P&G's Dave Ubachs on providing global solutions

According to Procter and Gamble (P&G) 98 per cent of UK households own at least one P&G brand and the same picture is true in varying degrees across the world.

Globally, P&G is the largest consumer goods manufacturer, selling products in 180 countries to 4.4 billion consumers with sales reported to be worth £51bn.

In the UK, P&G is the country’s largest advertiser and whether you know it or not, all of you will be well versed in its products, which include Lenor, Ariel, Fairy Liquid, Gillette, Pampers, Olay, Pringles crisps and Iams pet food.

Although it is a US firm, P&G is an important part of the British economy.

There are manufacturing plants in Thurrock, Manchester, Reading and Seaton Delaval in Northumberland, distribution centres in Basingstoke, Bournemouth, Thurrock and Skelmersdale, R&D facilities in Egham, Newcastle and Reading, a local head office in Weybridge and further offices in Harrogate and Newcastle.

Across these 15 sites P&G UK employs 6000 people.

Core business model
Dave Ubachs is CIO and shared services manager for UK, Ireland & Scandinavia, which is part of the Global Business Services (GBS) division of P&G.

GBS as a shared services provider is tasked with delivering every conceivable requirement to the organisation so it can get on with its core business: manufacturing fast-moving consumer goods.

180 different services are delivered to P&G by GBS, and this GBS business model is replicated across the P&G globe.

“My team provides services to the whole of Europe from the UK,” he says.

Essential operations such as finance, HR and IT are outsourced in affect within P&G to GBS.

Dutchman Ubachs has been with the company since 1995 and is typical of the globe-trotting business-focused leader that P&G seeks to swell its ranks with.

“I’m the client manager for the UK, responsible for the business services for the business. I describe it as assisting employees assisting the business,” he says of his role and that of GBS.

The remit of the division includes procurement, though not of the raw materials used to manufacture nappies or shaving gel, but does include IT and negotiating the bills for water and power.

Ubachs’ main client is the business president of P&G UK, and the pair meet regularly to discuss the rates and deals between P&G UK and GBS.

It’s a board-level role and a discussion with Ubachs quickly reveals that he relishes the challenges of a seat at the top table.

He and his CIO peers across the P&G empire got there through a corporate-wide understanding that CIOs needed to be central to the challenges the organisation faces.

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That wasn’t just about ensuring P&G had reliable IT: the CIOs at P&G are key to extracting knowledge from information and, in doing so, keeping P&G ahead in its daily fight with competitors like Unilever.

Sphere of influence
A key tool in that fight is the Business Sphere, a business analytics service offered by GBS to P&G.

CIO interviewed Ubachs in the Weybridge office Business Sphere, a room that features a bank of screens on each of three walls so that everyone in the room can view the graphics represented on the screens without having to leave the boardroom table.

But there is more to the Business Sphere than a smart room with some snazzy technology, and units within P&G using the Business Sphere also gain an analytics expert, one of whom CIO met.

These experts interrogate data from within the business and buy information to inform debates.

“IT has been seen as the master of technology and they sit on huge amounts of information, I really think the mining of that information and turning it into ways of improving decision making and mining insights is going to be the next big thing,” says Ubachs.

Market visualisations
In the fictional demonstration put on for CIO we were presented with figures that showed sales performance of P&G products in relation to product prices.

But its real strength was in the use of visualisation.

A company the size of P&G produces so many products and competes in so many markets that it’s important that meetings focus on the important topics.

The visualisation technology used by P&G presents market sectors such as shampoo, for example, sized and colour coded according to their importance to the market being discussed.

As a novice I could instantly see which P&G products were performing well in which retail chains and how the decision-making process would follow.

“Visualisation is the next big step for information. It allows people to get the insight out of data far quicker. When I joined people used spreadsheets printed on A3 and meetings took four hours. Now the board meetings are different in tone, discussions are shorter and there are more actions,” Ubachs says.

Dubbed the War Rooms, the service uses real-time data analysis, and P&G now has Business Sphere rooms in 40 international locations. The model is being patented, a process which is already through several hurdles.

“This is a solution that is meaningful to the business. I’m not in the business of changing the routers. My solution addresses the things that keep the business awake at night and so I have a seat at the table,” he explains.

Another cost-saving solution is the Video Collaboration Studios, a set of video conferencing rooms offered by GBS that Ubachs says saves P&G $4 for every dollar invested in it.

Since its launch, P&G has seen its travel costs drop and staff report an improved work-life balance.