Hit or Miss? Evaluating the Potential of a Research Niche: A Case Study in the Field of Virtual Quality Management
When knowledge is developed fast, as it is the case so often nowadays, one of the main difficulties in initiating new research in any field is to identify the domain’s specific state-of-the-art and trends. In this context, to evaluate the potential of a research niche by assisting the literature review process and to add a new and modern large-scale and automated dimension to it, the paper proposes a methodology that uses “Latent Semantic Analysis” (LSA) for identifying trends, focused within the knowledge space created at the intersection of three sustainability-related methodologies/concepts: “virtual Quality Management” (vQM), “Industry 4.0”, and “Product Life-Cycle” (PLC). The LSA was applied to a significant number of scientific papers published around these concepts to generate ontology charts that describe the knowledge structure of each by the frequency, position, and causal relation of associated notions. These notions are combined for defining the common high-density knowledge zone from where new technological solutions are expected to emerge throughout the PLC. The authors propose the concept of the knowledge space, which is characterized through specific descriptors with their own evaluation scales, obtained by processing the emerging information as identified by a combination of classic and innovative techniques. The results are validated through an investigation that surveys a relevant number of general managers, specialists, and consultants in the field of quality in the automotive sector from Romania. This practical demonstration follows each step of the theoretical approach and yields results that prove the capability of the method to contribute to the understanding and elucidation of the scientific area to which it is applied. Once validated, the method could be transferred to fields with similar characteristics.