There is no direct relationship between R&D spending and significant measures of corporate success such as growth, profitability, and shareholder return, according to a new global innovation study by management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. However, the pace of corporate R&D spending continues to accelerate, as many executives maintain the belief that enhanced innovation is required to fuel their future growth.
Booz Allen analyzed the world's top 1,000 corporate research and development spenders - the Booz Allen Global Innovation 1,000 - to identify the linkages between spending on innovation and corporate performance, and to uncover insights on how organizations can get the greatest return on their innovation investment. Key findings of the study include:
Money doesn't buy results. While the study identified individual success stories, there is no discernable statistical relationship between R&D spending levels and nearly all measures of business success, including sales growth, gross profit, operating profit, enterprise profit, market capitalization, or total shareholder return.
"There is no easy way to achieve sustained innovation success-you can't spend your way to prosperity," said Booz Allen Vice President Peter Parry. "Successful innovation demands careful coordination and orchestration both internally and externally. How you spend is far more important than how much you spend."
But innovation spending is still a growth business. The 2004 Global Innovation 1,000 spent $384 billion on R&D in 2004, representing 6.5% annual growth since 1999.
" And the pace is accelerating-measured from 2002, the annual growth rate jumped to 11.0%.
Larger organizations have an advantage. Scale provides an edge in innovation; larger organizations are able to spend a smaller proportion of revenue on R&D than smaller organizations with no discernable impact on performance.
Spending more doesn't necessarily help, but spending too little will hurt. Companies in the bottom 10% of R&D spending as a percentage of sales under-perform competitors on gross margins, gross profit, operating profit, and total shareholder returns. However, companies in the top 10% showed no statistically-significant performance differences compared to companies that spend less on R&D.
Industries can't agree on how much innovation spending is enough. Instead of clustering into any coherent pattern, R&D spending levels vary substantially, even within industries.
It's the process, not the pocketbook. Superior results seem to be a function of the quality of an organization's innovation process-the bets it makes and how it pursues them-rather than either the absolute or relative magnitude of its innovation spending. For example, Apple's 2004 R&D-to-Sales ratio of 5.9% trails the computer industry average of 7.6%, and its $489 million spend is a fraction of its larger competitors. But by rigorously focusing its development resources on a short list of projects with the greatest potential, the company created an innovation machine that eventually produced the iMac, iBook, iPod, and iTunes.
R&D spending by companies in developing nations is relatively small, but growing rapidly. While companies headquartered in North America, Europe, and Japan account for 96.8% of the Global Innovation 1,000's R&D spending, and are likely to remain dominant players for the foreseeable future, companies with headquarters in China, India, and the rest of the world are turning up the volume on R&D investment.
" The annual growth rate for R&D spending from 1999 to 2004 in China and India was 21.1%, significantly higher than in North America (6.6%), Europe (6.2%), and Japan (4.8%). These lower growth rates are likely functions of the relative maturity of companies in these countries and the magnitude of their current spending.
" However, the developed economies show a higher ratio of R&D spending to sales. Here China and India lag, spending only 1% of revenue on R&D, compared with 4.9% for firms in North America, 4% in Europe, and 3.8% in Japan. The differences among the three main spend regions are partially explained by differences in industry mix.
"The competitive value of a fast and effective innovation engine has never been greater," said Peter Parry, noting the trend toward shorter product life cycles and an ever-faster flow of new offerings. "Yet of all the core functions of most companies, innovation is often managed with the least rigor. The key is to identify the priority areas where innovation will have the greatest impact on performance and opportunity creation."
Additional study findings include:
" R&D spending is highly concentrated. While the top 1,000 corporate R&D spenders invested $384 billion in 2004, the second 1,000 spent only $26 billion-only an additional 6.8% beyond the top 1,000 spenders.
As a result, Booz Allen estimates that the Global 1,000 captures between 80-90% of total global corporate R&D spending, and approximately 60% of total global R&D, including spending by governments.
" The top 10 global R&D spenders in 2004 are, in descending order: Microsoft, Pfizer, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, Toyota, General Motors, Siemens, Matsushita Electric, IBM, and Johnson & Johnson.
" On average, the Global Innovation 1,000 spends 4.2% of its revenue on R&D. This average has been relatively stable over the last five years studied.
" Patents don't always lead to profits. In a separate analysis, Booz Allen found no relationship between the number of patents issued to an organization and its performance.
" Industry concentration: R&D spending is heavily concentrated in the Technology, Health, and Automotive sectors. Computing & Electronics tops the list representing 25% of total spend by the Global 1,000; Health follows with 20%, and Auto with 18%.
" Industries experience different R&D growth rates: Software & Internet, at 14.9% per annum, and Health at 12.4% have experienced the fastest pace of R&D growth over the past five years, while Telecom (2.2%) and Chemicals & Energy (1.5%) have grown the slowest..