Unilever OneView: the smartest BI tool in the boardroom, developed exclusively by The App Business

Daniel Joseph
By Daniel Joseph under News 15 November 2013

Our second blog post in the mobile Business Intelligence series will introduce our OneView product: a bespoke, contextual tablet BI that The App Business and Unilever have built that is changing the way that Unilever makes decisions, from board-level downwards.

The OneView product is a break-through, highly-secure, cloud-driven enterprise app and platform that knows exactly who the user is, what their schedule looks like, the subject of their meetings and serves up just the data that they need in a consistent, tailor-made format, automatically. This doesn’t just save time and money, it is improving the quality of the hundreds of business-critical decisions that Unilever’s Executive Group are making everyday, giving them their edge against their competitors in a fast-moving market place.

We’ll let Alessandro Ventura, IT Programme Manager – Business Intelligence, Unilever, pick it up from here…

Unilever is one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. The scale of its reach can be mind-boggling: over 400 brands, sold in more than 190 companies; and everyday two billion people chose Unilever products.

The ambitions of the business don’t stop there. Unilever wants to double the size of the business by 2020, becoming an 80 billion euro company, and it wants to do so by reducing its environmental footprint and creating a positive social impact. Crucially, Unilever sees its environmental and social strategy as core to its business goals, rather than simply an accessory.

Back in 2009, Unilever’s information strategy had gaps in it – the sorts of information gaps familiar to most large global companies: a lot of the information systems had been developed off the back of individual transactional systems so there was no global information strategy, and it was not easy to compile data from multiple subjects and sources, making it very hard to understand the global performance of individual brands.

In 2009, Unilever embarked on changing this and briefed the information teams to execute a strategy that put the relevant data at users’ fingertips and to give everybody one view of the facts. The strategy rested on two key initiatives.

First, Unilever wanted to become ‘an analytics powerhouse’. This meant pulling all the disparate data flowing around the company into one place, analysing it and then targeting specific users’ needs with that data (rather than users having to dig it out themselves). To do this, starting in 2010, Unilever set up a global data warehouse that incorporated all internal and external data.

Secondly, Unilever wanted to ‘simplify the information landscape’. This meant reducing the total number of reports that were actually circulating around the company and standardising the dashboards and reporting systems that came out of the analytics powerhouse and that targeted end users. Crucially this meant giving everybody the same view of reality rather than enabling people to create their own (often conflicting) views of reality.

The OneView product, launched in 2012, is a core part of this strategy. OneView pulls together a broad range of data, targets the users with exactly the data that they need and presents the information in a standardised form, providing the Unilever Executive Group with ‘one view’ of the facts.

To understand OneView, it’s best to start with the use case of its end users.

Unilever’s Exec Group, Execs have a series of rolling monthly meetings and calls in which they assess the performance of different parts of the business and make key decisions. This is facilitated by information packs containing KPIs.

Before One View came along, this information packs were distributed the old fashioned way: emails sent to PAs who spent time printing packs out, stapling them together, filing them up and weighing down their Execs’ bags. Additionally this was not enabling collaboration amongst the Exec Group.

The problem was pretty clear and, at the start of 2012, Unilever’s information team and The App Business were tasked with solving it.

The very good news was that the Global Execs were crystal clear about the problem and crystal clear about their requirements. We were given a very clear brief:

1. “We want a system in which all information is never more than three taps away. Oh, and never more than three seconds either. Three taps, three seconds. That’s the golden rule and it must be applied at all times.”

2. “Less is more. Just one view of the facts. And just the core KPIs”.

3. “Information must be automatically organised by usage moment. When I go into a meeting, the app must display the data relevant to that meeting.”

4. “It must be fast everywhere. Three seconds means three seconds whether I am in London, Delhi or Sao Paolo.”

5. “The information must be highly secure. This is restricted information and needs to be more secure than paper based information.”

6. “Content must be always available, even when I am on a plane, train, boat, in a taxi. I need to be able to access the information on an eight hour flight when I am preparing for a meeting.”

7. “I want to access the information from a range of devices: laptop, tablet, smartphone.”

That was clear then, now to find and or design a solution that could meet these needs and crack the problem.

The first port of call for Unilever was actually the off the shelf solutions that fulfil a set of standard requirements. As discussed in the previous post, these solutions can be ‘good enough’ for many and can quickly ‘catch up’ an organisation that is slipping behind information management.

However, an off the shelf solution will never meet all of a core group of decisions makers’ requirements; and, by their very nature, an off the shelf solution will never give those decision makers the decision making edge over their competitors.

Creating a mobile Business Intelligence solution isn’t just about what it does – it’s also about ‘how’ it does it; and, Unilever’s Execs, as day to day mobile device users, demanded an experience that was great to use, best-in-class and ‘sexy’ and that would inspire day-to-day adoption.

So Unilever decided they would have to build their own solution, starting with an iOS iPad front-end app and a back-end and document management system to power the system.

We rolled out the solution, starting with a pilot that we launched in just 12 weeks, satisfying users fast, gathering learnings and continuously optimising the solution. The ‘three taps, three seconds’ rule sat at the heart of the app’s functionality and we designed four bespoke ways that the Exec Group access info fast through the app.

First, there is the ‘timeline’. This is where information hits the users (instead of the users having to look for information). The‘timeline’ knows exactly what meetings the user is invited to, what they will actually be attending and provides a timeline of those meetings including the relevant information packs, just one tap away.

Second, there is the ‘info stand’. This section is a key piece of One View concept and is a break-through means of organising Unilever’s Business Intelligence so that any report can be drilled down to in a maximum of three taps. Cracking this took an awful lot of iterating and feedback but the value of its bespoke Information Architecture is a killer feature of the One View app and secret weapon for Unilever’s Exec Group. With the Info Stand, finding any information is never more than three taps away.

Third, there is the classic means of ‘favouriting’ content. The favourites section provides one tap access to users’ favourite information packs, and automatically updates them to feature the very latest content.

Fourth, there is classic Google-style search, with the added feature of ‘tokens’ to easily let the user drag and drop different search terms in and out of the search criteria. If the user is looking for something very specific they can quickly find it this way.

On top of finding information, further functional considerations were hit to meet the users’ core needs.

Annotation functionality to enhance collaboration, intelligent offline access, as a key requirement from the users, enabled by intelligent background downloading of document so that users never need to worry about downloading content because the system takes care of this for them.

We wrap it all up with a range of innovative security measures so that the App would be simple, innovative and secure

Back-end architecture was obviously key and this was designed and thought through from the outset to make the entire solution possible. Essentially, we needed to create a centralised architecture that that could enable the application to meet the three taps, three seconds rule, anywhere in the world; and we termed our approach here, ‘agile and secure’.

The biggest component was the back-end in which all the business rules were written and all documents stored and this was stored on the cloud. This broke new ground for Unilever. However, we cracked a solution and architecture that stored info in the cloud and was 100% secure, passing high standard security measures.

The final piece of the architecture is the app itself, which is stored on devices. Unilever adopted a BYOD policy for OneView believing that it would be much more agile, flexible and fast to enable users to bring their own devices – iPads in this case – and enable them to use One View on them. Security of the app is controlled via a mobile device management system in which we could control how the app was used, which version was used and, of course, instantly wipe content remotely if device is lost or stolen.

To wrap up, we’d just like to share a few of the core lessons that the Unilever and The App Business teams have taken away about delivering Mobile Business Intelligence success.

- As discussed in Dan’s opening post, try to identify exactly where the real and most important needs are in the company and hit those hard. Don’t try and unnecessarily widen the app to hit lots of needs. If it’s your bus driver that needs business intelligence information, then build the app to suit them – don’t try and suit them plus someone else, or you will end up with a diluted experience. Never trade off requirements.

- Definitely co-design the solution. As smart as you are, you will never understand all of the details about how an app will be used. You will need someone on your team who is facing the problem every day in their real life. We were very lucky to have a great business sponsor on our team who gave us one hour of their time every other week and helped us fine-tune every single feature and screen to meet the Exec Group’s needs.

- Make sure you start with a quick pilot. It’s great because it buys you time and because you get something into people’s hands very quickly (in our case, 12 weeks), you will get a lot of very valuable learnings and feedback fast as you build the release, proper.

- User-experience is critical. The app wouldn’t have been the success that it is without an awesome user experience and we ensured that we sweated every single detail to create awesome interactions and and a beautiful to use experience.

What next?

Well, the challenge for 2014 is to integrate dynamic info into the solution so that one can start with the high level KPIs and one view of the facts; however, if someone wants to drill down into a story directly on their device, well they can. This is another hard nut to crack but we are confident that with our learnings and Exec Group of users we can design an intelligent mobile Business Intelligence solution that works the way this audience need it to.

I’ll close with a message about what success really looks like. (And The App Business haven’t bribed me to say this).

First of all the business sponsor is really happy about the outcome and this summarises the user satisfaction that his bespoke product has created. The board at Unilever started adopting the App a few weeks ago – they can be some of the hardest customers to please with extremely demanding standards, especially when it comes to technology – and so far, they are finding One View really easy to use, fast and sharp and it gives them the info they need.

This is what success looks like for a mobile Business Intelligence product and we are looking forward to move innovation in 2014.