Blog post by Jill King, recent Anaplanner
Here are a few reasons why the older financial forecasting tools didn’t work for my team and why Anaplan can solve the problems that plagued us on a monthly basis:
100’s of analysts with specific needs
One of the biggest issues our company had getting user adoption of the forecast tools was that the consultants built one product, one model that every one of the hundreds of analysts had to mold their process into. There was no flexibility, no way to make changes specific to the user or the business they were planning for.
As I was leaving the company, they were launching a project to make the system more usable for the analysts. It was going to take an army of consultants at least a year to get to a point where the system would be more specific to the different divisions. And at the end of the millions of dollars spent on this project, the end user was still going to need to use some kind of Excel® interface product to get the information into the system because the tool still didn’t have the flexibility and features that the analysts needed such as the ability to easily create formulas for certain accounts, make comments to describe the forecasted numbers, etc.
Developing models in Anaplan takes days or weeks not years. If there are 20 divisions that want their own specific models, it is easily achievable in a few weeks or months. Anaplan models all leverage a shared set of lists like account and department structures, making it easier to connect/link, easier to understand, all talking the same language, providing consistency across finance teams. While doing this, the tool still has the ability to incorporate the nuances and uniqueness that exists at the division level, which allows for more accountability and transparency.
Finance professionals are inherently very detailed individuals
When my colleagues attempted to input their forecast into the Hyperion Planning® tool, they weren’t able to plan at the level they were accustomed to. They couldn’t easily add formulas that allowed them to track the logic of how they came up with their numbers, they weren’t able to put notes on relevant expenses to refer back to at a later date, the accounts in the model weren’t in a logical order…I could go on and on.
Excel® gives analysts the flexibility to plan at a very detailed level because of its open format so we all reverted back to Excel. Unfortunately, it isn’t a good tool for consolidating data, maintaining consistencies across finance teams, and leaves a lot of room for human error. I worked with about 20 excel models every single forecast…I repeated essentially the same process 20 times for each model. I often spent hours rolling models from forecast to forecast…resolving tie out issues, rolling up files for consolidation and recreating reports for the latest forecast.
Then I took those excel models, rolled them into a detailed interface file and “dumped” the data into the planning tool. The company spent millions of dollars on this planning tool and we used it as a consolidation tool. The company was never able to tap the real value of our analysts since most of their time was spent managing and maintaining spreadsheets.
With Anaplan, models can be rolled over in minutes with the click of a few buttons, reports automatically update with the new data and there are no tie out issues as all of the data feeds to each other automatically. The analyst’s time is freed up so they can focus their efforts on more value-added analysis. They can now model on the fly to understand scenarios, react in the moment, drive higher value to manage change efficiently and enable the company to think and act more strategically.
Collaboration between and within Finance teams
Excel® is very static in nature and specific to an individual analyst. It made it hard for us to have a collaborative discussion about a particular process. Changes need to be synched between spreadsheets and cause hours of additional modeling work. If an analyst was on vacation, it wasn’t easy for another analyst to step in and give a hand in completing the forecast or make an update. Looking at an Excel® model with numerous cell references and calculations can take a while for an analyst to understand the modeling process.
Analysts using Anaplan can collaborate in real time. No matter where my team is located, which device they are viewing it through, everyone can get up to speed on the model because the Blueprint is intuitive and makes it easy to understand the basics of the model. So anyone can contribute to the changes, not just the spreadsheet owner. Finance teams can have a discussion, easily make the change, and see the result. If the change makes sense, the team can keep it and move forward. If not, they can restore back to the previous version with a click of the button with no reliance on IT. The collaborative nature of the tool allows for consistency across processes, across teams and provides strong cross-training abilities between analysts.
Extensive experience with Excel® and comfort with it
After years spent with Excel® due to inadequate planning tools, Analysts are comfortable working with Excel®. They have established processes that “work” and don’t have time to recreate the wheel in a planning tool if in the end, it isn’t going to allow them to plan at the level they were able to in Excel®. They want something that is familiar, gives them control, is easy to develop models and without dependence in IT.
There is no need to learn a new IT language to use Anaplan. Anaplan’s logic uses the same or similar logic to Excel® and has additional straightforward commands that make it easy to create formulas on the fly.
Heavy reliance on IT to make changes
The data in the planning tool was very static. Any changes to something as simple as adding an account, a user, or a product could take days or weeks. When deadlines are tight, there is no time to sit around and wait for IT to get it into their queue.
There is no need for IT in Anaplan. The organization can assign several “Super” users with administrative rights who can make changes quickly and easily. Analysts can copy, create, archive, delete, and restore models with the click of a button. They can create scenario models on the fly to understand the impact on the business. Little time is wasted, if the result of the scenario is positive and you want to move on, great. If not, throw the model away w/ little resource costs. The platform is extendable to my iPad with no extra work or reliance on IT. I can get to my models anywhere, anytime, and with any device. Every time I look at the model I know it’s current.
Anaplan was built with the end user in mind. It was made with easy to understand language, provides the ability to collaborate within and across teams, creating consistencies across processes and functions that allow for increased efficiencies. Removing the barriers that analysts often face: reliance on IT, tedious processes in Excel®, inability to forecast in the appropriate detail in Enterprise planning tools: makes Anaplan extremely appealing to financial and business analysts.