From AI-Ready to AI-First: True’s HR Chief Unveils A New Roadmap for Transformation

23 May 2024

KResearch predicts that about 7.8 billion dollars will be spent on data-center investments in Thailand over the next three years. And McKinsey&Co estimates that artificial intelligence (AI) will increase the global economy’s size by 13 trillion dollars by 2030. This data reflects the growing investments in AI-related ecosystem. Organizations have embraced artificial intelligence as a key tool in their products and service development to respond increasingly better to consumers’ needs in the face of fierce competition.


“AI adoption isn’t all about computer chips or paying top dollar for machine learning experts, though. AI adoption starts with adopting the right culture. Mindset is how organizations can go from being AI-ready to being AI-first,” Sarinra Wongsuppaluk, Chief Human Resources Officer of True Corporation Public Company Limited, said about the AI battlegrounds at the AI Gets Real event. 


She explained that many organizations were now AI-ready, as they had already integrated data into parts of their operations. But a McKinsey Analytics study of 1,000 companies with more than $1 billion in revenue, so far, reveals that only 8% of firms have the core practices for widespread AI adoption. The findings underline the need for enterprises to go from being AI Ready to being AI First.


 “AI-First is now True’s conceptual framework on AI, as we aim to manage and utilize AI to the max. In line with this framework, we need to first adjust corporate culture and our people’s mindset,” Ms. Sarinra said.


3 Ways to Go AI-First


The AI-First organization needs to transform in three key ways:


  1. From siloed work to interdisciplinary collaboration:

For example, the development of Mari, True’s AI-powered virtual agent, requires agile squads that cut across IT, analytics, customer experience, and customer service. 

  1. From experience-based, leader-driven decision making to data-driven decision making at the front line:

The Human Resources Group set up a team of data scientists to make its practice more data-driven. Backed by this team, the group can approach the massive transformation that comes from the amalgamation of dtac and True with data in all aspects. Employee performance has been evaluated based on skills and corporate indicators. True has also been able to identify talents, spot skill gaps, and redraw teams optimally. As a result, True finished 2023 well ahead of its targets in terms of people synergies.

  1. From rigid and risk-averse to agile, experimental, and adaptable:

Experimenting has long been the telco industry’s challenge because customers expect zero downtime and zero errors. But experiments are necessary for efforts to do better. At True, “Mari” has been in an experimental stage with duties assigned within a specific “scope” only. The virtual customer service agent has limited access to data and just specific groups of customers. True intends to test its efficiency completely before its full-scale rollout.


“These three components of AI-First organizations will materialize only when corporate culture and required skill sets change through the Tone from the Top approach. In other words, leaders must lead their organizations’ transformation into AI-First entities. AI-Ready organizations need executives with the AI-First mindset to go to the new height,” said the Chief Human Resources Officer of True.

AI-First Leaders


What does an AI-First C-Suite look like?


Ms. Sarinra said at True, AI-First executives must demonstrate the following four qualities:


  1. Big Picture Visionary: Having not just vision but also strategy that address the big picture and foresee growth opportunities in the future.
  2. Action Ignitor: Playing a role in implementation and driving changes through a masterful blend of management art and science, which involves communications, staff empowerment, and incentives.
  3. Talent Magnet: Attracting and retaining talents with Build-Buy-Borrow approach. Apart from developing current staff, it is also necessary to recruit new talents and leverage the expertise of shareholders such as Charoen Pokphand Group, Telenor Group and China Mobile.
  4. Ethical Guardian: Importantly, AI-First executives must be ethical and ensure AI applications and access to data are completely in line with the principles of good governance and laws. Under its AI Strategy, True is the first Thai company to declare and enforce AI Charter. It has even set up the AI governance committee.


AI-First executives’ characteristics may be defined differently by different organizations. At True, there are not just clear expectations but also mechanisms to support top executives in AI-challenge management. Among them are:


  1. Venture Capital Investors Project: Under this initiative, 20 senior leaders of True have received training that was designed to inculcate venture capital investors’ mindset in them. The project is conducted in partnership with Global Innovation Catalyst, whose chairman Kamran Elahain has founded ten companies, with six successful exits, including three unicorn IPOs. Currently, the 20 senior leaders are mentoring 10 business projects that operate as startups within the organization.
  2. Reverse Mentoring Project: Designed to produce the next batch of True Next Gen, this initiative offers opportunities for current leaders and new talents to share perspectives and mentor one another.


AI Enhances Human Capabilities


In the beginning, True mainly applied a top-down approach to its transformation because its leaders were like the company’s helmsmen. But at the same time, True has realized that bottom-up approach is also important. So, before the end of this year, True will upgrade the digital skills of 2,400 employees. Next year, the upgrade will cover 5,000 employees. Such upskilling aims to equip all employees with skills crucial to business development such as data analytics, business innovation, digital marketing, and automation.


The training is relies on a platform from General Assembly, an internationally recognized training institute headquartered in the United States. Aiming to ensure employees can apply technical skills together with their business knowledge to problem-solving and value-adding in support of their organization and customers, the training prescribes a mandatory course on Digital Foundation (12 hours). At the completion of the 12-hour course, participants must take a test. Only those with scores above 60% will be eligible for a 35-hour digital citizen training program to take them to an intermediate level. Those with scores above 70% can access expert tracks, some of which can be very intensive, such as a full-time six-month data scientist course. Via these courses, True aims to produce 1,000 experts within 2025.


True has already declared its vision via its AI strategy of enhancing customer experience, achieving digital growth, and delivering robust performance. At the heart of the strategy is people. True has thus accorded importance to fostering performance-driven culture within its organization, namely compassion, credibility, co-creation and courage. 


“AI will not replace humans. On the contrary, AI promises to give humans opportunities to bring their capabilities to the next level. Basic skills to become AI First are critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical thinking skills,” Ms. Sarinra concluded.