United Airlines eliminates hundreds of spreadsheets and discovers true multi-dimensional planning with Anaplan

Cato Hagen, Senior Manager, Finance, and John Karantonis, Senior Financial Analyst, share how United Airline’s Finance team uses Anaplan to save months’ worth of time and enable effective decision-making.

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My name is Cato Hagen. I am a senior manager in finance and I work for United Airlines.

My name is John Karantonis. I am a Senior Financial Analyst and I work at United Airlines.

Before we got Anaplan, we were doing forecast and budgeting using Excel models—and that was very painful because in our group, we are basically dealing with expenses that we have at all airports that United is flying to, except for the planes themselves.

In the past, we would have to wait to close the month, roll up the numbers, and try to figure out variances. And when we talked to people about their financial performance and the operation, it would already be the end of the month. So anytime that they had the ability to make any corrections, they were already a month late. But with Anaplan, as soon as the books are closed for the previous months and we loaded in the actuals, we are able to proceed and actually get the information to our operational partners earlier so they can make course-corrections faster.

Before Anaplan, there could be hundreds of files and just keeping track of that is a nightmare. Even worse is if you have an formula error, you have to fix hundreds of files. Or if we had a change—for instance, if we had a new plane type—we had to change that in so many different files. So we spent a lot of time doing process work, just maintaining files, making sure the numbers are right in Excel instead of doing more value-added work.

Anaplan is like Excel on steroids. But it is more than that though. You are combining the ease in Excel to make formulas and models, and with this great collaboration tool, you make them all in one place but still have a decentralized way of getting information and getting that instantly rolled up.

We are using Anaplan right now to do our forecasting and budgeting, as well as variance reporting. Anaplan is replacing the time it has taken us to manage all those Excel files going back and forth—particularly for a station manager, who once a year has to fill out all information they have for a budget. However, they most likely have forgotten how it was done last year. So it will take them a lot of extra time to do that once a year. Now with Anaplan, [they fill in a little bit of information] every month as they get new information. We think that is a much smoother process and saving the stations a lot of time as well.

The way that I would describe Anaplan is its freedom. And when I say freedom, you get a blank slate, you get to be an artist, you get to create something from nothing and develop it, you get to learn from it, and you are able to develop a different type of model. So you get to think in that third dimension and that’s what Anaplan truly is. It’s talking about three-dimensional planning.

The way that we connect our plans in Anaplan with our operational execution is mainly by using Anaplan as a one-stop shop for our operational partners. Since it’s accessible if you have an Internet connection, that’s really all you need. It’s very easy to give anyone access immediately, and it is controlled by the finance team, which is truly beneficial. We now are able to inform our partners in the operational field and find out what they really need to know in order to make course-corrections. We are able to structure [our model] so that our operational partners can immediately go to Anaplan, click on a couple of dashboards or modules, and find out the information that they need to find.

Anaplan will replace quite a bit of man hours. We are hoping that maybe we can save up to month and a half to two months of process work budget and forecast combined, and enable advanced decision-making. I see great, great strength in the future with Anaplan at United Airlines.

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