Will connected planning kill off the spreadsheet for good?

An abstract image of pins on a board connected by strings, representing a network

Despite the current hype around digital transformation and its potential to increase efficiencies across the enterprise, the truth is many organisations today still rely on legacy systems, siloed data, or even the trusted Excel spreadsheet for their business planning.

Michael Gould, founder of enterprise performance management (EPM) software firm Anaplan believes that's just not good enough.

Founded in 2006 in Gould's converted barn in North Yorkshire, Anaplan provides cloud-based software that allows business planning to be carried out on a single system. The company, now headquartered in San Francisco, now has 850 customers including the likes of Coca-Cola, Sky and Travelex, and is now valued at $1.4 billion.

Gould also believes that an increasing reliance on technology and the implementation of BYOD has made the workplace more disparate, "placing greater emphasis on being aware of your colleague's successes and failures, no matter where they are".

The alternative? Anaplan's concept is one of cloud-based 'connected planning'. This allows data to flow across departments, allowing users to leverage more data in a variety of formats for more detailed or nuanced modelling scenarios.

"Connected planning is transforming the way enterprises work, allowing for more informed decisions, using data accrued from every corner of the business. This does not just allow real-time co-ordination but aggregates an ever-growing volume of data to create detailed simulations that qualify leaders' assumptions and explore possible futures," says Gould.

The company competes with the likes of Oracle, SAP and IBM, plus numerous planning point solutions. However, Anaplan says it differs from its competitors as it's the only system that works across every business function in the enterprise.

So what makes a planning function truly connected? Gould believes it is its ability to react to market fluctuations and adapt accordingly.

"The teams that win most often bounce back against adversity or react well to a new strategy from an opponent. The agile can 'course-correct,' communicating strategic changes to keep on track. These attributes are useful for businesses with rigidly defined departments, as well as those with geographically spread teams," he says.

Gould says Anaplan relies on its channel partners to tailor the solution and integrate it into their existing systems.

Ian Stone, CEO at London-based partner Vuealta says implementation is only one piece of a larger puzzle aiming to connect departments throughout the entire business.

"Although it is understandable that some might be hesitant to depart from the familiar way of doing things with Excel, we find that once one group tests the technology it is much easier to get others on-board," he tells Channel Pro. "We can offer advisory and consultancy services to help customers make the most of their investments. The channel allows customers to benefit not only from Anaplan's technology but also localised advisory services wherever they are."

Stone says when implemented properly at both a technological and an organisational level, connected planning provides "an intuitive map of how decisions ripple through an entire organisation.

"Streamlining this process can lead to significant competitive advantages, but each business and sector will face its own challenges. A fintech start-up that's moving and developing at pace needs to reinvent its planning process at every new cycle. Conversely, in some of the world's largest companies, planning processes are more firmly entrenched, and will benefit from a bespoke advisory service specific to its own challenges."

While connected planning is still in its infancy, Stone is adamant that it has much more to offer.

"Understanding the impact of sales, marketing, product, human capital and operational decisions in real-time, is game-changing for organisations, he says.

"The ability to crystal-ball-gaze and understand outcomes in the decision-making process directly affects the bottom line and confidence in which businesses operate."

Christine Horton

Christine has been a tech journalist for over 20 years, 10 of which she spent exclusively covering the IT Channel. From 2006-2009 she worked as the editor of Channel Business, before moving on to ChannelPro where she was editor and, latterly, senior editor.

Since 2016, she has been a freelance writer, editor, and copywriter and continues to cover the channel in addition to broader IT themes. Additionally, she provides media training explaining what the channel is and why it’s important to businesses.