When Unilever announced a 10-year plan (Compass) to double its business to €80 billion by 2020, it was clear that we would need an innovative IT platform to drive business insights, enable an agile organisation and to manage the scale of our transactional environment.
Important to providing that ability is a new platform that runs on the SAP HANA in-memory computing platform that not only processes queries orders of magnitude faster, but eliminates the need for end-users to navigate spreadsheets created across 200 Unilever subsidiaries.
With Unilever currently running 4 instances of SAP ERP software across all those subsidiaries, the overall transactional scale is extremely challenging and makes it difficult to respond quickly to the market forces affecting a truly global value chain.
With the support of Unilever’s CIO, the company began discussions with SAP about how SAP HANA could help Unilever meet it goals. In 2011, the initial POC was developed and the HANA platform was tested elaborately for six months. Soon thereafter Unilever decided to begin deploying SAP HANA to accelerate operational work and improve decision-making in real time, working directly on transactional data.
Unilever deployed SAP HANA as a “side-car” to each of the four regional ERP systems, with more than 4.6 billion records. “The initiative does not replace but rather complements our important global Enterprise Data Warehouse strategy for reporting and analytics, where ERP data is extracted, transformed, and loaded as well as combined with data external to our ERP systems,” said Marc Bechet, Global ERP VP.
Unilever implemented SAP HANA initially to accelerate some of its key SAP ERP applications—starting with SAP CO-PA Accelerator, Material Ledger (ML) accelerator, and other financial reporting accelerators. HANA allowed the company to extract data from 40,000 cost centers in split seconds. More important, it provided Unilever’s global supply chain organization with real-time financial insights
Performance benefits of the new deployment were immediate: Key reports were delivering anywhere from 30% to 10,000 times faster. For example, some high-volume transaction reports that were causing runtime problems (up to nine hours) ran in less than 15 seconds on SAP HANA.
With the success of CO-PA Accelerator, Unilever looked to expand usage of HANA/Accelerators to native HANA applications like Invoice & Receipt Reconciliation (GR/IR) and Working Capital Management (WCM). In the case of GR/IR, end-users had been extracting data from multiple tables from the previous applications into spreadsheets to reconcile receipts and invoices. This was a manually intensive and time-consuming process that hurt productivity and slowed the final close process. The HANA solution not only provided all the information Unilever needed within the application, it provided the speed to allow it to meet its goal for shortening final close by 50% — an objective Jean-Marc Huet, CFO of Unilever, is keen to achieve. In fact, Unilever in India was able to close its books in a single day.
Based on the success of initial implementations, SAP and Unilever’s EMEA supply chain management company held a Design Thinking workshop in Schaffhausen, Switzerland at the beginning of 2013. One initiative that came out of the Design Thinking meeting was the opportunity to improve more processes with HANA, leading into a re-think on how to operate in some areas.
Initiatives have been taken to detail the capabilities of driving more value for cash management, tax reporting, fraud management, and audit purposes. The Unilever process office was keen to explore the capabilities of a more graphical and real-time view of process bottlenecks — which the new HANA startup initiative could provide.
By reviewing company objectives, new case studies, and design thinking, Unilever was able to develop a roadmap for how to leverage SAP HANA to not only help meet the company’s aggressive goals but ultimately create a more secure environment that will also make it easier to meet any existing and future regulatory compliance mandates.