Leveraging a cloud-based Connected Planning platform as your project planner

By Thomas Rickels

January 3, 2020

Generally speaking, more information is always better than less when it comes to planning. When people know the reason things are happening, even if it’s bad news, they can adjust their expectations and react accordingly. Transparency provides visibility for short-term and long-term strategic decision making. In fact, a survey conducted by Censuswide found that most employees want greater data transparency because it would enable them to perform their jobs better.

It’s why many companies today are moving away from using traditional, siloed business planning platforms where data is segregated toward new, cloud-based Connected Planning technologies where data can be aggregated into a single hub. Infused with intelligence, a Connected Planning platform empowers teams to develop clearer descriptive and predictive analytics that enable them to make better business decisions. Below, we’ll explore the pros and cons of using spreadsheets and databases for project planning vs. leveraging a Connected Planning platform like Anaplan.

The limitations of using spreadsheets for project planning

No one business manages its projects the same way, and this makes it challenging for some to identify a tool that adapts to unique and oftentimes shifting requirements. Due to the complexity, the typical go-to modeling tool for project planning continues to be the traditional spreadsheet. In many ways, this is a result of its convenience and ease-of-use.

In a traditional spreadsheet, you can easily make a purchase order list, develop pivot tables to visualize the data, and create listings of what employee resources are on each project. For these basic tasks, a spreadsheet works great. Yet, when you start increasing the size of your project files, the limitations of a localized, isolated spreadsheet file begin to materialize. All of the sudden, your spreadsheet can’t handle the data volume you want it to crunch anymore. It begins to slow down, crash, and in some cases, can even become corrupted. The common solution here is break the data up into another spreadsheet. However, when each set of project data is kept in a separate file, it becomes difficult to make strategic connections between plans and understand the data from a global perspective, thereby reducing transparency and collaboration that would be beneficial for all stakeholders.

When spreadsheets aren’t enough: the pros and cons of databases

Alternatively, you could go the other direction and leverage a database to hold your data and use a business intelligence (BI) tool to visualize it. The pros of using a database over of a traditional spreadsheet for project planning are that data is stored in single, centralized location and, with a BI tool, you can create reports to illustrate the story data is telling.

While this is certainly a functional solution, the drawback is that you lose flexibility. Often, leveraging a database requires relying on IT to build reports within the BI tool and create the connections between the database and the BI tool. While you do gain data transparency with this solution, you forfeit the ability to truly own your plans. It should be noted BI tools by definition are data visualization tools they help report outputs of data but are not designed for calculating and forecasting.

If you choose to implement a database-oriented solution, you may still have to accept doing your forecasting in a traditional spreadsheet, loading the forecast data into a database, and then visualizing it with a BI tool. Overall, this is still a fragmented and cumbersome process that requires effective management of poorly connected tools and doesn’t provide the flexibility needed for project planning in today’s unpredictable business environment.

The power of cloud-based Connected Project Planning

Today, the optimal solution for project planning is to leverage a cloud-based Connected Planning platform like Anaplan to create plans in a centralized hub, making all data readily accessible and visible to all. As a highly customizable platform, Anaplan allows you to model any business process and create reports that can be granularly personalized to the needs of the business by the end user with no reliance on IT.

For instance, you can leverage a Connected Planning platform to create a report to compare, track, and forecast KPIs across multiple projects. The end-user can still pivot and visualize the data in much the same way as traditional spreadsheets, yet they have the power of HyperBlock technology at their disposal, which enables potentially massive sets of data to be calculated in real time. When combined, the added benefits of a cloud-based Connected Planning platform are tremendous. Everything can be managed and created by end users with no need for advanced coding skills IT support. Customizability and real-time insight capabilities provide the much-needed flexibility for project planning. And, because Anaplan can handle larger datasets and everyone is working on the same set of data, you can achieve greater transparency across the business to drive faster, better decision-making.

The future of project planning is Connected

To make the best decisions and maximize project planning efficiencies, today’s business leaders must be willing to evolve past outdated point solutions, databases, and spreadsheets of yesterday. They need to look forward and embrace the adoption of new cloud-based planning solutions that connect data, people, and plans across the enterprise. With greater visibility, collaboration, and real-time insights, you can better see how your decisions impact not only yourself, your team, and your function, but also the business as a whole. To make this a reality, the solution is a cloud-based platform like Anaplan that has the capacity, speed, flexibility, and scalability that enterprise businesses need to make the right decisions when it matters and ultimately, drive growth.

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Thomas Rickels

Thomas Rickels is a Business Planning Consultant with Akili Inc, joining our team in June of 2018. Prior to Akili, Thomas worked for Workiva as a Customer Success Manager and RSR Corporation as an R&D Analyst. With his background in financial and business services roles, Thomas has gained a specific skillsets in data analysis and process improvement, along with experience leading and participating in teams, developing relationships, and managing projects from conception to execution.

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