In-Depth

Unilever tangos to Sinfonia in Latin America

How does an organization with 34 companies, 19 countries and currencies, thousands of users, three languages and operating over five time zones track business performance in a single data warehouse? That was the challenge facing consumer packaged goods conglomerate Unilever Latin America.

The organization had multiple ERP and CRM systems from various vendors, as well as 34 custom-built data warehouses, adding up to about 150 separate information systems and coding structures.


Each country had its own way of classifying information. Supply-chain, ERP and CRM systems, for example, had different ways of classifying products and customers from country to country, notes Andy Hayler, founder and chief strategist at Kalido, a London-based data warehouse life-cycle management software provider. “They don’t have uniform definitions,” he explains.

"Companies and countries have different cultures, different ways to run the business," adds Monica Parisi, information architecture manager at Unilever Latin America in San Paolo, Brazil.

There has to be an easier way
Faced with a constantly changing marketplace where acquisitions and consolidations abound, Unilever Latin America believed there had to be an easier way to track regional information and improve business performance. So it enlisted the Kalido Dynamic Information Warehouse to help harmonize processes and information through a project called Sinfonia, the Portuguese word for symphony.

Sinfonia is replacing all of Unilever Latin America’s local ERP systems for finance, supply-chain and order-to-cash processes, according to the firm’s Parisi. "We believed we could provide an information layer that could consolidate all the information of these systems into a single data warehouse," she explains.

For this to work, Unilever needed to extract data from a wide variety of systems, including SAP, Siebel, Manugistics, PeopleSoft and legacy applications. In addition, the solution had to be adaptable to rapid and dramatic business changes. Unilever Latin America chose Kalido because it is very flexible and provides good detail of the organization’s data in a single instance, Parisi notes.

Unilever Latin America has successfully implemented Sinfonia in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. 'That represents more than 50% of the revenue or sales of the total region,' according to Parisi. The organization is halfway to reaching its goal of implementing Sinfonia across the entire region.

The implementation thus far supports more than 2,000 business users on a single Kalido. The data warehouse currently measures more than 4 terabytes. Unilever Latin America expects that the final project will support more than 4,000 users and grow to 12 terabytes with about 12 million records loaded per day.

Sinfonia delivers an aggregated view of data across Unilever Latin America at high speed throughout constant business changes such as acquisitions and market consolidation. "We’ve harmonized more than 80% of the local data to our regional concepts," Parisi says. "Every company can talk in the same language."

That was the most significant challenge the organization had to conquer: harmonization across companies and countries. To overcome that, it opted not to customize very much of the transactional system but to leave it more "vanilla," Parisi explains. "We envisioned not to customize very much to be more flexible to change versions and upgrades," she adds. The overall architecture presented another challenge because Unilever Latin America had no experience with very large databases. It brought in a team of consultants from Accenture, NetPartners and Kalido to help put Sinfonia in place.

Simplified analysis and performance
The project has simplified the information technology side, as well as the ability to consolidate reliable data on the business side. This is important because the organization plans to continue acquiring new businesses, developing new products and markets, changing manufacturing processes and reorganizing business units in the fast-paced consumer packaged goods industry.

Unilever Latin America’s vision is to deliver the right information at the right time to the right people. Sinfonia is helping that vision become reality through daily monitoring of the extended supply chain. The organization can dynamically generate information to track and manage the full supply chain from production to delivery. And it delivers information by 8 a.m. every day.

Sinfonia can perform analysis by product, sales organization, distribution center or customer. This lets Unilever Latin America compare actual orders against estimates, and deliver accurate information.

What used to take the organization a couple of weeks to determine performance information across the entire region can now be done immediately, online, even as Unilever Latin America, its suppliers or its customers are changing. Sinfonia can show the structure of customers and suppliers as a progression in time, allowing business users to track sales and profitability consistently.

Still growing
Unilever Latin America intends to grow Sinfonia and to incorporate supply-chain, finance and human resource processes into the mix, the firm’s Parisi says. It also intends to start implementing Kalido Master Data Manager, an enterprise-class, adaptive data management system for harmonizing master data held by the Kalido Dynamic Information Warehouse and other analytical and operational systems.

Eventually, the data warehouse will feed a regional balanced scorecard application as an executive information system and assist in strategic business planning. This will happen by enabling existing data to be viewed according to possible future hierarchies.

If given the opportunity to redo the project, Unilever Latin America would use internal people that could learn and stay with the development team, Parisi notes. The organization began developing the system with third parties and consultants.

Good sponsorship is important to harmonize processes and information, Parisi notes. Architecture also plays a key role. "If we start with a good architecture in terms of information, application and infrastructure, we are creating something that is scalable and could answer the business requirements because we know that we could grow it in a very structured manner," Parisi says.

In addition, methodology and teamwork are significant ingredients in a successful project. Methodology is vital to fully address strategic requirements, Parisi acknowledges. Teamwork is key because different people from different groups are working together to accomplish the same goal.

Please see the following related story: 'A closer look at Kalido' by Lana Gates

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About the Author

Lana Gates is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Arizona. She can be reached via e-mail at freelancewriter@gates-works.com.

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