are combined to form and integrated and consistent description of future. Cross impact matrix is used to assess the internal consistency of the forecasts. 

Importance of Environmental Scanning:

Signals threats: It provides an early signal of threats, which can be defused or minimized if recognized well in advance. 

Customer needs:

It signals an organization to the changing needs and requirements of the customers. 

Capitalize opportunities: 

It helps an organization capitalize opportunities earlier than the competitors.

Qualitative information:

It provides a base of objective qualitative information about the environment that can be utilized for strategic management. 

Intellectual simulation: 

It provides intellectual stimulation to managers in their decision making. 

Image:

It improves the image of the organization as being sensitive and responsive to its environment. 

Process of Environmental Analysis:

Scanning:

Environmental scanning involves the study of the general environment.  It helps to identify the early signals of potential changes in the environment. It also detects changes that are already under way. It normally reveals ambiguous, incomplete, or unconnected data and information. The scanning system should be aligned with the organizational context. Hence, a scanning system designed for a volatile environment may be inappropriate for a stable environment. Many organizations even use special software and internet for environmental scanning. 

Monitoring:

Monitoring involves observation of environmental changes to see the trend. It detects meaning in different environmental events and trends. 

Scanning and monitoring are particularly important when a firm competes in a highly volatile environment. They help gather knowledge about markets and other components. 

Forecasting:

Scanning and monitoring are concerned with events and trends in the general environment at a point in time. Forecasting involves developing feasible projections of what might happen and how quickly. It is done on the basis of changes and trends. Forecasting is a challenging work. 

Assessing:

Assessing determines the timing and significance of the effects of environmental changes and trends that have been identified. It specifies the implications of that understanding. Assessing connects the data and information with competitive relevance. Equally important is interpreting the data and information to determine the trend as opportunity or threat for the organization. 

Importance of the study of Business Environment:

It is necessary for a business to understand the environmental forces and conduct business accordingly. Hence, a business has to study the business environment in a continuous manner due to the following reasons:

First move advantage:

A business may get first mover advantage by identifying and exploiting the opportunities earlier than the competitors. It provides a sustainable competitive advantage to the business. 

Strategy formulation:

Strategy is a long term action plan formulated and implemented for competitive advantage. They are formulated and implemented considering the internal as well as external factors.  SWOT analysis is the foundation of strategy formulation. It examines strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats of the firm relative to the competitors and helps to develop different strategic alternatives and select the most suitable. Hence, environmental study or analysis is very important for strategy formulation. 

Competitive analysis:

Competitive analysis is also called industry analysis. It shows the intensity of competition among firms that varies widely across industries. In involves analysis of rivalry among competing firms, potential entry of new competitors, potential development of substitute products, bargaining power of suppliers and bargaining power of consumers. They form industry environment and show the growth and profitability potentiality of a firm. Hence, study of business environment is crucial for competitive analysis. 

Strategic control:

Strategic control involves re-examination of environmental assumptions to ensure the effectiveness of strategy implementation. It is an early warning system. Hence, it answers question "Are we moving in the right direction?" It aims to proactive and continuous questioning of the basic direction of the strategy. In this way, environmental analysis serves as the basis of strategic control. 

Adaptation:

A business can achieve competitive advantage if it adapts with the environment and manages itself accordingly. Adaptation refers to the adjustment with the emerging environmental conditions and trend. It helps to maximize the environmental opportunities and mitigate likely threats. 

Stability and sustainability:

Stability is business activities is important for sustainability. Fluctuation in business activities adversely affects the functional areas as production, marketing, finance, and human resource. For stability, a business should monitor its environment regularly and adjust accordingly. It eventually provide sustainability to achieve business goals. 

Dynamism:

A firm can collect information from the environment if it studies it continuously. Further, it can detect the emerging trend and scenario from the environment and prepare itself to cope with the likely changes. It enhances competitive advantage of the firm. 

Lobbying:

A business alone cannot influence the general environment. However, the environment may be influenced through formation of organized body like industry and trade federations. Environmental study and analysis enable them to understand the environment and lobby further to make it congenial. 

Public image:

A business firm can improve its image by showing that it is sensitive to its environment and responsive to the aspirations of the public. The stakeholders continue to support the organization if it is sensitive to the organization. Stakeholders support enhances organizational effectiveness.

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