Household & personal products with 14 key brands to shepherd, Unilever may be among just a handful of companies worldwide that have the opportunity to segment their strategy, approach and structure to achieve very specific goals while achieving organizational consistency and growth.

Large, established companies are often regarded as models of stability. The recent global digital transformation initiative, however, is shaking things up, and many organizations are discovering perturbations in their plans for the future. By installing long-time employee Rahul Welde as global VP of digital transformation, Unilever has made a heady move. Promoting from within allows for digital transformation to flourish from a point of knowledge.

As a previous VP of media, Welde assumedly knows the pain points the organization suffers from on a digital scale. In addition, having been so intimately involved with communications in the last few years, he has forged a close relationship with the organizational backbone of the company. Both of these points are huge benefits when it comes to measuring the potential impact of a digital transformation initiative.

Digital can offer the opportunity for an unparalleled collaborative future, scalable solutions at every imaginable touch point, and an adaptable model that can set this 80-year-old company up for at least another 80 years of success. But Welde and Unilever will need to keep an eye on a number of complex and nuanced components to truly ensure success.

New Business Models

One of the top priorities for Welde and other decision makers will be identifying, developing and deploying new, digitally based business models. In order for the company to seize the digital opportunities ahead, Unilever’s business frameworks must be underpinned by three key criteria:

  • Customer centricity – Business decisions must be made with the customer experience in mind. Solutions should simplify consumers’ lives not only during purchases or customer service inquiries, but with back-end operations as well, such as integration with third-party applications.
  • Cost effectiveness – The goal is to provide the highest-quality goods and services at the least expense to both the company and the customer. To this end, Unilever will have to standardize and optimize processes across the organization, from manufacturing and supply, to support and security.
  • Data utilization – Unilever’s ability to master data analytics and software intelligence will be key going forward. Leveraging big data enhances the decision-making abilities of an organization with deeper insights that lead to more reliable business forecasts.

Welde positions himself as an innovator in this regard, having driven some noteworthy media partnerships and projects when working in the Asia-Pacific region.

Optimized Data Usage

The ability to understand the data it collects and then leverage those insights into actionable steps will also be crucial for Unilever. The plethora of data the company has likely collected over the years can render valuable insights into consumer behavior, providing greater clarity on the who, what, where, when, why and how of customer interactions.

But that’s only half of the equation. The other part requires Unilever to establish the right metrics. With 14 key brands to shepherd, Unilever may be among just a handful of companies worldwide that have the opportunity to segment their strategy, approach and structure to achieve very specific goals while achieving organizational consistency and growth. But that wide of a footprint presents its own set of unique challenges, most notably with the measurement and benchmarking process that needs to be part of any digital transformation road map. These should include standards such as customer acquisition costs and customer lifetime value, as well as more digital-specific metrics, such as conversion rates for mobile and desktop traffic, omnichannel user engagement and social media impact.

Modified Operations

The global digital transformation initiative requires a great deal of company resources, both financial and human. Unilever will be compelled to re-examine every aspect of its operations, ensuring that the entire enterprise is willing and able to take on the necessary work. Emphasis needs to be placed on integrating the company’s digital solution into every division and department, facilitating more efficient data sharing and collaboration.

Automated Processes

A company of more than 170,000 employees that makes everything from deodorant to ice cream is no easy beast to wrangle. Unilever’s final mandate to achieve a successful digital transformation is to enhance automation throughout the organization. The company should examine how it can incorporate automation into everyday processes such as payments, company communications and supply chain procedures. This turns pain points and bottlenecks into seamless flow-throughs, improving the productivity and quality of the workforce.

The global digital transformation initiative that has overtaken the business world is showing many established companies exactly how vulnerable they are to the changes on the horizon. While this is a brave new digital world, companies that have always survived and thrived will likely continue to do so. In the coming years, these brands can use the technological revolution to their advantage, strengthening relationships with customers in increasing their reach via digital means.

Generally, Welde’s background and Unilever’s multinational footprint make their attempt to go for global digital transformation at an organizational level among the more fascinating potential applications of digital transformation in recent memory. Getting it right will be difficult, but if the company is to succeed, it could set up the giant for surprisingly agile success for decades to come.