After graduating from Loughborough University in 2007 with degrees in electronic engineering and finance and management, I completed the BAE Systems graduate programme in their weapons and vehicles di...
Byron Ford, Consultant
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Helping Unilever streamline its approach to management reporting required careful planning and teamwork…
Unilever recently streamlined its approach to management reporting to reduce complexity, achieve a faster European reporting timetable and improve the quality of information it could deliver to 170 users in 28 countries.
Unilever is a €40 billion global business, whose products – huge household brands in home, hygiene and nutrition - are sold in over 170 countries around the world. Today’s Unilever is the result of years of mergers and acquisitions. These have fuelled growth, but brought with them challenges, not least for the Group’s IT function, as it absorbs disparate incoming technology platforms and applications.
Unilever has responded by simplifying its IT infrastructure. Transition to a single global SAP financial and management reporting platform, named Victory, was an important part of this strategy. We had a central role in its successful delivery, having been asked to lead the programme when it became clear that it was much more difficult than had first been envisaged. Berkeley’s experience meant they were well placed to help Unilever deliver the next phase of improvements to their reporting infrastructure.
Unilever’s European management reporting system, Abacus, was reaching the end of its support life. In tandem, the company’s Finance function had a strategic agenda to reduce complexity in reporting, speed up Unilever’s financial close process, and improve the quality of management information across the region. Unilever recognised this was an ideal opportunity to redefine its approach to management reporting, and simultaneously improve the timeliness and quality of its management information. The Eurolayer project was therefore launched to look at the best way of replacing Abacus and to provide a further vehicle to delivering the Finance strategy across the 28 countries involved.
Berkeley helped Unilever evaluate their options, define plans and create the business case to secure funding for the project and then took over mobilisation and management of the 50-strong global vendor/client team which would deliver it.
In the lead from the outset, Berkeley had the opportunity to shape the delivery approach to maximise the chances of success. The oft-quoted 80:20 principle applied to the effort and rigour put into upfront planning. In order to increase the likelihood of the project’s success, the team deliberately invested a large proportion of time in developing a well thought through and robust plan early in the lifecycle.
The first step was to evaluate the implementation options, likely timeframes and costs. It quickly emerged that the option to implement a new system would require a significant investment in time and resources so the decision was made to extend the existing global tools to fulfill the regional reporting requirements.
With the systems strategy agreed, the focus shifted to finalising the business case to secure funding, shaping the project and then mobilising the team in the UK, the Netherlands and India.Governance arrangements were put in place, centred on a strong steering committee with a cross section of stakeholders from Finance, IT and a Berkeley partner who brought continuity from the Victory programme. A vendor selection exercise was undertaken and with a strong team on board, a Berkeley consultant led a collaborative planning process with the participation of the right people from Finance, IT and the respective delivery vendors. The plan was designed in two major phases with the delivery of intrusive changes to the global reporting solution fast-tracked and stabilised, well in advance of the critical Year End, and a second phase to automate the transfer of source data from local country systems. To further strengthen the plan, time was put aside to really think through delivery risks and dependencies and with a good understanding of these, a process was put in place to continuously manage them.
One of the most critical challenges was the migration of European data into a corporate system that was in constant use. With only a ten day migration window, there was little room for error. Getting it right required months of careful planning, extensive rehearsals and testing with live data. Harnessing project resources in India not only helped keep the project costs down, but allowed work on the migration to continue round the clock. After considerable "paddling under the water”, the migration was completed on time. With no disruption to the closing deadlines, the Finance community described Eurolayer’s migration as “seamless”.
12 months after its initiation, Eurolayer had been implemented in full and for less than the anticipated costs. All critical success factors, such as achieving closing deadlines and maintaining system performance, were achieved. By introducing a step change in global capabilities with quicker transfer of country data from the European ERP system and deeper granularity in reports, the project was credited with directly contributing to a faster European management reporting timetable and delivering higher quality information to the 170 users and decision makers. As a result, Eurolayer won the annual, internal IT Award for Corporate / Global and the project is now being replicated for the Americas region.
Commenting on the project, Richard Sciver, VP Information Management at Unilever, says: “We were really pleased with the contribution of Berkeley throughout the project. We relied on the consultants’ thoroughness in planning, good preparation, integrity in advice for decision-making, and overall project management. This was particularly important because we were working with a team of Unilever people from different management groups, as well as several different providers across numerous international locations. The team delivered the project on time, within budget and it was one of the smoothest ‘go-lives’ of any project in recent times. A job well done by Berkeley and indeed everyone involved.”