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Unilever CFO: Any process flow that can be incorporated into an algorithm should be automated

by Malene Grouleff

Head of Finance at Unilever in the Nordics, Alexey Pavlov, works with a team of 35 finance and data specialists, serving a Nordic organisation with approx. 400 employees in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland. To drive Unilever’s business, the team converts data into insights by identifying processes that are very complex and highly repetitive.

The multinational consumer goods company, Unilever, is headquartered in London and has more than 60 other offices and plants worldwide. Alexey Pavlov works at Unilever in Sweden. Unilever has a yearly revenue of EUR 52.444 billion and 149,000 employees worldwide. The company manufactures over 400 household name brands, including Magnum, Ben & Jerry’s, Axe, Dove, Neutral, Persil, Hellmann’s, Lipton, Knorr, Rexona, Vaseline, and Sunsilk.

From your point of view, how is RPA (Robotic Process Automation) developing in your country?

Data is on an exponential trajectory. We are reaching a stage where humans cannot process the vast amount of data. Therefore, and not at least for a company of our size, it is essential to convert data into insights. We must find a way to reliably generate insights, so we can assist the business in making more data-driven decisions. As I see it, this requires that we industrialise our data. Data is key, and I think those who have not yet realised this are falling behind simply because the tools are being developed at lightning speed.

Our data tells surprising stories

How do you use RPA in the finance department?

Our mantra is: If we can develop an algorithm that incorporates a process flow, the process should be automated. Therefore, we continuously search for highly complex processes with many repetitions. The algorithms are changing the classical role of analytics: business people are no longer presented with data; they get pre-processed data and generated insights. It may not sound like much, but this unlocks capacity because we spend less time analysing data. It enables us to create value across the whole value chain, for our business and our customers. We want RPA to have a broader integration in our finance team, so we upskill our people across the team in process optimisation and automation. We have already seen some great examples of how we can multiply the efficiency levels, which ultimately frees up our capacity. We are now spending more time learning what consumers want and how we can meet their needs everywhere. I am a fervent believer that data insights are a major growth driver.

For small solutions we have been using PowerAutomate, VB scripting, SAP GUI Scripting and Power Shell scripting. For more scale based solutions we are using the Blue Prism tool.

In your company, which challenges would you like to address with automation?

When we merge the physical world with the digital world of data, it really takes us into an unexplored land of opportunities. We will definitely work a lot more on the topic of finance digital immersion. When we combine multiple sources of information, we are often surprised. Actually, you would not believe how much we can be off the mark sometimes. We are all biased through our experiences or through our personal preferences. In that regard, data is more objective. When the honeymoon period is over with automation, you realise it is a whole new world. You need to start working with RPA everywhere and around the clock

Small successes generating major successes

Which tasks or processes do you consider automating?

I’m a strong believer in small successes generating major successes. We have defined quite a few areas which we would like to explore during 2022, where we want to replicate on a small scale. Instead of spreadsheets, we will be able to visualize data, almost like having a conversation. The data can come from various sources and be aggregated according to specific logic. It can be financial data, market research data, consumer data and more from the whole Unilever Group. My vision of the future is one where people who work with insights will be aided by data insights generation – using RPA as a partner. We are talking about huge time savings! 

We share our experiences and know-how in RPA on a dedicated platform with group colleagues all over the world, which allows everyone to see which areas are being developed within the group, so no one must reinvent the wheel. The RPA platform covers geographies, portfolios, our customers’ segments, and miscellaneous processes.

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