Anaplan – Another planning tool or something very different?

We spent a day this week at a most unusual event. Anaplan’s Hub 2013 day (www.anaplan.com) in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center was its first user conference in the United States. Coincidentally, two other cloud planning vendors held user conferences on the same day. While all 3 had presentations from their management teams, Anaplan’s agenda was very different: it was a celebration by its customers. Through presentations, round-tables and live Skype interviews from customers around the world, Anaplanners went deep. They articulated an uncommon passion for planning – talk about an oxymoron!

One challenge that we discussed with a number of attendees is the difficulty in comparing these types of solutions. What makes them different and unique? What’s right for each company? The EPM/CPM space includes offerings that cover budgeting, planning, forecasting, reporting, costing and consolidation solutions. Add to that the BI space that focuses on reporting, analytics and visualizations and you have one complex set of capabilities for companies to sort through. And then there’s the cloud vs. on-premises dimension.

It’s natural for organizations to want it all in one platform; that’s the promise of the enterprise tools. Yet it’s evident that not all companies believe that they can obtain all these capabilities from one source. And, we know that even if these tools can deliver it all, the path to success is long, complex and expensive.

So, where does Anaplan fit in, and how is it different? While other software offer solutions (budgeting, planning, etc.), Anaplan customers describe a modeling platform that supports a seemingly endless set of use cases – like Excel in terms of flexibility and ease of use, but adding organizational inter-connectedness, scalability, collaboration. These are Finance people, describing how planning is now sexy, how it is saving them time, transforming the way they add value in their companies, and allowing the entire organization to operate and make decisions better and in in real-time. From our perspective, and from the perspective of the other curious observers in the room, the energy and intelligence was incredible.

Using Anaplan, Finance is working with other parts of the organization to model, report and make decisions in a rapid, integrated way. ROI is being expressed not only in terms of efficiency, but in terms of enabling entirely new decision paths and discussions that create a highly adaptive culture. And in this new world, the role of the Analyst is truly transformed from someone who struggles to align data for rudimentary analysis to a proactive management advisor who is intimately familiar with the organization’s inter-connectedness.

It’s not surprising that people have difficulty comparing Anaplan to it’s other cloud-based (and on-premises) planning cousins. Anaplan comes up short on some fronts: reporting is OK, but clearly below the benchmark set by other tools (an upcoming user interface redesign that was previewed aims to up their game significantly); it’s not strong in financial consolidation; it’s workflow approach is more focused on detection and audit than control. But, when it comes to developing inter-connected, truly multi-dimensional models that build on low-level data, Anaplan is in its own game. Companies are using Anaplan’s modeling platform to deliver planning (and other) solutions to truly connect the organization in new ways and allow real finance transformation with low cost and very short timelines.

This event was Anaplan’s first user conference in the US; many of its customers have only been up and running for a year or less – remember that implementation timelines are being measured in weeks, not months. Time after time, Anaplanners describe getting their first model live and in the hands of users within a couple of weeks. They reported building “1-off” models in 5-10 minutes to answer management questions that normally would have taken hours in Excel. They described a single (although complex) formula that allocated 40 departments across various legal entities in 10 seconds; something that took 3 days in spreadsheets. They described providing new business insights right inside management meetings that allowed for proactive decisions based on anticipated changes in underlying business trends.

Anaplan is not just software that replaces spreadsheets; it is actually being used to re-define the way that Finance works in an organization. Many of our clients are exploring their own uses cases for this new platform. Anaplan is here, and we’ll be watching closely.