Unilever prepares for global HANA roll-out

Consumer goods giant Unilever is looking at how it can optimise its global operations using SAP’s HANA in-memory database

Consumer goods giant Unilever is looking at how it can optimise its global operations using SAP’s HANA in-memory database.

The company has been consolidating its SAP systems over the past 20 years and now runs 4 regional systems. But by 2015, it plans to run a single instance of SAP, according to Thomas Benthien, director at Unilever's ERP centre of excellence.

This will lead to an increase in database transactions, which is why Unilever is looking at ways to optimise the system using the in-memory HANA database.

It does not yet know what it takes to run a business system on HANA, so the move to the in-memory database is more mid-term planning, he said.

The company expects to double its turnover from €40bn to €80bn by 2020, due to growth in developing and emerging countries. "By 2020, we will have 230% more washing machines,” said Benthien. This presents a massive opportunity for Unilever, since it manufactures washing powder.

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HANA speeds up Unilever business processes

Unilever is using HANA in every area of its business. It runs 27TB regional databases and uses 30GB in-memory HANA systems in each region. 

The company's ERP handles 30,847 transactions per minute. In a proof-of-concept application, HANA enabled Unilever to reduce the time it takes to process 200 million records from 440 seconds to just 30 seconds, allowing the company to determine the cost of how much a product costs using pricing information for raw materials. 

“Understanding margins better has huge [benefits],” said Benthien.

He said HANA had also enabled Unilever to speed up the month-end close from three days to one, which is leading finance users to push for more HANA.

Unilever's HANA roll-out

Unilever's European HANA roll-out is set to begin in January 2013. It is expected to roll-out the following HANA accelerators:

  • Cost of Profitability Analysis Accelerator – enables managers to visualise cost and profit drivers, even when working with large volumes of financial data. 
  • Material Ledger Accelerator – accelerates material-ledger period-end closings and drill-down reports.
  • Finance and Controlling Accelerator – helps the finance department accelerate period-end closes and reporting while unlocking opportunities to improve financial performance.
  • Automatic real-time Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) – speeds up OEE calculations, which are used to identify cost reduction opportunities.
  • Trade Promotion Management – improves the granularity of promotional planning data by providing instant access to daily sales, shipment, volume and cost data.

“We also developed an iPad CFO dashboard, which needed a fast response time – it can access 90m records in four seconds using Business Objects,” he said. The quick response time means people are more likely to look up data, according to Benthien.

Using SAP HANA to boost sales

One of the ways HANA could be used is enable Unilever to analyse retailers' point-of-sale data. This data service could be used by the retailer to improve sales. “We could provide a service to help retailers understand where to place promotions.”

Unilever’s HANA implementation uses seven IBM machines providing development, live and failover systems. He said HANA requires IT department to think differently about database architectures. It is currently training the Unilever IT organisation with Accenture.

“Switching from batch and a transactional [model] to analytic processing is driven by traditional IT thinking," he said.


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