CXO / IT Leadership

Technology-Business Alignment Is Big on CEOs' Agenda

Akhtar of Unilever Bangladesh on How Automation and AI Are Driving Business Growth
Technology-Business Alignment Is Big on CEOs' Agenda
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Customer centricity is a top priority for the C-suite, particularly the CEO, and understanding and meeting customer needs is key to their success. To fulfill customer demands, they need to not only collect customer data but also interpret it effectively to derive accurate insights and identify trends. Unilever Bangladesh demonstrates this approach by using technologies such as AI, big data and cloud computing to enhance customer experiences, streamline workflows and boost market competitiveness.

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"Technology plays a crucial role in delivering unique experiences to an increasingly connected customer. They want hyper-personal experiences and to connect with brands on a human level," Zaved Akhtar, chairman and managing director, Unilever Bangladesh, told Information Security Media Group at the recently concluded South East Asia Summit.

Transforming the Traditional FMCG Value Chain

Akhtar emphasized the necessity of integrating technology and innovation into business strategies. The traditional linear value chain of the FMCG industry - focused on procuring raw materials at the lowest cost, manufacturing at scale and widespread distribution - is not sufficient in today's dynamic environment.

"We need to transition from a linear value chain to a much more integrated solution," Akhtar said. Unilever has identified three key ecosystems - consumer, customer and operation - that need to work in synergy. With enterprise data capabilities, Unilever uses technology to capture and respond to consumer signals, streamline sales and operations planning, and effectively fulfill demand.

Data-Driven Customer Insights

Unilever Bangladesh's strategy involves connecting over 200,000 mom-and-pop outlets, representing nearly half of their direct distribution in the region. This vast dataset provides granular insights into sales at each outlet, enabling customized decisions on product assortment based on regional demand.

For instance, in a particular region, the FMCG major might find a higher demand for personal care products than for the soaps and detergents it initially supplied. "This approach allows us to tailor our product offerings to meet specific consumer needs, enhancing engagement and driving category leadership even in predominantly general trade environments," Akhtar said.

Flexible Supply Chain Solutions

Unilever's former business approach, comprising traditional, lean and agile methodologies, was insufficient and could not keep up with the modern market. To achieve faster adaptability, the FMCG giant embraced automation and AI.

"We are heading toward 'no-touch planning,' eliminating human biases from our forecasts and relying on data-driven insights," Akhtar said. This shift, he said, helps Unilever reduce errors and increase efficiency, as AI and machine learning algorithms deliver more accurate predictions based on real-time sales data.

Unilever Bangladesh is also aiming at adopting generative AI for creative design. Although AI's application in business operations is still in its nascent stage, Akhtar highlighted its use in reducing lead times for creative processes. The company remains vigilant in tracking latest AI developments, recognizing its potential for broader business applications in the future.

Embedding Technology Into Business Strategy

Unilever has outlined its priorities around three key areas: volume growth, competitive growth and profitable growth. The growth priorities are driven by a deep understanding of consumer behavior and efficient operations. Akhtar stressed that technology must be seamlessly integrated into every aspect of the business. Domain experts, such as supply chain directors, play a crucial role in championing transformation initiatives, ensuring that technological advancements are effectively implemented where they are most needed.

Using data analytics and AI, CEOs, CIOs and CTOs can gain insights into market trends, technological innovations, customer behaviors and operational efficiencies. Modern businesses aiming to stay competitive and agile need to foster a culture where technology and business objectives are seamlessly aligned. "Technology or digital transformation is not a separate entity; it is at the core of our business strategy," Akhtar said.

About the Author

Sandhya Michu

Sandhya Michu

Senior Assistant Editor - Editorial, ISMG

Michu is an experienced professional with over 10 years of expertise in the ICT industry. She has worked with leading media groups such as Cybermedia, 9.9 media and The Indian Express. Michu's focus areas include enterprise technology and government tech initiatives.

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