Chemical industry

How to digitize the chemical industry – 5 strategic questions for CEOs

Technology can make a huge difference in the chemical industry. The challenge for CEOs is to find out which of the thousand options to follow. Thus, we introduce five questions that help CEOs to find the optimal digital initiative for their company.

An optimal digital initiative should include two things: A long-term vision of where the company wants to go and immediately visible results. The Bain Radar 360 SM helps to keep the balance between vision and pragmatism and is based on three main principles: “zeroing in on the most beneficial set of initiatives, making progress through a series of smaller initiatives, and channeling the initiatives along several pathways—such as customer experience, products and services, and operations.”


However, the prerequisite for finding the right digital strategy is that executives are aware of their current position in the industry and their competitive advantages. Thus, to find the right digital strategy, CEOs should ask themselves these five questions:

1. How will digitalization change the profit pools of my industry?

Digitalization can revolutionize the way money is made in your industry. New revenue streams can emerge, for example due to the evolution of intermediaries that offer platform solutions. This can be seen in sector of precision agriculture. Such changes constitute a threat for all incumbent market players to that they should react. However, digitalization does not necessarily disrupt profit pools in your industry. So to find your optimal digital journey, you should be aware of how you currently make money, how you manage to be profitable and how this might change due to digitalization.

2. What is our true competitive advantage we should strengthen?

Your competitive advantage is the reason why you are able to make money. Thus, you should identify and strengthen it within your digitalization strategy. If your strategic goal is for example to sell at lowest costs, you could invest in data science to reduce supply chain costs. Therefore, this question is especially critical for CEOs in the chemical industry, as their companies often arose out of multiple rounds of M&A. Consequently, a consistent strategic goal might not be present from the beginning. However, it is crucial to be aware of your USP before choosing your digital strategy. Just like this you will be able to strengthen it and to achieve further differentiation that is in line with your strategic goal.

3. Do we want to be a digital leader or rather a fast follower?

Being a digital leader involves higher costs, longer time to (possible) rewards and higher risk. However, if your investment flourishes, you get high rewards and are ahead of competition. If you decide to behave as a fast follower you can benefit from the experience made by leaders – which means less risk and quicker results. However, you will just stay a follower. Moreover, in the chemical industry the lead times of investments often take several years. So being a fast follower might still be risky and costly. No matter what: Either option is better than not reacting to the digital change at all.

4. What is our digital starting point?

To develop an appropriate digital strategy, CEOs have to be familiar with the status quo.


The degree of digitalization might differ across sites and functions. Knowing the current status helps to set up a realistic digital strategy and to find out where effort has to be increased in first place.

5. How can we connect vision and pragmatism into one compelling case?

As said before, a successful digital strategy has to balance near-term measures that gain immediate results and a long-term innovative vision. In line with this you might also find two groups of people in your leadership team: The practitioners value short-term measures and the dreamers value an innovative vision. For your digital initiation to thrive, you have to convince both groups by setting up a compelling case that pays attention to both sides.

By answering these five questions, CEOs can build up a better decision basis for investments in digital initiatives and the development of a comprehensive digital strategy.

This article is partially based on a publication of Bain & Company.

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