6 months with Anaplan – Reflections from a Brave New World

Last year, I wrote about my observations at Anaplan’s first customer Hub event. It was not long after that one of our clients selected Anaplan for their forecasting initiative and asked us to help in the process. There was room on the team for one implementation team member; since this was our first use of Anaplan I grabbed the chance to experience Anaplan first-hand.

Our client is a group of hospitals that had a need to forecast patient volumes, associated revenues and costs across its network. They wanted to develop a Rolling Forecast based on key drivers, and also to test scenarios based on changes in payer mix, staff utilizations, cost levels and other factors. The model needed to analyze across different hospitals, departments and disciplines and across multiple periods and scenarios. It needed the flexibility and power for sophisticated modeling but a simple interface that could be navigated at the manager level in the hospitals – clinical professionals without significant financial expertise.

Anaplan was a refreshing environment – a unique combination of power, flexibility and speed. Our first modeling component – forecasting patient trends and revenues based on past experience – was designed and substantially complete within 2 weeks. We developed a method that allowed the managers to select from 3 forecast methodologies and project their results. A “sandbox” mechanism allowed them to try various options and driver values before settling on the one to use. They could compare their performance against their peers and evaluate the impact of closing the gaps… all in real-time. A costing component followed in the next 3 weeks and the entire model – including Balance Sheet and Cash Flows – was completed over a 10 week period.

Unlike many other projects, this was not a large consulting project over multiple quarters of activity. Other than one external resource, the entire team was client-based – consisting of 4 staff building components of the model in an agile environment. We focused on knowledge sharing, developing and adjusting as we learned. As a result, the team has a strong base from which they have continued to evolve.

I’ve come to learn that this experience is far from unique. We’ve proceeded from this initial project to complete 3 others, with a number of other such projects currently underway or planned. We’re now formal partners with Anaplan – part of a community developing new approaches to modeling and analytics.

What we’ve come to appreciate is the extent to which Anaplan allows companies to go beyond traditional FP&A – budgeting, forecasting and reporting – to develop innovative analytics and models that allow companies to collaborate quickly and align around common goals, in multiple ways. We have used Anaplan to model future transaction volumes, investment spending, revenue recognition, and to optimize labor requirements to match volatile business demands. Companies are developing complex collaboration models for sales performance management. It seems that the uses of Anaplan are limited only by the modeler’s imagination. We can model from deep transactional levels and then roll them up to discern patterns and develop projections. Anaplan fulfills our consulting promise to connect finance with operations, and to understand and model the interplay between business resources, activities and results. We can test scenarios, and build new models as quickly as we could have built spreadsheets. And yes, we’re using Anaplan to track and manage our own projects and business activities.

Six months ago, I noted that there were some gaps in Anaplan’s functionality. These are being rapidly closed. A new consolidation app is allowing for real-time consolidation in a platform that can ensure that allocations are consistently applied in reporting, budgeting and forecasting. Charting and reporting are continuing to improve, and a new user interface will promote ease of use and navigation across multiple models.

This is a substantive amount of change in evolution over 6 months. We’re thrilled to be on-board this voyage of discovery as advanced Anaplanners and are excited to see where our clients and Anaplan take us over the next 6 months.