Hill is chief data officer at Unilever, where he is responsible for the global data and analytics agenda, leading a team of 300, including data scientists, analysts and technical data experts. Although based in London, members of his team are based in China, South East Asia, Europe, North and South America. “Each one of those countries is very different and I actually get to deliver data and analytics projects in 190 countries. You get to learn so much about consumers, customers, employees, everything, working across the whole spectrum of data assets from first party to third party, structured and unstructured,” he notes.
Having joined nearly four years ago, Hill continues to be surprised by the breadth and depth of the data available on every product and brand. This covers distribution and logistics through to retail and, significantly, now extends into the company’s sustainability agenda. This is where data is intersecting with Unilever’s vision.
“It’s fascinating to see the amount of data assets we have and how we can combine them to power our growth and be more sustainable,” he says. To make that happen, a data culture needs to be in place which Hill defines as the ability of the organisation to augment every decision with the best data possible and do so at speed.
As Hill says: “How do we harness the power of data through every aspect of our company? Whether it is a decision about a new brand, logistics, an ingredient - in a broad business context, that is a transformation. In the overall business strategy of Unilever, how is data powering that and what do we need to have in place to embed that capability?”
Included in that vision are up-skilling individuals and ensuring career paths and progression are in place. “We’ve had to invent some of that stuff because it’s new to Unilever - the company is brilliant at products, marketing and sales, but what does it mean to be brilliant at data? Part of that is raising the ceiling of our own skills and making sure we have the right level of diversity and inclusive thinking represented,” he says.
Reaching a 50/50 gender balance is also a goal, alongside “raising the floor” through retraining for colleagues in order to become future-fit. Technology will become central to the analytics process with the idea of augmenting human intelligence through machine learning.
“We have a clear role in the organisation to enable it to see clearly and operate effectively,” says Hill. Nowhere is this more fundamental than around issues like carbon and plastic reduction, water consumption and natural resource scarcity.
“We are working with one of the big cloud analytics providers to monitor the impact on eco-systems around the world connected to the raw materials we buy, combining the power of cloud, satellite imagery and AI to check if we are sourcing from areas that are being impacted by deforestation and to stop that,” he says.
That will help to ensure Unilever is delivering against its promise to reduce its footprint on the environment. Under Hill, the information resources needed to tackle that type of challenge on a global scale are moving from being a vision to a daily reality.
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