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Unilever claims it's a 'cloud-only enterprise' – now with added OpenAI

Funny way to describe a company that makes toilet cleaner

Multi-brand consumer megacorp Unilever says it has become a "cloud-only enterprise" with the help of Accenture and Microsoft.

One of the largest and most complex cloud migrations in the retail goods industry, according to the company, will give Unilever "resilient, secure and optimised operations" as well as "a platform to drive innovation and growth."

The Anglo-Dutch biz owns more than 400 brands, which include everything from ice cream to shampoo to toilet cleaner, and is set to use Microsoft's Azure as its "primary cloud platform."

According to the corporate blurb, the move will see Unilever employ "industrial metaverse technologies" that use real-time data from factory digital twins. It musn't have got the memo from Microsoft, which recently put a bullet in its own industrial metaverse masterplan.

The cloud contract is also expected to help "achieve perpetual breakthroughs in research and development," says Unilver. Lastly, through Microsoft's partnership with the controversial GPT maker, it will use "Azure OpenAI Service across Unilever's business to drive increased automation, enabling better customer and employee experiences."

It's worth noting, though, that Azure will be its "primary" cloud platform, not the only one. As recently as 2020, Amazon Web Services was supporting the manufacturer's digital marketing platform in North America. The Register has asked Unilever to confirm if its AWS deal is ongoing.

Moving to the cloud has been very much in vogue, but doubters are questioning the economic wisdom of the strategy. David Heinemeier Hansson, CTO of 37 Signals, has reasoned that the company could save $7 million by shifting workloads on-prem.

Unilever has a long-serving relationship with Teradata for its enterprise data warehouse. In late 2021, it completed the move to the Vantage platform, hosted on Azure. It runs 27 business services on the platform based on 230TB of data supporting finance, sales, supply chain and HR. However, that did not stop Microsoft trying to encroach on the patch by flogging its Azure-based Synapse data warehouse to Unilever in 2019.

€60 billion ($65.7 billion) turnover Unilever's foray into AI with the OpenAI large language model may yet prove a controversial move, but it is not the first. In 2019, it began work with an expression analysis system from Hirevue in a project designed to improve its selection of job candidates.

Hirevue dropped the facial screening element from its software in 2021. ®

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