Unilever quantifies SAP integration

After a two-year SAP ERP integration project Unilever has been able to quantify the “significant” cost, time and effort reductions, the brand’s global IT director revealed at a Gartner conference in London.

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Unilever has been able to quantify the “significant” cost, time and effort reductions following a SAP ERP integration project, the brand’s global IT director revealed at a Gartner conference in London.

The multinational, which sells in 190 countries and holds 14 brands in the £1 billion club, has integrated its 200 ERPs into four SAP ERP led markets – Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia. It began the journey to form one consolidated ERP in 2007.

But Unilever can now reveal that the convergence enabled refined end-to-end solutions, increased agility and waste reduction through recycled project methodologies which, Frank Brandes, Unilever’s IT director for global enterprise business integration, said has significantly reduced time, efforts and costs across the entire brand. 

To reap the benefits of the integration, Brandes' team at the Unilever Centre of Excellence (CoE) has implemented strict guidance so project teams across the company deploy reusable solutions instead of creating new ones, ensuring the four markets function under a uniform, branded structure. Within the past months the CoE has evaluated that so far two of the four markets have seen a 26 percent effort saving.

“The 26 percent of effort savings on the one hand, mean costs savings, on the other hand, means we have sped up delivery. We use existing solutions, which means we can just take them, configure them and deploy them. We don’t need to develop anything - it’s much more agile. From a resilience perspective we are in a position to redeploy existing solutions that are proven to work – it is no risk,” Brandes said. 

“When I look at our portfolio and the number of significant projects that we have in the pipeline and the overall application development cost, 26 percent is a large figure,” he added. 

In the past few months the CoE has enforced a standardised way to introduce changes into the product environment, as well as a global regression testing service. 

Challenges 

The IT director warned that integration and replication of methods have not been simple. He told the conference: “It took us round about two years to get where we are today – it’s not perfect but we have a very good foundation that we can use to drive things together.” 

With shifts from on-premise hosting to cloud services, API and mobility shaping the model has been challenging, Brandes warned: “Many products are on the market now and many companies are still maturing so it is difficult. 

“We have cloud projects in our organisation which we are supporting, but without having a proper strategy there are API projects and products and we have to be clear about the strategy, the standards and the level of control that we need. Otherwise we will end up in a mess similar to where companies were a couple of years ago with the A2A B2B space - where we had dozens of middleware applications used in a non-standardised way. 

“We had that situation, to some extent, with the landscapes and it took us years to drive convergence from the system perspective - to get rid of the non-strategic middleware applications and introduce capabilities and monitor them.” 

To help the move to manage the four SAP ERPs as one, Brandes' team is increasing regression testing and ensuring models are adapted to the new applications and tools available to the brand in the changing IT backdrop. 

“We need to deliver the adaptive integration requirements in a very, very agile way and even we are able to speed up the delivery. For us it is pretty clear that we need actually to adapt – there is no reason to become complacent.”

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