Unilever tames global HR upgrade, creates single source of truth

Consistency boost decision making

On its path to having some 200,000 global staff on the same HR system, manufacturing giant Unilever has completed an upgrade that covers 17 countries across Asia.

Project Cornerstone is the name Unilever gave to its project to make information about HR clear and consistent for the 150 countries where the organization operates.

Cornerstone involved the re-architecture of the PeopleSoft database and retraining of all users around the world.

Unilever Asia's HR transformation leader Andrew George told Computerworld that before the company decided to move to a global instance of PeopleSoft, each country had to have a client installed on individual workstations.

George said in a sign of a big organization, Unilever took time to decide on PeopleSoft and due to the way the company is structured decisions are made on a country-by-country basis.

Before Unilever standardized HR globally, a few countries were languishing on version 7.5 of PeopleSoft but the concerted upgrade could only be to version 8.3, not the most recent 8.9, because of the high level of customization required.

George said motivating other countries to move to the same platform to bring one source of the truth for better decision making was one of the project's challenges, along with making sure the "commercial aspects" were sorted.

"One of the hiccups was that although we were getting everyone on the same system, people could still manage the information their way, which made reporting difficult," George said. "But now it means the same all around the world."

George also cited the payroll interface between PeopleSoft and SAP in Australia and New Zealand as a "constant source of frustration", which still hasn't been resolved.

As to what makes 'good' HR software, George said Unilever has been grappling with that question for the past year.

"Do you take something like PeopleSoft or SAP which tries to do as much as it can, or do you choose best-of-breed and pull it together?" he queried. "We have ended up with a little bit of both."

George said PeopleSoft's annual salary review and bonus payment functionality works well, but its payroll solution does not meet Unilever's needs, forcing the company to use SAP or local software.

"We don't get any cost or competitive advantage from other systems," he said.

With PeopleSoft hosted in New Jersey and everyone logging in over the Internet, Unilever has now moved to full position management and automated organization management reporting charts.

"We can access the application anywhere in the world; I don't have a desk, I've given up on that, I have a computer," George said. "It's a new way of working and you can deliver the information in a consistent way."

George is not concerned about Oracle's PeopleSoft roadmap, saying the application is more open than SAP, which is a "very stringent" system that has to work the way it is set up to work.

"We have no problems with Oracle and are committed to PeopleSoft until 2015," he said. "Once we have all the data in PeopleSoft, we will be able to report globally on 200,000 people in 2008."

Unilever will have outsourced to Accenture by that time, and George concedes the company will have a "major influence on future decisions".

Unilever's regional HRMS coordinator for Asia, Meryl Miller said the project was a success because each country worked together as a virtual team.

"For each country it was less than $50,000 to get the changes into PeopleSoft," Miller said. "With all the countries as committed as they are, the organizations are starting to see the benefit of it."

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