The Role of technology in national development

From the beginning of time, man has strived to improve his way and quality of life. The caveman discovered how to make and use tools, developed a logical sequence for activities, and evolved processes that added value to his life. The totality of the use and application of his knowledge, skills, tools, and materials constitutes what we today describe as “technology.” If natural instinct directs us and compels the application of technology for the well-being of man, why is it that all humankind has not exploited this in equal capacity?

Technology plays a fundamental role in wealth creation, improvement of the quality of life, real economic growth, and transformation in any society. For example, the United Kingdom and France benefited tremendously from the industrial revolution in the 19th century, and the United States emerged from an agrarian economy into an industrial superpower in the 20th century.

Taiwan and Korea became industrialized countries by exploiting advances in silicon microelectronics from the early 1960s. Most recently, China and India have emerged as industrial leaders in manufacturing and information technology, respectively. All of these countries invested quite heavily in people and factories, and their successes were based on carefully designed plans and strategies.

Unfortunately, in many, if not all, of the nondeveloped (or “yet to develop”) countries, technology is viewed as a consumable item, not something that can be produced or created. Technology is the primary engine of economic growth and provides the key to unlocking any country’s potential. Hence, countries that want to develop must invest significantly in science and technology. This is achieved by developing the talent, the human capacity required to compete in a globally competitive world.


In the early and mid-1990s, the E&P subsidiary of Petronas, the national oil company of Malaysia, began rapid growth and expansion in domestic and international operations in line with the national development imperative. It therefore became necessary to emphasize the role of technology in the company’s core business. A long-range strategic technology plan was drawn to ensure that the company was constantly 10» Society of Petroleum Engineers

and consistently applying selected new and proven technologies that could add value to the company’s business. It was the dawn of new technology thinking in Petronas—an era of technology-driven business efficiency and value creation. The company aimed to design a strategy that would enable it to close the technology gap with other companies and sustain its value-creating technology level.

It was necessary for the company to nurture and develop managers who were able to recognize the benefits that technology possesses, the communication skills needed to transfer technology, and the knowledge of the status and culture of the organization. It also was necessary to draw up a comprehensive, long-range technology plan for Petronas identifying where it was, where it was going, and what technology it needed to help it get to its destination.

This roadmap would be seamlessly integrated into the Malaysian National Business Plan that had the objective to “develop a national business plan to identify and advance competitive industries.” The result of this process was a technology mission statement crafted in terms of a comprehensive, documented, project-driven technology plan. Technology can be assessed in terms of its type (base, key, pacing, or emerging) and position (dominant, strong, favorable, tenable, or weak). A comprehensive assessment of the level of technology in

Petronas was carried out by experienced managers and senior line staff during 1993–94. The results indicated that the company’s mission should be to apply base and key technologies and try to move its weak position to a strong position by the turn of the century. What would propel the company and country was the realization that technology advances were critical to the economic development of hydrocarbon reserves in complex settings and hostile environments and the realization that state-of-the-art technology would provide opportunities for keeping current operations profitable.

The next step was to develop a realistic plan to upgrade the expertise and technology. The plan was implemented under the understanding that technology advancement requires human elements (knowledge and skills) and tangible elements (methods and tools). Accordingly, it was essential to enhance the capabilities of the staff as well as acquire the necessary tools and methods.


Petronas instituted formal training to upgrade the staff’s expertise and encouraged attendance at conferences and courses, while its preferred method of acquiring technology was through strategic alliances and technology partnerships. The company sought partners that could make its business more competitive by helping to improve the quality and efficiency of the company’s base operations. R&D involved collaboration between Petronas Carigali, the field operator, and Petronas Research and Scientific Services to define research problems and supervise the commercialization of results. All research projects from which new technologies resulted were driven entirely by Carigali’s E&P requirements, and various company departments served as project sponsors.

There was no room for any research that was not directed at solving a company performance problem and for which no value was readily apparent. A technology partnership was not a standard contract format but a philosophy, an attitude toward a relationship, and a system that could be structured into a wide range of formats.

The philosophy was to create collaboration between Petronas Carigali and vendor service companies to work in integrated teams applying technology to a Carigali project. Instead of direct purchase of any purveyor’s technology, Petronas proposed applying the technology to the project, during which time Petronas Carigali would pay for the cost of contractor’s staff participation plus the cost of acquiring the technology, but only at the successful completion of the project. The process would allow Petronas staff who participated in the project to gradually learn the technology, which resulted in effective technology transfer. The oil industry plan was integrated into the Malaysian National Business Plan in what is known

as “Vision 2020,” a roadmap to the country’s transformation to a developed nation by the year 2020. The strategy for the plan’s implementation involves » stablishing a plan to develop industry sectors and E employment opportunities for sustained growth » eveloping suppliers capable of expanding outside D of the oil and gas industry » Monitoring and encouraging competition

The plan also seeks to improve in-country technical and business skills by investing in technical and business education, encouraging international companies operating in the country to integrate qualified local personnel into all aspects of development and operations, and emphasizing proficiency in international business languages. The plan also tries to leverage expertise and capital from international organizations to transfer knowledge and build incountry capabilities. The strategy for this includes promoting long-term partnerships between international and national companies and ensuring transparency in procurement processes.

The plan’s implementation schedule is » Short term, 0–5 years—building the foundation » Midterm, 5–15 years—leveraging technology » Long term, 15 years on—global competitiveness Notable impacts of technology on national development are best illustrated by the palm tree value chain in Malaysia. The country imported palm seedling from Nigeria in the early 1960s.

Through well-planned R&D and technology applications, Malaysia developed commercial value from the entire palm tree: » he palm fruit was enhanced significantly to yield T large quantities of palm oil and palm kernel. » hrough R&D, palm oil was converted into an T environmentally friendly and biodegradable drilling fluid called Petrofree, which sells for more than USD 20/bbl. » alm kernel is being converted to soap detergent P and animal feed for industrial use. » he broom stick derived from the frond is crushed T and compressed to make table tops and is used in car-seat manufacturing. » he interior of the palm trunk is treated with T protein and converted to animal feed. To stimulate development further, Malaysia’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation, in conjunction with private-sector partners, launched the Technopreneur Development Division in 2001.

The government defines a technopreneur as a “technology innovator and businessman rolled into one” and “an entrepreneur whose business involves technologyrelated activities.” The objective was to facilitate the development of technopreneurs, startup companies, and existing information- and communicationtechnology companies, and to help small- and mediumTalent & Technology » 11


sized information and communication firms grow into world-class companies. Currently, there are about 19 incubators in Malaysia’s technology park providing funding, facilities, mentoring, and training. Technopreneurs include software developers and personal-computer manufacturers, among others. They are usually naturally gifted, smart, and creative, but not necessarily formally educated.

The Asian experience with technopreneurship success also includes India, where the Indian Ministry of Science & Technology, in conjunction with related agencies, launched a program known as the Technopreneur Promotion Program. Under the program, anyone with an original idea or invention can apply. Selected proposals/ideas are converted into working prototypes, and from there a profitable business is generated, with the inventor enjoying patent rights.

The objective is to tap the vast innovative potential of Indian citizens and to promote individual innovators into technologybased entrepreneurs. The initiative has helped establish thousands of Indian technopreneurs whose dreams and visions might have died but for the support.


The government of Nigeria has never had a sustained focus on the development and application of technology for transforming its national economy, and the education curriculum was not designed to deliver a leadership base in science and technology. But Nigeria would do well to follow Malaysia’s example. The short- and medium-term strategy could focus on the development of the minerals and agro-processing sectors. These are the niche advantages for Nigeria,

which is a country endowed with fertile land and a rich array of mineral deposits. The main focus should be on how to develop local expertise and local companies to extract and process minerals such as gold, platinum, anthracite, bitumen, tantalite-columbite, tin, and gemstones. Real industries need to be organized around these materials in ways that add value to extracted materials. In the case of bitumen, for example, Nigeria has enough bitumen in Okitipupa and the surrounding areas to tar all of its bad roads.

The rest could be sold to regional markets in west Africa and beyond. Public/private venture-capital funds could be used to establish privately controlled corporations that would extract, process, and market products obtained from Nigeria’s mineral resources.

There should be efforts to educate factory workers, technicians, researchers, engineers, and administrators for practical work in these industries. The example of Malaysia promises that the program’s initial phases could produce significant economic growth along with increased employment and prosperity, but the emergence of Nigeria as a developed country probably will require a longer-term strategy designed to produce a more disciplined populace and a knowledge-based economy.

A 30- to 40-year time frame may be required. In Nigeria and in Malaysia, technology is clearly the engine of growth. Within this framework, business and industry are the drivers, government is the catalyst, and academia is the fuel. An integrated strategy, therefore, must link these stakeholders in the business of national development. Technology-based development can occur only with concerted efforts to revitalize education, develop personnel, and create integrated industries. ❖

EMMANUEL O. EGBOGAH is the founder and Executive Chairman of Emerald Energy Resources and SPE Director, Africa Region. He has more than 35 years of diversified geological and petroleum engineering experience in consulting, teaching, research and development, project planning, and implementation and management in Canada, the United States, the North Sea, Africa, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific region. Egbogah specializes in petroleum policy and strategy, improved/enhanced oil recovery, field-development planning, and reservoir management.

Previously, he was Vice President, International Production, for Niko Resources in Calgary; Technical Adviser and Technology Custodian for Petronas; Enhanced Oil Recovery Adviser for Libya’s National Oil Corporation; Petroleum Engineering Manager and Enhanced Oil Recovery Specialist for Amerigo International in Calgary and Houston; and Senior Vice President Engineering with Applied Geosciences and Technology Consultants in Calgary. Egbogah is a Distinguished Member of SPE and has served on numerous SPE committees.

He is a registered professional engineer of Alberta, Canada, and is listed in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering. Egbogah received an honorary DSc degree in engineering from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria; he earned a PhD degree in petroleum reservoir engineering from Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London; a DIC degree in petroleum reservoir engineering from the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College; an MSc degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Alberta; and an MSc degree in applied petroleum geology from Friendship University, Moscow.

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