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HR Transformation in the Digital Era

Hosted by: Ecolab

Digitalization has been a reality in the world of HR for years now, but it seems to have lower penetration in the Korean market compared to elsewhere in the world. Korea is a reactive market in the APAC region, and it is now picking up the digitalisation momentum, which in-turn is attracting top talent and improving organisational effectiveness.
HR leaders at this ChapmanCG roundtable in Seoul shared ways in which their organisations are shaping their digitalisation strategy and leveraging global recourses. The roundtable was co-hosted by Eunmi Diana Cho, Ecolab* Korea / F&B Division, Asia Pacific HR Director, and Yang-Kwon Ryu, the Ecolab Korea President.
Digitisation in business
It would seem that all major chemical companies have their digital initiatives under way. Chemical companies are known for their systematic approach to business. Mostly led by scientists and analytically skilled top managers, they are now embracing the challenges of digitalization in the same thorough and systematic way. According to the Simon-Kucher article, Digitalization in the Chemical Industry, not only have chemical companies launched initiatives to define how they should deal with this new trend, they have also established digital business units with purposes ranging from smarter operations, business model redesign, capitalising on big data and employing scouts who look for new digital technologies and operate similarly to M&A departments. There is a lot we can learn from chemical companies.
In short, while other industries have been making hectic knee-jerk reactions to digital trends, the chemical sector has stood out for its composure and efficiency. This attitude stems in part from the recognition that chemical companies have much more to win than lose from digital technologies. Entry barriers to this asset-heavy industry are high and there is no risk of start-ups pushing established companies out of the market overnight. In addition, they are able to make use of a myriad of data on product characteristics they generate in their labs, and have in-depth knowledge and a large database on the performance of their process chemicals, enabling them to apply new digital technologies and fully manage their clients’ processes.
A good example of this approach is Ecolab. Yang-Kwon shared the importance of digital transformation at Ecolab which allows employees to utilize big data and provide more accurate feedback to their customers through developing a new generation of sensors for their equipment. Instead of selling water chemicals, Ecolab has partnered with Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure and an IoT services company to provide real-time data-based process water management, helping customers advance toward net-zero water usage while reducing operating costs.
Given this, the roundtable was excited to hear Yang-Kwon and Diana discuss Ecolab’s commitment to digitalising the organisation from both a business and a human resource perspective. Korea has a unique business proposition, due to its high economic, financial and business freedom, it’s low level of corruption and it’s geographic location within the APAC region. It has, however, been a very reactive market. Businesses in Korea can appear conservative and rigid, thus the adoption of digitalisation can be a slow process unless businesses truly own and embrace the digital agenda.
Using software to a HR leader’s advantage
Yang-Kwon also shared the ways in which HR plays a key role in the digital transformation journey at Ecolab. In particular, HR’s workday software has transformed HR processes into business-focused HR practices. The software is designed around the unique way in which people work. At Ecolab workday combines their drive to utilize data insights with a need for clarity and simplicity to a team’s functioning. For digital solutions to succeed in the HR realm, they need to be easy to use, continually evolving and part of everyone’s life.
Yang-Kwon also discussed the way in which digitalisation has changed their talent recruitment process. They are asking themselves what kind of talent they need for the digital era. Yang-Kwon, in his capacity as Ecolab’s President (Korea) and his team, constantly communicate with HR to ensure their business and recruitment objectives are aligned. Below are the five key criteria they have identified for recruiting digital talent:

  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Technology savviness
  • Passion
  • Ability to learn

Digital in the continuous learning space
Ecolab’s Diana Cho sees digitalisation leading to technological unemployment and says that it is an HR practitioners’ role to help talent stay competitive. Ecolab developed a model to encourage talent to learn from experience and subsequently apply the learning to their performance under alternative conditions. AI is also used in the program, driving the leadership journey. Traditional classroom training has been modified to a self-learning model aided by Ecolab’s bespoke software along with an AI assistant. Groups meet face-to-face for topical discussions and as the final step, talent should be able to apply the new knowledge and skills to their roles.
‘Keep trying’: the motto of the digital journey
At Diageo, digitalization is also on top of the business agenda. Digital transformation is obviously a journey and many aspects need to be considered to fully benefit from the additional revenue and profit potential. Diageo considers ‘failure’ a part of the digital learning process. Our roundtable participants shared that many of them had also experienced failures during their digital system transition, despite in some cases having spent much time and effort in selecting a trusted system. Tabby Kim [], the North Asia Head of HR at Diageo identified some criteria for succeeding in HR’s digital transformation through her learning experience. This includes:

  • Be adaptive to systems
  • Customise if needed
  • Make sure the quality of the data is consistent
  • Choose modules that will make an impact to talent

The future of digitalisation in Korean organizations
Over the years, we’ve witnessed the change and development of the Korean market. Arguably, when we talk about innovation and technology, South Korea ranks first in the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index. However, when it comes to digitalization for MNCs in Korea – it is surprising that most of them are still catching up to other regions. The Korean market has become increasingly competitive from a business perspective and technologies play a key role in striving for business success and in order to win the digital talent war. The factors discussed at our roundtable will continue to challenge the digital journey of organizations in Korea.
* Ecolab is the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services.  Around the world businesses in foodservice, food processing, hospitality, healthcare, industrial, and oil and gas markets choose Ecolab products and services to keep their environment clean and safe, operate efficiently and achieve sustainability goals.


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