Culture & People

A Journey to the World’s Best through IT Innovation

By June 7, 2021 June 22nd, 2021 No Comments

“Occam’s Razor” implies that the logically simplest explanation of a fact or phenomenon is most likely to be true. It is also often used to describe someone who can grasp the heart of a certain matter in a complicated or difficult situation.
Hyunjong Song, executive vice president and Head of digital transformation (DT) at SK hynix, is a person who can be described as the “Occam’s Razor”. During the interview, Song explained the concept of digital transformation (DT) in simple and clear logic with an easily understandable language. As the Head of DT, he also pointed out the essence of the current DT related issues where different variables are entangled, clearly suggesting the future direction.

SK hynix’s DT-Based Innovation in the “Way of Working”

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In today’s era of big data, many companies are now able to discover the value of data that was not measured in the past or analyze an enormous amount of data that they would not have dared to analyze previously.
What is being emphasized to enhance operational efficiency by utilizing the insights obtained through collected and processed data, as well as to effectively seek new business opportunities, is DT. SK hynix is also making a lot of effort centering on the Digital Transformation (DT) organization to innovate the way of working based on the IT system. At the forefront of such changes, Song is leading the innovation of SK hynix.

“As all companies are now starting to focus on DT, companies that discover new insights through successful DT, and further develop, utilize them will have more opportunities to take the lead. We will do our best to perform DT so that SK hynix can seize such opportunities without falling behind in the competition.”

To successfully perform DT, simultaneous innovation in various aspects should be made. These aspects include efficient data collection and analysis, system and infrastructure establishment, and business process optimization. In particular, one of the core tasks of the DT organization is to systematically collect and efficiently process the enormous amount of big data accumulated through the semiconductor business to utilize it in the field.

“In the semiconductor manufacturing environment where technology is becoming more advanced than before, the ability to efficiently collect and analyze data is essential not only to enhance the semiconductor product competitiveness itself, but also to bring innovation in business overall. In this sense, we are strengthening the role of Data Science (DS) organization to discover valuable data and apply it to overall business to establish an environment that enables quick and accurate decision-making.

We also have built an infrastructure environment for Hadoop, a technology that processes large amounts of data by joining multiple computers as if they were one to collect data generated from various production facilities. Along with this, we have also prepared ‘Data Lake’, a database platform useful for retrieval, acquisition, algorithm development, and learning of collected data based on Hadoop. Also, ‘Master Data’ has been reorganized for efficient data collection and analysis, and various tasks are being performed for innovation in the field, mainly for automation and advancement of the manufacturing process.”

Song also emphasized the importance of “cloud migration” to secure the system and infrastructure necessary for smooth DT execution. With the advancement of technology including technology migration, the amount of data generated at semiconductor manufacturing sites is becoming tremendous. Under these circumstances, a cloud-based operational environment can increase cost and operational efficiency compared to an IT environment solely based on local server devices, as well as providing agility and expandability to the business. Accordingly, SK hynix has partially introduced and is utilizing a private cloud platform. Furthermore, SK hynix is responding to changes by promoting cooperation with many cloud service providers to accelerate the company-wide cloud transformation.

“For a semiconductor company where industrial security is important and processes are automated, introducing a cloud environment is very difficult. Nevertheless, to secure the reliability of the future IT infrastructure and the flexibility of the software to promptly respond to requests from the field, cloud transformation is necessary. We will continue to make efforts to ensure that numerous systems currently in operation can co-work organically and efficiently in the cloud environment, as well as stably introduce and settle the optimized cloud system.”

SK hynix started operating its M16 plant earlier this year and is preparing to build a semiconductor cluster in Yongin, South Korea for continuous growth and further strengthening the overall semiconductor ecosystem. The company-wide efforts are required for the efficient operation of these expanding production sites and the stabilization of the production system. As part of that, the DT organization has successfully stabilized the M16 at an early stage this year and is now concentrating on the advancement of the production automation system in the long term.

“In the case of M16 plant, the system architecture has been improved to a platform-based flexible service structure so that it can be expanded to the Yongin cluster in the future. We are expanding automation to ensure that each engineering task as well as production operation can be performed smoothly within this platform. In addition to increasing the system flexibility, we will accelerate the advancement and prepare for the future so that a more agile system can be applied to the Yongin cluster through the technology accumulation.”

Meanwhile, the DT organization is currently establishing a company-wide system called Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). The ultimate goal of the PLM establishment is to secure the integrity of the company-wide business process by integrating internal systems that have been operated differently by each organization, and removing such silos which have been hindering communication between teams.

“Some systems were developed on demand when needed, so they are not easily linked with each other. As a result, important data often goes missing or it takes a long time to obtain the necessary data. To solve such problems, we are currently building the PLM system that connects the entire process encompassing product planning, development, manufacturing, and sales into one system in connection with each business unit. When the end-to-end visibility is secured through PLM, decision-making and execution are expected to become much more agile.”

A Pathfinder for Success

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With his previous career at SK Telecom until 2011, Song joined SK hynix in 2012. Since then, he has led future strategy and marketing at SK hynix and is currently leading the IT-based structural improvement of SK hynix based on his unique insight and broad understanding of the company.

“Back in the time, SK hynix was a company with great talents like now, playing an important role in the global economy. However, I thought the employees were underestimating themselves after going through difficult times. I wanted to create an environment where the employees can work with pride while increasing their self-esteem, and I think I have contributed to some extent to make SK hynix have such environment.”

Song also explained in detail how to be the best in the semiconductor industry, showing his earnest wish that SK hynix and its employees have desperate urge and solidify their will to be the best.

“Semiconductors are manufactured through a working “method” by investing “money” in “man”, “machine”, and “(raw) materials” – 5M in other words. Among these, we can assume competitors are under similar conditions in regard of equipment (machine) and raw materials. Ultimately, it is important to secure differentiated competitiveness in human resources (man), finance (money), and the way of working (method). To get ahead of competitors and take the lead, we need to optimize our unique way of working that organically connects man, machine, and materials to increase efficiency. This requires know-how in development and manufacturing, but it is also an area where the DT capabilities shine. We will successfully perform this role through close cooperation with the field organizations.”

To achieve this goal, Song presented three keywords of “Innovation”, “Internal Stability”, and “One DT” to members of the DT organization.

“To secure the highest level of DT competency, our solution should incorporate the most advanced technologies, and what is required for this is innovation. Innovation is also called the ‘product of deficiency’. I think it is important to find what we lack and work hard to improve it.

Enhancing internal stability is the task to be performed first to secure the resources needed for innovation. Innovation requires a lot of resources, but we cannot input limitless resources. As such, we need to strengthen the internal stability of our manpower, infrastructure, and so on, to ensure that the best results can be achieved with the optimal resource disposition.

‘One DT’ implies seamless collaboration between different organizations based on functional integrity. Since organizations of SK hynix are clearly divided by their function, when you are in charge of a certain job, you must complete it flawlessly and then deliver it to the next colleague. That is what I always emphasize to my team members as well.”

At the same time, Song has brought a big change to the DT organization this year to practically raise the capabilities of its members. Functional expertise was enhanced by separating the process integration (PI) work and development/operation work, while also deployed both the PI and data science (DS) organizations forward in the field. Along with this, Song is also working on bringing field members to the DT organization to solve practical problems in the field together, and sending them back to their original position so that they can further spread their DS know-how after returning to their own team.

“DS competency is not the only thing required for DT organization’s members in solving problems occurring in the semiconductor industry. Likewise, semiconductor experts in the field also need to have a certain level of DS competency for smooth collaboration, in addition to domain knowledge. To succeed in DT by utilizing high-quality data obtained from the semiconductor industry, versatile talents with both DS competency and domain knowledge are essential.

To secure such talents, we dispatch DS experts in the DT organization to the field to build expertise while bringing field engineers with domain knowledge to the DT organization to train them. We aim to train around 1,000 Citizen Data Scientists (CDSs: in-field data analysis experts) by 2023.”

A Pioneer of the “Happiness of Employees”

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The ultimate goal of DT is to increase work efficiency based on data and enable a quick and accurate decision-making process. At the same time, however, realizing the happiness of employees by making the way of working more rational and efficient is also one of the important goals. In this respect, Song is also considering the “happiness” of members as one of his main priorities.

In particular, as an organization that is leading the innovation in the way of working at SK hynix, the DT organization has a different way of working and organizational culture from other organizations. Based on the respect for this, Song gives sufficient trust to the members, while motivating them by emphasizing their “professionalism”.

“Considering the nature of the job at the DT organization, where high-quality results must be delivered by a deadline requested by fellow colleagues, results are more important than working hours. I believe that if I show trust to members and give them autonomy, they will respond accordingly and show great working attitudes. Accordingly, I strive to establish a flexible working environment, as well as an atmosphere that respects individual autonomy as much as possible.”

Environment, social, and governance (ESG) management is emerging as a new topic for companies these days. Song defined ESG as “pursuing a happy future for all through sustainable growth”, explaining that the DT organization is also developing the foundation to contribute to the ESG management.

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“The reason why sustainability has recently become a major talking point is that people seek sustainable growth while the resources on the earth are limited. That is, there is a fear that we would run out of resources someday in the future. Solving this is not that difficult. What we need to do is reducing the amount of resources required to do the same thing. For example, if something that had to be done with 10,000 servers can be done with 5,000 servers, it can save electricity required for operating extra 5,000 servers. Developing low-power semiconductors for the global environment is also based on the expectation of such effects.

In fact, minimizing resource consumption and streamlining the way of working is not much different from what all companies have been doing until today. What’s different is just the methods of “how” we work have become more advanced as more tools became available, such as IT technology and data. Therefore, the essence of DT is “Back to the Basic”. I believe that if we maximize the efficiency of work through DT, the ESG value will be met naturally in the end.”

ByHyunjong Song

Executive Vice President and Head of Digital Transformation at SK hynix