The systematic approach of more traditional industries is helping to forge new approaches to digitalization of organisations in Korea.

HR leaders at a recent ChapmanCG roundtable in Seoul shared ways 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
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 digitalisation 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. The purpose of these units ranges from smarter operations and business model redesign through to capitalising on big data and employing scouts who look for new digital technologies and operate similarly to M&A departments.

While other industries may have been making more 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.

Barriers to entry for this asset-heavy industry are high and there is no risk of start-ups pushing established companies out of the market overnight. They are also able to make use of a myriad of data on product characteristics they generate in their labs, and have in-depth knowledge and data on the performance of their process chemicals, enabling them to apply new digital technologies and fully manage their clients’ processes.

Ecolab offers a good example of this approach.  Yang-Kwon shared Ecolab’s digital transformation approach, which allows employees to utilise big data and provide more accurate feedback to their customers through 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.

Yang-Kwon and Diana also discussed Ecolab’s commitment to digitalising the organisation from both a business and a human resource perspective. Korea offers a unique business environment due to its economic, financial and business freedom, low level of corruption and its geographic location within the APAC region. However, it has also previously been a more reactive market. Some businesses in Korea can tend to be more conservative and rigid, so the adoption of digitalisation can be a slow process unless businesses truly own and embrace the digital agenda.

Using software to an HR leader’s advantage
Yang-Kwon shared the ways in which HR plays a key role in the digital transformation journey at Ecolab. In particular, the use of Workday software has helped to transform HR processes into business-focused HR practices. The software enables the Ecolab team to combine combine their drive to utilise data insights with a need for clarity and simplicity for teams. 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 recruitment process, including focusing on the type of talent they need for the digital era. Yang-Kwon and his team constantly communicate with HR to ensure their business and recruitment objectives are aligned.

The five key criteria they have identified for recruiting digital talent include:

  • communication skills
  • problem-solving skills
  • technology savviness
  • passion
  • ability to learn

Digital in the continuous learning space
Diana Cho anticipates digitalisation leading to unemployment in some areas, and says it is critical for HR practitioners to help their employees to 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 to help drive the leadership development journey. Traditional classroom training has been modified to incorporate 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 at the top of the business agenda. Many aspects of the digital transformation journey need to be considered in order for the organisation 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 the digital transformation of HR. 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 organisations
South Korea ranks first in the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index. However, when it comes to digitalisation for multinational companies in Korea, many are still catching up to other regions. The Korean market has become increasingly competitive from a business perspective, and technologies will continue to play a critical role in achieving business success into the future.


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* 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.