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3 Ways Unilever International Achieved Agility at Scale 

Agility. It’s something that all organizations crave, particularly now as the world continues to face supply chain disruption. Online searches for “agile transformation” yield 100 million hits, proving it’s no longer just a term batted around by the IT department.

It’s no wonder when 65% of organizations reported a significant impact on their financial performance after a successful agile transformation and a 30% increase in customer satisfaction, according to McKinsey’s survey. 

Unilever International, the cross-border distribution arm of leading CPG organization Unilever, have been undergoing an agile transformation for the past few years. They make shipments all around the world, so most of their goods are made to order, rather than stored in warehouses. 

With over 20,000 units spanning everything from ice cream to deodorant, all of which come with their own unique regulatory checks, they have a complex profile of data sets and data points. In fact, they handle over 120,000 shipping documents a year across 33 different invoicing entities. So, it’s important that they remain agile enough to handle these variables to remain competitive in today’s demanding market.

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Bizagi had the pleasure of recently hosting a webinar with Unilever International’s Digital Transformation and Capability Lead, Cynthia Tan, and Anuradha Mallya, Senior Project Manager and Process Manager at Nividous, an Intelligent Automation Company who helped Tan and her team to implement their transformation. 

As highlighted in their webinar, Unilever International Delivers Customer Excellence in Cross-Border Commerce, here are three key ways Tan and Mallya achieved agility across their global operations. 

 

1.    Mastered their master data 

Unilever International has masses of data points, all stored in different locations around the world. “We have four different SAP instances that don’t talk to each other. The master data is all different,” explained Tan. “Therefore, the big challenge for us is to make sure that all of them come to one common data set, so we can generate meaningful reports.”

This is a common issue for organizations that operate in multiple markets, or even just those with multiple departments. And it’s not just ERPs that need orchestrating. Unilever International, like most organizations, used to rely on Excel and emails to communicate data between users. 

“As the business grew exponentially, Excel was getting too difficult to handle and manage so we needed a closed system. Something that was easy to implement and relatively low cost, with easy and quick development allowing us to work with multiple data sets and integration,” said Tan.

“We are able to link lots of various data sets in and out of Bizagi. Not only that, but we can do a lot of pre-configuration and prepopulated views. This allows us users to just get on with our work. We don’t have to key in the data where it’s already available or put down rulesets outside of the process.”

Having a centralized system where data doesn’t have to be entered in multiple locations, with automated processes such as prepopulated views has significantly benefited operations. The customer pricing process now users an intuitive user interface so unique frameworks can be created in just 30 days, rather than 90 days, three times faster. 

 

2.    Reacted to changes 

One of the cornerstones of an agile approach is the ability to make iterative changes to processes to help deliver change, fast. This can be a challenge when there are multiple factors to consider. Unilever International has different pricing models based on different customers, for example, retailers vs distributors, with additional factors such as sourcing and destination countries all affecting pricing. 

“It’s important to ensure that the pricing process is modeled properly and approved by all the relevant people who need to approve it as part of the company policy,” said Mallya. This has never been more important than in today’s volatile market. But regardless of external factors, organizations also need to be prepared for internal changes that can hold up their operations.

Tan painted a picture that is familiar to many of us: “Imagine the approval process is assigned to one person, and if that person leaves, how are you going to update that in the process? That whole end-to-end automation is critical. We also need to make sure we always know the status of the process and ensure that those processes are complying with financial controls, such as the schedule of authority for approvals.” 

Their pricing framework management process alone has 26 approvers across 22 countries. It’s vital to have the ability to amend the approver within the process so that the pricing, and ultimately delivery of goods to customers is not held up. 
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3.    Documented processes before automation 

When looking at large-scale digital and agile transformation projects, it’s easy (and understandable) to want to dive straight in. Most organizations want to see orchestration and automation early. But it’s worth taking a step back to evaluate your situation and your business processes first. This is what Tan and her team found.

“When we first started out in 2019, it was a journey of discovery for us… We did not document the processes in the way we should have. We would take a template and automate it. But it’s not as straightforward as that. You need to understand the problems you are trying to solve and know the output you want to see because a process is supposed to help you to resolve something. It’s not automating for the sake of automating,” said Tan.

Yes, an agile approach often includes multiple sprints and iterations, but these should come once the processes are live and you are learning from them.  Process documentation and data mapping at the beginning of your journey can help to ensure that the gap between development and deployment is much smaller because you don’t come across as many issues during testing. 

 “You also need to look at the data points – is there the opportunity for those data points to be streamlined?,” Tan advised. “So during that first discovery stage we thought ‘let’s just automate’, but we had to go through lots of iterations because it was not giving us what we wanted. Now we make sure we document the processes in terms of what we want to achieve, and that reduces a lot of the testing issues and helps the business go-live.” 

 

Learn more about Unilever International’s transformation

If you’d like to hear more about Unilever International’s transformation journey, you can watch the webinar, Unilever International Delivers Customer Excellence in Cross-Border Commerce on-demand. 

Mallya gives an in-depth demo of the pricing framework management and customer shipping information processes and Tan shares more details on how Unilever International achieves agility in global operations. 

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