x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Technology the key to any economic success

The invention of the steam engine brought lessons that are borne out in the UAE's economy, writes Jeffrey Johnson, the president of Boeing Middle East.

Workers smithing with a steam hammer in Derby in 1926. The harnessing of steam is an instance where technology changed the course of history. Getty Images
Workers smithing with a steam hammer in Derby in 1926. The harnessing of steam is an instance where technology changed the course of history. Getty Images

The development of the industrial steam engine in the 18th century marks a key turning point in human history. Until then, manufacturing was a cumbersome task restricted by external factors such as the presence of fast-flowing rivers, whose force was used to operate rudimentary machines.

The steam engine brought about significant changes to the manufacturing process, one of a handful of instances where technology changed the course of history. From then on, the wheels were set in motion for mechanised manufacturing, which in turn boosted industrialisation and encouraged a spirited increase in invention and innovation.

As manufacturing became an economic cornerstone, jobs were created and cross-border trade was encouraged. While the steam engine has since been eclipsed by the internal combustion and electric engines, there can be no doubt that its invention was a catalyst for innovation, economic growth and globalisation.

In today's world, technology plays an even more vital role in keeping the global economy on its feet.

It is technology that allows business to be conducted seamlessly across physical and geographical borders. It is also technology that enables direct flights from Abu Dhabi to Chicago, London and Kuala Lumpur or Dubai to Sydney, Singapore and New York, promoting trade, tourism and economic growth. Even the fresh produce sourced from around the world at your neighbourhood grocery store has been affected by technology at various stages of the production and delivery processes.

Although, it must be said that it is easy to take the role of technology in our everyday lives for granted, the Middle East's leaders have long recognised its importance in generating very tangible benefits for their people. Consequently, it is no accident that technology is a pillar that supports the vast majority of the region's economic diversification plans. In the UAE, for instance, we see a heavy emphasis on investing in science, technology, research and development in the country's self-established goals.

By placing these key factors at the heart of their development strategy, the UAE's visionary leaders have demonstrated uncommon foresight, identifying the elements critical to helping the country to thrive. Substantial effort has been put into achieving these goals through a multi-pronged effort, often in partnership with global leaders in various fields.

For example, Boeing, the Masdar Institute, Etihad Airways and Honeywell's UOP have established a research institution in Abu Dhabi focused on sustainable energy solutions. The Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium will use an innovative saltwater agricultural system to support the continued development of sustainable biofuel sources for aviation fuel.

The country we see today is the result of a well thought out strategy to place innovation, knowledge, entrepreneurship and, crucially, technology at the centre of its economic plans.

The results are plain to see: the World Economic Forum's 2012-13 Global Competitiveness Report ranks the UAE 17th worldwide for the quality of its maths and science education, a key building block of a technology-driven economy. According to the same report, the country also ranks sixth worldwide in terms of attracting foreign direct investment-driven technology transfer.

One aspect, which plays no small role in the UAE's continued success, is its willingness to partner with leading multinational private-sector companies. In fact, a glance through the roster of companies partnering with the country reads like a who's who of market leaders in various businesses.

This is part of an effort designed not only to encourage the transfer of technology and technical insight, but also to impart knowledge and skills to a local workforce.

In addition to supporting the country's economic diversification plans, this is a strategy that boosts the UAE's competitiveness and its ability to continue to innovate.

Multinational companies, such as Boeing, have risen to the challenge, seeking out and cementing opportunities to partner with the country, sharing technology and cutting-edge insights.

As a result, while it may have been inconceivable just two decades ago that vital components for aircraft would be produced and exported by the UAE, Strata Aerospace - a technology-driven aerospace company with world-class technical competencies - has achieved that and today counts Boeing and other aerospace majors as partners and customers.

This and other examples demonstrate that the UAE is clearly a country whose leaders have acknowledged the value that innovation and technology brings to its economy and its people.

There are few better instances of how a country's single-minded determination to flourish as a global centre of excellence has yielded such an extensive result in a relatively short period of time.

There is no doubt in my mind that the emphasis on technology was a core contributor to the UAE's success and remains as relevant to the country's objectives now as it has been for world's ambitions over the past three centuries.


Jeffrey Johnson is the president of Boeing Middle East and is responsible for the company's growth and productivity objectives and initiatives across the region