"The secret is keeping it whole."
Lynch ­ who heads up Unilever's business intelligence unit ­ was parachuted into Port Sunlight in 2001 with the express mission of keeping data captured through Unilever's Home and Personal Care division in its purest form.
This can then be used to create standardised reports using SAP's business intelligence software. In simple terms, the data warehouse ensures everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet so managers can compare like with like right across Europe. Take customer service, says Lynch. "We can set up standardised reports looking at the interaction between inventory in the supply chain and customer service levels, and compare performance using the same yardstick.
"So, if Poland is only holding 5% of net sales as stock and not seeing a drop in customer service, why is Italy having customer service level problems when it carries 10% of net sales as stock?"

Calling a spade a spade
Key to the data warehousing project with SAP has been standardising the way things work across different business units, so that a spade (or in Unilever's case, a bar of Dove soap) is called a spade whether it is produced in Germany, Italy, or the UK, and that data captured about orders, stock levels and production planning is standardised across the business.
"In the past,"says Lynch, "if I said to a factory manager in Italy, how much stock are you holding, his understanding of what that meant might be very different to the guys in Germany or the UK."
Today, there is a "single truth", he says. "If I process a sales order and capture certain pieces of data about that sale it means the same thing whether I do it in Germany or Bulgaria. So if the finance director in the UK comes to me and says, I want to find out the time it takes us to go from an order to an invoice across Europe, I have the answer."
Knowledge is power, and as the multinational retailers increasingly flex their muscles on a pan-European and global basis, having internal visibility is essential, says Lynch. If you don't understand how and where costs differ within your own business, it immediately puts you on the back foot when negotiating with the likes of Wal-Mart.

Aggregated picture of demand
Moreover, standardised data means Unilever can now get an aggregated picture of demand from large multinational customers on a global scale.
"In the past, if we were dealing with Asda in the UK, and Wal-Mart in Germany ­ we wouldn't necessarily be able to connect them ­ we wouldn't get a true aggregate picture of demand from that customer," he says. Terms of trade is another key area where SAP business intelligence comes in handy. "If you order a full truck of product, we'll give a percentage discount off the invoice price. In the past, we didn't have the visibility to do this effectively."
If Unilever changed the packaging on a product mid-way through a month, for example, its systems would not have detected that the product ­ which would have been issued with a new code ­ was still the same, and records of retailers' orders would therefore be inaccurate. "Then you would get the inevitable meetings and disputes afterwards," says Lynch.
His first task ­ which was to set up a core data warehouse for Unilever and use it to create a set of standardised reports for the company ­ is complete, he adds. "But now we've captured this data, there's an awful lot more we can do with it."