CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
November 13, 2019
Forward Thinking

How Unilever funds supply chain innovation

To encourage employees to be more innovative, the consumer packaged goods company set up a microfunding effort for small experimental supply chain implementations.

Many traditional supply chains organizations are feeling the pressure to be more innovative and adopt new technologies and processes that will help them evolve into a digital supply chain. But it can be hard to know how to translate this desire for innovation into being a business that actually implements innovations.

One small way that consumer packaged goods giant Unilever is encouraging its employees to be more innovative is through its "Digifund" microfunding program. Unilever challenged its employees to submit supply chain innovation requests that could be accomplished for a small amount of money—10,000 euros or less. Employees had to submit a four-minute video that answered three questions. The requests were either approved or denied and received funding within 48 hours.

Speaking about the program at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference in mid-May, Ana Dzura, vice president of planning, analytics, and customer service excellence at Unilever, called the effort "a crazy experiment." "We felt we had to create a digital culture that was more experimental and had more of an external focus," she said.

Seventy percent of those ideas have been implemented and went live in under eight months. Many of the projects were small experimental efforts that provide the company a way to learn about new technologies. For example, one project focused on using machine learning and advanced analytics to take data from one customer in one country to improve product availability on the shelf. The effort looked at 2,000 stock keeping units across 500 stores. The effort improved product availability and saved time and money through automating the data analysis.

Susan Lacefield is Executive Editor of CSCMP’s Supply Chain Quarterly.

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