Sharpening our International Competitive Edge

Some views expressed by D.L. Bosman, Chairman of the Engineering Foundation of South Africa and a member of the Board of Trade and Industries.

Dr Bosman believes that S.A. should now obtain and apply technology.  This will improve productivity in industry and increase competitiveness and profitability.

Genuinely new technologies are emerging.  They are almost certain to create new major industries and new major businesses and at the same time to render obsolete existing major industries and big businesses.  Technological development and application in the coming decades are more likely to resemble the closing decades of the last century, in which a major industry based on new technology surfaced every few years, such as steel and motor cars, rather than the technological and industrial continuity of the first part of this century.  Already today the rapid development in electronics or computers, or even as a further sub-section micro-processors, is proving this point.

Countries cannot act in isolation

Major changes in the world economy are confronting us.  We still act as if nations are completely separate economic units.  But a world economy is evolving in which common information generates the same economic appetites, aspirations and demands thereby ignoring national boundaries and languages and even disregarding political ideologies to a large extent.  At a first glance it seems that boycotts may render South Africa an exception, but communication in South Africa has already reached the stage where it will not allow South Africa to remain isolated.

Large institutions exist for the benefit of people

Every single social task of importance today is entrusted to a large institution organized for perpetuity and run by managers.  There is however a rapid disenchantment everywhere with the biggest and fastest growing of the institutions, modern government, due to a doubt regarding its ability to perform.

What we are really talking about are service institutions such as transport and power utilities which have power beyond what the most monopolistic business enjoys.  They don’t always, but they should, realise that they only exist to contribute a needed result and that a healthy society depends on institutions performing responsibility [sic], autonomously and on a high level of achievement.

Institutions are organs of society and they should be subject to an audit of objectives and results, so as to identify those objectives that have been met as well as those which no longer serve a purpose of have proven unattainable.  “Knowledge, during the last few decades, has become the crucial resource of any economy”.  The knowledge worker is the person who applies to productive work ideas, concepts and information rather than manual skill or effort.  Interdisciplinary teams have become a prerequisite in any serious study or project.

Knowledge industries which produce and distribute ideas and, information rather than goods and services, accounted in 1955 to 25 per cent of the U.S.A. Gross National Product.  In 1965 this figure was 33 per cent and now it is 60 per cent.  This means nearly two thirds of the money earned and spent in the U.S.A. economy will be earned by producing and distributing ideas and information and will be spent on obtaining ideas and information.  The rest of the world, with few exceptions, is however well behind the U.S.A.

To meet the future needs of industry we therefore need to apply technology transfer to the full and to use information technology as a modern business tool.  Large autocratic organisations must constantly be reminded that they exist for the benefit of the populace and have no right to become “supreme powers”.

Stainless Steel magazine – January 1987


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