"I don’t like to talk about the IT transformation, it’s a Unilever transformation under CEO Paul Polman."
2. Willem Eelman is repackaging IT to meet business and ecological needs
“When we talk about transformation it is about being digital to win. Digitise the brands, the value chain, the routes to market and how we work as an organisation. So for me technology has to contribute to the value of the business.
“They asked me to take on this challenge to embed IT into the business. Unilever sees significant opportunity to drive competitive advantage through integrated business solutions in which technology is embedded."
3. Weathering the storm
“Technology is a cost in its own right, but it can help and underpin the business to make us better,” he says. Unilever’s values essentially involve making things, marketing and selling them and having a valued relationship with the customer.
“The brands are the lifeblood of Unilever and that is what drives the business value.”
4. Unilever will halve the environmental footprint of its products
“The environmental footprint is a core component of our business values, but only 20 per cent of the footprint of our products takes place within our own company. A vast amount of it is with the supplier and the customer.
“Take water consumption: our products drive water consumption and we clearly see water scarcity as one of the future challenges. The impact on our business is if people have to make a choice between water to drink or water to wash their clothes with, it will limit our sales volumes.”
5. IT Footprint
“IT’s role is to be more efficient in a direct way as IT is pivotal to understanding where our footprint is and be able to report on it.”
“We procure globally and have put in a commodity value volatility framework so that we can hedge commodities to control the risk profile and reduce that risk. So when oil prices went very high this year we were able to be agile.”
6. Austerity measures
“We know that in certain European countries consumers have €25 to €35 to spend in a weekly shop, so if a box of washing powder is €10 they will not buy it. It is very similar in developing markets where we sell by the sachet, so we are articulating what we have done in emerging markets to a much broader market. We are seeing some deceleration in the developing markets too.
“Technology’s role is creating a more flexible supply chain so we can tailor products to demands. Despite all this, we are winning market share.
“Innovation like that gives you cost savings, so that some of the profit is invested in innovation. That is the business circle of growth and we in IT are all contributing to that.”
"Digital retail is already 25 per cent of revenues for some major retailers, we are in the second year of a data and real-time decision-making strategy and working on the impact of social media on brands and connectivity."
“The contribution that R&D can now make is a higher speed to market at a lot lower cost as a result. They are now using IT to unlock science to speed up the innovation with better data consistency.”
9. A global village
“We are putting significant investment into real time-information management with Teradata. The vision is to have one place for all internal and external data. I expect external data to outweigh internal. Internally we had a lot of silos, but with the new strategy we will see our information on a competitive basis. We will have a globally aligned master data showing vendors, markets and products.
“SAP PeopleSoft plays an important role in our system of record for the business and we are already seeing massive rewards from this investment. The next challenge is getting data exposed to the devices and then feeding back into SAP.”
10. Campaign control
“In the past to communicate to our customers we’d shoot a film and splash it on TV, but we had no direct relationship with our customers, it was all a push model,” Eelman admits.
“Digital opens up amazing opportunities to build an intimacy with our customers. A launch will have TV ads, but there will be versions on YouTube, Facebook and we use these to re-engage with our customers,” he says of the control Unilever has taken back in-house with its own platform.
“Traditionally a marketing manager would go to an agency and they would talk about a campaign and the agency would create a silo around a campaign.”