Unilever ramps up adoption of in-memory analytics

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Unilever ramps up adoption of in-memory analytics

50,000-strong user base to benefit from SAP HANA.

FMCG giant Unilever is preparing to shift gears in its adoption of SAP's in-memory database software, having just about completed the "easy part" of a multi-year rollout.

Speaking at SAP's SapphireNow conference in Madrid, Unilever's director of global IT innovation for finance and enterprise support, Thomas Benthien, laid out the firm's plans for SAP HANA over the period of 2012 to 2014.

HANA is an in-memory data platform aimed at supporting real-time analytics and applications. Unilever is a known pilot customer.

The company is completing an early implementation of HANA accelerators to enhance mostly finance functions in its SAP enterprise resource planning system, namely profitability analysis and material ledger.

Adopting the accelerators in set geographies — the America's and India — enabled Unilever to put some quick wins on the board, before attempting to apply HANA more broadly in the global business.

"We created a lot of momentum [by] just implementing the accelerators," Benthien said.

The accelerators cut the time to calculate product costs significantly, enabling staff to make "tough choices" on raw material sourcing, product pricing and profitability much faster than before.

Accelerators are to be rolled into other geographies that Unilever operates in through 2012 and into next year.

At the same time, the company is gearing up for a broader implementation of HANA, in particular making more use of the software's analytics capabilities, and its potential to underpin business systems.

Vice president of IT ERP, Marc Bechet, told delegates that Unilever hoped to harness HANA to meet a growth target to "double our business by 2020".

"We need to be very good and really understanding our profitability in order to support our growth ambitions in a profitable way," Benthien agreed.

HANA is expected to touch a large chunk of Unilever's value chain, extracting insights from the 30,000 transactions a minute that run across the chain.

"We've really got challenges in terms of the data we need to process and speed is really [required at] the start of planning [processes]," Benthien said.

Several proof-of-concepts scheduled for 2013 and 2014 specifically relate to planning portions of the value chain.

(Unilever's demand chain. Courtesy: SAP)

Though rollout plans for Unilever's Australasian operations were not specifically referenced, up to two applications of HANA are currently planned that will cut across Unilever's global operations.

According to a slide deck (pdf), one funded plan involves applying HANA to a Sales and Operations planning (S&OP) implementation, which is targeted at improving planning in supply chain-oriented organisations. This is set to occur some time in 2013.

The other potentially global application is a proof of concept trial of running SAP Business Suite on HANA, although Benthien noted this is still under review.

He said although momentum is currently with IT on the HANA rollout, the team needed "to make sure that the governance of this whole [range] of possibilities is there, and the right service model is below" it.

"We created a lot of momentum but now we need to be able to manage expectations as well and to grow in a profitable way," he said.

Unilever runs a "wall-to-wall" SAP environment globally, consisting of four ERP central component (ECC) systems that support in excess of 50,000 users.

The company is best known for its consumer brands, which in Australasia include Streets ice creams, Rexona, Jif, Dove, OMO and Lipton.

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