From the launch of the very first digital tool to the recent formulation of the world’s first green carbon detergent, Unilever R&D experts have been using digital technologies to remain at the forefront of superior innovation for years. And we’re just getting started.
From generative AI in marketing to advanced analytics and machine learning in our supply chains, artificial intelligence (AI) is already increasing productivity and efficiency at Unilever.
The question now is: what’s next for AI and how can it work best for our business?
From this week, Unilever’s first AI Horizon3 Lab in Toronto, Canada, will be dedicated to answering that question.
A global AI resource catalysing innovation and impact
Set up by the global Unilever Operations Data and Analytics team, the lab is built on a hybrid model where Unilever employees will work in collaboration with academics, start-ups and industry leaders on a variety of AI research projects.
These will be wide-ranging but will share a core focus on AI and ensure we continue to embrace emerging technologies for the business over time.
“Unilever is making a significant investment in developing and deploying AI technology across the business,” says Andy Hill, Chief Data Officer, Unilever. “The launch of Unilever’s first AI lab will expedite the progress we are making globally and enable us to have the right focus on some of the big questions we want to answer with AI.
“We are working to solve real-life problems through innovation, and setting up this lab in Toronto allows us to access vibrant tech talent and some of the best partners in the business,” he adds.
Making an impact
Although 15 areas of focus have been identified, the lab is initially concentrating on the three that have the greatest potential for making an immediate impact: forecasting, modelling complex data relationships with graph technology, and generating insights on trends, patterns and predictions through Gen AI.
The projects will be structured to embed researchers from academia and other experts and partners.
“We can talk about impact in two ways,” explains Gary Bogdani, Unilever Head of Data Science for North America and Canada D&A.
“They are, first, the impact on currently running initiatives and, second, the long-term potential impact of new technology.”
Driving growth through Gen AI
Gen AI (generative artificial intelligence), for example, has already been used in a variety of ways at Unilever. However, continuous advancement in technology means that its impact is now both growing and diversifying.
It is proving to be particularly effective in consumer communication, for example, where it is providing new, more efficient ways of delivering content and interacting with consumers.
“Gen AI is also streamlining the access and retrieval of valuable insights from these sites by swiftly categorising, summarising and organising vast amounts of information,” explains Gary.
Innovating with data intelligence
Other areas of focus, such as graph database applications, are newer territory for Unilever but offer equally exciting potential.
“The simplicity with which these graph databases can represent complex data offers many benefits such as facilitating visual representation of data and relationships,” says Gary. “They can also power recommendation engines by identifying connections between consumers and products, and support collaborative and social applications by efficiently managing connections between users, posts and interactions.”
These benefits are applicable right across the business from sourcing materials to analysing consumer behaviour, he adds.
Our vision is to build an ecosystem where diverse minds come together to co-create solutions that make profound impact.Andy Hill, Chief Data Officer, Unilever
Tapping into world-class talent
But these examples are just part of what will power the Horizon3 Lab. The other element is human intelligence and ingenuity.
“Our vision is to build an ecosystem where diverse minds come together, forging partnerships with industry leaders, start-ups, academia and visionaries worldwide to co-create solutions that make profound impact,” explains Andy, adding that with the tech and talent in place, the lab could be a formidable force for change.
“We aim to be architects of disruptive innovations that challenge the status quo, push the envelope of what is possible, and reshape the way we do business,” he concludes.
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