Can FP&A Tame The Cloud with Anaplan?
When I first look at new technology, I’m always skeptical – if it’s not making my life easier or solving a problem I have, it doesn’t last long. When we build a new solution for a client, we spend more time up front on the problem to be solved and the value to each stakeholder –setting high standards.
That’s how I became an advocate of Anaplan, as I believe they are on their way to solving one of biggest problems we have in FP&A – how to empower users to build collaborative real time planning models with a compelling user interface.
Today, typically if we’ve decided that Excel doesn’t provide scale and flexibility, then the only choice left is to build it internally. These projects are expensive, need continued support and rely heavily on IT. What normally ends up happening is the solution is created and works really well, then investment is pulled for other priorities. As the business begins to evolve and requirements change, there is no longer resources available and the whole system loses value as offline models start up again.
When I first started working on Anaplan – I set myself a goal of learning how to use it within a week. My team and I locked ourselves in a room. We had success and were able with the help of the Anaplan team to build our first model. The challenges we faced included:
Model size – As Anaplan is a memory solution, you need to focus on model architecture; simple changes can explode the model size. Think of it as a cube with each cell taking up space. If I have 3 dimension Time; Business Group and Account I can have say 36 (monthly dimension for 3 years) x 5 (5 business groups) x 200 accounts = I have 3600 cells – now I add regions x3 = 10,800. Instead of Region I decide to have country x270 = 972,000 and so on. You can also have cubes pulling from other cubes. This makes it very powerful, but you need to be obsessed by the cell count. My current model is between 250-450 million cells at the moment and growing.
Data Manipulation – Think of Anaplan as a pivot table – the great thing is you can use the results of one pivot table to create a new pivot table. You can even pull data from multiple pivot tables into one table. It takes a while to learn how to move data around, but once you’ve learnt a few tricks you can do some amazing things.
User Interface – Once you have your data in the right shape, you can drop your models into a dashboard – The dashboard provide the user interface, which has been well designed. It’s really up to you to make the flow intuitive. This can sometimes take a lot of experimentation to get right, so start getting feedback from your users from early – it’s often too late to wait for User Acceptance Testing.
Anaplan can be confusing! I was in the beginning, the solution is not as easy as I though it should be. I found the best way to learn was to take models that had already been built with the functionality I needed, then break them apart and put them back together again with my data.
So what does all this buy you?
- Finance owned solutions – You now have the ability for Finance users (with some training) to build a scalable solutions
- Easy to collaborate – All the data is online with real time calculations and you control the user experience.
- Reduced dependence on IT for support and maintenance
Conclusion: Yes, you can tame the cloud even in Finance. Anaplan does take some investment in time to learn, but once you’ve mastered a few concepts and formulas, it provides a user friendly platform for multiple data entry with real time results.
Our vision at FP&A Strategy is to use technology to help FP&A teams combine strategy, business and data to become high performing business partners creating insights and driving value across the organization. I see this vision continuing to be as applicable now and in the foreseeable future as it was 10 years ago, and I look forward to continuing to help FP&A teams along this transformation journey.