Culture & People

Ceaseless Effort of NAND Solution to Boost Corporate Value of SK hynix: Interviewing Hyun Ahn, Head of Solution Development

By August 31, 2020 September 11th, 2020 No Comments

Hyun Ahn, Head of Solution Development at SK hynix is having a busy time these days. Along with the development of the world’s first 128-layer 4D NAND by SK hynix, he is trying to keep this up to the competitiveness of NAND Solution1. Maybe that was the reason why there is the vibrant energy burst out from him. Throughout the interview, Ahn expressed his great passion for the solution business. At the same time, this passion raised the expectations for the future that Ahn will create, together with the members of Solution Development.

“Control Tower” That Leads Quality Improvement and Problem Resolution

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“Currently, SK hynix’s solution business is approximately at the world’s fourth place in terms of market share, but I think its development competitiveness is showing a rapid increase. As the competitiveness of the solution business has been strengthened thanks to the 128-layer 4D NAND, it is expected that SK hynix will step up to the global top tier level in the solution business in the near future, as well as its NAND business.”

“SK hynix develops and provides products for customers at the global top level in the field of high-performance mobile solutions, such as UFS 3.12 and uMCP 3.13. It is also rapidly gaining competitiveness in the SSD field, which has been relatively challenging for us. For great performance in the solution business, it is important to secure sufficient product lineups to provide a variety of products according to customers’ demand in a timely manner, rather than focusing on one or two specific products. SK hynix has already established full portfolios that customers want in the mobile and client SSD fields. By next year, SK hynix is expected to have the same level of portfolio lineups as its leading competitors in the enterprise SSD field.”

Ahn also mentioned the nature of the NAND & Solution business nowadays. He is working to enhance the capabilities of Solution Development, especially in the perspective of the “overall optimization.

“The essence of the NAND business is to deliver value to customers, which means to help customers keep their data for a long time at a very low cost, with no compromise in quality. To achieve this, customers’ data should eventually be contained in the form of a solution product, which is a mobile solution such as SSD Solution or UFS. In such products, various components such as a controller4, a firmware5, and active and passive elements are mounted, as well as a NAND. In this regard, the essence of the NAND & Solution business is overall optimization.”

He also emphasized Solution Development should play the role as a “control tower” for the NAND solution. This control tower should be able to coordinate the whole aspects.

“For solution products, a wide range of aspects should be considered, such as components, aligned technologies, securing product performance and quality that customers want, and price. For this reason, someone has to play the role in coordinating from development to mass production for continuous customer satisfaction. As Solution Development plays a leading role in the entire process from designing various elements such as NANDs, controllers, active/passive elements, PCBs, and modules to customer certification and mass production defect resolution, it should take a role of a “control tower” in the technology aspect.

With regard to this, what I emphasize to the members is the ‘sense of ownership’. When looking for the cause in the case of a fault or performance deterioration, it’s often unclear to determine which organization caused such problem. At such times, members of Solution Development should take the lead in understanding the real cause and solving the problem, rather than focusing on identifying the responsible organization. That way, other organizations will be able to develop flawless solution products with us.”

At the same time, to survive in the fierce market competition, he emphasized the innovation speed faster than competitors.

“Competition is the inevitable fate of a company. In a rapidly changing environment, we can’t outperform our competitors simply by running faster than we did in the past. What’s more important is outpacing them in the relative speed. A correct direction is crucial as well.”

To speed up the innovation, Ahn has re-established organizations of Solution Development. First, the Innovation team was established. The role of the Product Management Office (PMO), which is a control tower organization within Solution Development, has also been strengthened. From this year, PMO has been presenting standards for how each organization should work and leading cooperation based on the sense of ownership.

Also, the Product Engineering (PE) team has been strengthened to improve the verification capabilities. This shows the intention to make a balance between development and verification, whilst development has been the main focus thus far. PE team is reinforcing its role of driving each development organization and preemptively reducing defects to secure a certain level of product completeness, regardless of the internal certification. Along with this, it is contributing to enhancing the technology level in the mass production process by dispatching engineers to collaborative organizations.

Going beyond the Customers’ Expectations: The Right Person for a Big Leap forward to “Customized Solution”

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Ahn believes that the next three to four years will be the most important period in this business. With this belief, he is paying attention to strengthen the basics. Especially, the area he is focusing on the most is securing and fostering human resources with professional capabilities.

“This is the time when customers and product lineups are expanding. In this circumstance, the most important thing to achieve the best performance and quality ahead of competitors is to secure professional competence. To realize this, we are committing ourselves to fostering top-level experts in the fields of System on Chip (SoC), firmware and verification, by expanding the Expert and Architect systems within Solution Development.”

An expert means a person who has a comprehensive knowledge in a particular area. An architect is a person with a high level of technical competence beyond experts, as well as a sufficient understanding not only in one particular area but also in other adjacent fields. It is also a maestro who can determine the direction and goal of development.

To become an architect, expertise in at least three areas is required, as well as a profound understanding of customers. Currently, Solution Development has two architects in the firmware field. Ahn is expecting that new architects in the SoC filed will be produced within this year. Ahn’s goal is to produce at least ten architects in the next three to four years.

“Even though additional architects are newly produced this year, this might not guarantee a significant and immediate contribution to the development. However, within three to four years, the development direction will be decided based on the know-how of these architects. When the development direction becomes clearer and the competencies are put together, the value created from this will be astronomical. We are currently improving systems and expanding related education to secure architects who will play a crucial role.”

“We can’t really say that customers’ evaluation of our products was all great last year. There have also been some instances of persistent problems with some products. In this process, we’ve learned many lessons. Since then, we’ve devoted ourselves to restoring customer trust by establishing policies that prioritize quality and dispatching our engineers to major overseas markets. As a result, as of the end of June this year, quality evaluation of the mobile solutions in the first half of this year by global customers, especially those in China, has recorded the top level in the industry. SSDs are well evaluated by customers as well. To get to this point, Quality & Reliability Assurance (QRA) and Global Sales & Marketing (GSM) have provided a lot of assistance. We’ll continue to work hard to maintain the highest quality in the future.”

Due to the spread of COVID-19 this year, voices of concern are being heard from inside and outside; SK hynix, however, is turning the crisis into an opportunity by supplying products in a timely manner. The Company is also preparing the post-COVID-19 era as well.

“The recent market contraction was caused by the COVID-19 issue, but also by the industry itself. The semiconductor memory industry is cycle-based, repeating a boom and bust cycle. I believe that if we can secure customer trust by developing industry-leading products even in times of recession, we’ll be able to make a bigger leap forward in the upcoming periods of prosperity.

In the meantime, even if the COVID-19 situation is resolved in some way in terms of disease management, the current “contactless” environment is expected to continue in the future. We will focus on grasping the changes in customers and market environment to proactively develop appropriate technologies and products, responding to our market by making preparatory actions with GSM.”

CEO Seok-hee Lee has recently mentioned that the NAND and Solution businesses should play a big role to enhance SK hynix’s market value. In response to this, Ahn presented detailed execution plans.

“There are two ways to enhance market value. One is to expand sales by increasing investment, and the other is to show growth potential to the market. We’re paying attention to the latter. One typical example is Tesla, which achieved the highest market capitalization in the automobile industry despite the relatively modest sales.

We’re currently thinking of three major execution plans. The first is to dramatically increase the growth rate of the business to show the market that we have tremendous growth potential. The second is to let the industry know in various ways that the capabilities of the human resources responsible for the SK hynix’s NAND & Solution business are rapidly growing. The last is to expand our status in the contactless environment. In other words, it is about strengthening technological competitiveness for the future through the ‘select and concentration’ strategy. By implementing these three methods efficiently, we’ll continue to increase market value to achieve our goals.”

The First Penguin who Supports the Personal Growth of Employees

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During his career, Ahn has often moved to different departments. Starting as a process engineer, he went through the Corporate Strategy & Planning and Innovation Task Force (TF), and built his career in the NAND & Solution field. He has been dispatched to SK Telecom, and he was once in charge of establishing artificial intelligence (AI) strategies at the Future Technology & AI. How was he able to achieve great results in all of these different fields? He mentioned “listening and learning” as his strengths.

“The reason why I could be well adapted anywhere was that I listened to the members carefully. Employees at SK hynix put their heart and soul in each position. If you are a leader, what you have to do is to provide an environment where hard-working members can work more efficiently and effectively.

You also need to pay attention to personal growth, and one way to achieve this is giving them a chance to learn. For example, I took a short MBA course when I joined the planning organization after working as an engineer, and I took a ten-week AI training course when I started AI-related work in 2019. Learning things every time I come across a new field is becoming something enjoyable. I think that sharing my experiences with the members and my efforts for assisting their growth aroused sympathy from the members, making it possible for me to reach where I am now.”

He defined himself as a “first penguin”. First penguin means a penguin that stands at the front of a group of penguins as they move between ice floes to check for hazards such as seals and broken ice.

“A leader should take the initiative and set an example. Especially, Solution Development members have a variety of careers and expertise, so only at the expense of more experienced leaders can they win their hearts. In addition, a leader should be meticulous and precise. As the range of work is very wide, there’s no time to check one thing multiple times. That’s also the reason why all members should faithfully play their own role in each area and check until the end to ensure that there are no problems in terms of completeness or quality of development.”

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In particular, Solution Development is a young organization with great diversity. Ahn is spending a lot of time to think of a way to enhance work efficiency by making the most of this organizational characteristic.

“Understanding each other is important. Bringing out 100% of the competencies of the members is up to the leader. What I emphasize to leaders is to spend a lot of time understanding the competencies of their members accurately and figuring out which momentum can bring out the best results.

Also, I try hard to give work to the right person whenever possible. Whatever the work is, if you give the work to the right person, it is resolved perfectly in less time. If the time earned by doing this is used for developing competencies of the members, the overall performance will be steadily and significantly improved.”


1NAND Solution: A storage product mounted on IT devices such as SSD and UFS for storing data. Equipped with a NAND-based system semiconductor that can process data such as a controller, it features high stability and fast processing speeds.
2UFS: Universal Flash Storage. A next-generation memory card. A NAND flash solution used in mobile devices.
3uMCP: UFS-Based Multi-Chip Package. A semiconductor in the form of a single chip manufactured by combining multiple types of semiconductors based on UFS.
4Controller: System semiconductor that processes data by controlling the NAND installed in the Solution
5Firmware: A micro program which controls hardware stored in a Read-Only Memory (ROM).