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Environmental scanning is a data collection practice. It is aimed at collecting information about an environment such as an office or institution that can be used in planning, development, and ongoing monitoring by managers and supervisors. Once data has been collected with scanning it can be processed and analyzed to create a brief to be used in decision making.
Some environmental scanning is performed on an ad-hoc basis, as needed. This scanning is done in response to a specific issue or concern such as the need to plan for a new product launch. Regular scanning is conducted on a regular basis; an example might be an annual review of a working environment conducted with surveys, observation, and other study methods. In continuous scanning, an environment is constantly being scanned and analyzed. While a continuous process is time consuming and costly, it allows for rapid adaptations to changing situations.
One reason to use environmental scanning is in preparation for a major change such as a new facility, a big shift in policy, or a product launch. Scanning and gathering data before entering the planning stage is a useful tool to help identify weaknesses, opportunities, threats, and strengths. These can be built upon in the planning stage to create a strong and effective plan to address issues identified during environmental scanning. Failure to collect information before starting plans can result in costly mistakes and missed opportunities.
Companies that use environmental scanning can move quickly when they identify a problem or an opportunity. This includes everything from a product release by a competitor that might threaten a company's market share to a security issue in an office. The data gathered in environmental scanning can be processed to develop an organized report to provide information to managers and other officers of the company who may be interested. Dispensing the information effectively is an important part of this practice, as data is useless if it never gets into the right hands.
Numerous tools can be used for environmental scanning. These include surveying employees to get information about working conditions, considering a workplace within a larger social and economic context, and evaluating company communications to determine what kinds of messages the company sends to the public. A third party may be called in to objectively evaluate or a company may scan internally. Using insiders can sometimes result in getting more information because insiders know where to look, but their bias can also affect the outcome of the scanning.