3 minute read 11 Feb 2020
Scientist making bacterial culture in agar inside laboratory workstation

How chemicals companies can remain customer-centric as sectors evolve

Those that confront the evolving needs of industries, digitization, sustainability and talent will stand out from the competition.

Industries worldwide are going in new directions amid transformative disruption, and the chemical industry, which provides the building blocks of the global economy, has no choice but to follow suit. But what does a future-focused chemicals sector look like?

Globally, digitization and evolving demands from end-user industries have forced chemical companies to develop new offerings. Chemical players are also embracing artificial intelligence and machine learning in R&D to improve data analytics and digital platforms in high-potential areas to modernize their operating models. In response, businesses must rethink their talent priorities to develop the culture of innovation and customer-centricity needed to keep up with constant change.

Our Global Chemical Market Outlook (pdf) explores the trends and drivers that will shape the industry of tomorrow. Our viewpoints are available as a summary below. Amid industry transformations, as well as tighter regulations from China and the International Maritime Organization, there are four crucial strategies worth pursuing:

1. Follow the evolving needs of customers and end users

Robust solutions are needed to confront the convergence of end-user industries, the shifts in preferences across generations and the emergence of advanced technologies. To shape portfolio planning, scrutinize the future of energy, agriculture, mobility and technology, and map out the possibilities.

For example, what chemicals will be needed in batteries for electric vehicles, which are poised for dramatic growth? Can you collaborate with research institutes, the automotive industry and startups to license the technology around the future of mobility? Are you investing in sustainable technology and products, such as seaweed-based plant nutrients?

2. Use digital technology to facilitate a new age of chemical production

New technologies, such as 3D printing and 5G, will drive the demand for enhanced materials to complement their use. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are being deployed for experimental iterations to reduce R&D time and costs.

Chemical companies can enhance product quality, develop new business models and accelerate innovation through technologies that you may not have heard about yet. Those include soft sensors (which estimate hard-to-measure process variables), 4D printing (which transforms 3D-printed objects through light or heat) and edge computing (which reduces reliance on centralized and always-connected network segments).

3. Take the road to sustainable development

The United Nations has set ambitious goals for sustainable development — zero hunger, good health and well-being, clean water, sanitation and energy, climate action — and chemicals companies have a large and profitable role to play, through co-created solutions with end users.

For instance, possible strategies in this area include investing in R&D to develop high-yield fertilizers and agricultural growth enablers, low-cost solar cells and fuel batteries, bio-based feedstock, enhanced water treatment and purification technologies.

4. Prioritize talent and culture to drive growth

To develop an agile workforce, companies cannot overlook the importance of soft skills, such as leadership, communication, innovation and digital capabilities. Such skills complement sector expertise and technical know-how to facilitate the deployment of latest technology in their operations.

Globally preferred employers have a lot to teach the sector on how to develop a culture of innovation, growth and employee well-being. It’s crucial for chemicals players to offer holistic reimbursements beyond monetary benefits and adequate growth opportunities, and efforts should be made to strengthen a company’s brand in the marketplace.

The chemical industry of tomorrow is taking shape today. And the companies that build on these trends now are positioning themselves to thrive in the marketplace of the future.

Summary

Globally, digitization and evolving demands from end-user industries have forced chemical companies to develop new offerings. These businesses must also develop sustainable options for products, feedstock and automated processes to meet consumer demand. And to do this, the companies should co-create sustainable solutions with end customers, focus on new technologies and position themselves to win the war for talent.

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