Unilever vice president of IT and business intelligence Greg Swimer reminded CIOs and business technology executives not to ignore the "simple and elegant" data projects in favour of high-end analytics.
Swimer, who has been at Unilever for 15 years serving various IT functions, spoke to an audience at Forrester's CIO Forum in London about striking the balance between building an analytics powerhouse and focusing on simplified information, as well as the importance nurturing a supporting environment for employees because talent in the sector is so scarce.
"The role of IT is to focus on the enterprise-wide initiative which is truly fundamental to everything in the business," he said.
"You must strike a balance between the powerhouse projects and simplified information, which is simple, elegant, cheap, cost-effective and easy for users.
"Don't forget the simple things in the drive for Big Data and high-end analytics."
Swimer, who reports to group CIO Willem Eelman - recently named number three in the latest edition of the CIO 100 - also sat down with CIO to elaborate further and discuss recent business intelligence projects at Unilever.
It had previously been a massive challenge to find the necessary reports and documents that sales teams needed, Swimer said, and a new BI project was put in place to make it easy for 100,000 users in knowledge management functions to be able to find a report "in three clicks and five seconds".
"It's been a very positive project for the business," Swimer said. "But that's just first base. Next we must look to see if we can get even simpler than that. Can we drive new insights by finding out about the unnecessary reports we're not using."
Swimer said that there were three big skills sets he was looking for when building a business intelligence team - understanding the technology, understanding the business and enabling project execution. "It's about getting all that right," he said, a challenge at an organisation of around 170,000.
"The demand for analytics at Unilever is genuinely pervasive. There's a big drive from marketing, from sales, from the supply chain, from procurement and planning teams, and a lot from financial and HR lines. Research and development departments need to understand product lifecycles. We need a large number of analytic capabilities - but even across those areas aspects are very similar."
Fundamentally, though, Swimer said: "Data is about finding new possibilities to serve our customers and improve the business, and the constant challenge is finding new ways of bringing data sets together.
"The role of IT is to strike a balance between the short term and the bigger picture, between the analytics powerhouse and simplified information."