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What Is Anaplan? Benefits, Use Cases, and Best Practices
Business units operating on their own separate islands put your entire enterprise behind the operational and strategic eight-ball. However, trying to unify all of those business units – each with distinct complexities and objectives – into cohesive plans and models can feel like herding a gang of feral felines. And that’s never fun.
That’s why an enterprise planning platform like Anaplan can be such a boon for your organization. And as you might’ve guessed, we’re big fans of Anaplan here at Embark, so we want to take a few minutes to walk you through the platform and what it has to offer organizations.
For decades, finance, supply chain, sales, and HR teams managed their businesses in each of their own point solutions, creating organizational silos. At first, such a splintered approach made the familiarity of spreadsheets feel like a natural, obvious answer to unifying organizational planning needs and workflows. However, as teams always discover at one point or another, the static, rigid nature of spreadsheets ultimately made enterprise-wide modeling and collaboration virtually impossible.
Thus, in an environment where efficiency and collaboration are two of the biggest assets a business can possess, traditional solutions like spreadsheets breed a lack of cross-functional transparency across planning and business performance. And that, as you know, is a recipe for missed opportunities and strategic blunders if there ever was one, especially as business accelerates.
Thankfully, a new approach emerged to break down those silos and connect planning on an enterprise scale – Anaplan.
Anaplan is a cloud-based planning software platform built specifically for connected, adaptive, collaborative planning and performance management across the entire enterprise. It provides a robust modeling engine to bring financial planning, sales planning, supply chain planning, HR planning, and more into a single integrated platform. As a result, you get a connected planning honeycomb effect that integrates all of your business units, maximizing insight and transparency for better decision-making.
Therefore, rather than having distinct tools and innumerable spreadsheets scattered across operational badlands, Anaplan consolidates it all into a centralized hub for end-to-end planning and performance visibility. As a result, you’re left with fertile planning ground without the chronic disconnects between isolated planning processes that have plagued businesses in recent years.
Strategic Agility Through Connected Planning
The result is vastly improved speed, agility, and intelligence across the organization, giving leadership an unprecedented enterprise-wide view into how plans and performance tie together between business units. Now, strategic scenario modeling and forecasting can be far more insightful thanks to real-time analytics and reporting capabilities.
Ultimately, the Anaplan platform unlocks the enterprise agility required to navigate today's dynamic, hypercompetitive environment. By connecting previously isolated planning functions, it provides complete visibility into how all the pieces fit together so companies can finally sense and respond to market changes proactively rather than reactively. And, yes, it really is as game-changing as we just made it sound.
Anaplan's Key Features and Benefits
But enough of the high-level talk. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what Anaplan brings to the planning and modeling table.
Connected Planning Across Business Units
One of Anaplan's fundamental capabilities is connecting previously isolated planning activities across business units. Again, rather than finance, sales, HR, supply chain, and other groups planning in their own bubbles, Anaplan brings everything together into a single source of truth.
This drives unprecedented, enterprise-wide transparency into how plans and actual performance flow between business units. As a result, leadership can see directly how the many corporate pieces fit together between departments.
Specifically, Anaplan uses a flexible, customizable data model rather than rigid tables, allowing it to connect and model processes from across planning domains, letting it incorporate both financial and operational data to enable integrated business planning.
As a quick example, supply chain leaders can now understand how production plans integrate with sales performance, forecasts, and financial budgets, all in real time. Likewise, a CFO now has clear insight into how new HR programs and headcount changes feed into financial planning. Both of these nuanced examples, while extremely powerful, can easily get lost in the mix without the right tools to unlock those insights.
Anaplan Integration Capabilities
Further, Anaplan's robust integration framework helps a company establish seamless connections with various other systems and platforms, enhancing its functionality and data accuracy. For instance, the platform supports integration with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and other systems through APIs and ETL processes.
We won’t get deep into the technical weeds for now. However, we still want to emphasize how Anaplan provides robust and flexible integration options with existing systems. These integrations let business data flow either in real-time or in scheduled batches, ensuring all planning and analysis use the latest available data sets from the right data sources, eliminating the need for manual data imports.
Customizability and Extensibility
Anaplan's platform is also highly customizable and extensible to meet the unique needs of different organizations. It offers a model-building environment that allows users to design, build, and deploy custom planning and performance management applications.
The extensible architecture supports the development of custom apps, letting organizations extend the platform's capabilities to other areas of business. Moreover, the Anaplan App Hub provides a marketplace for pre-built apps and models that you can customize to suit specific organizational needs.
Real-Time Planning and Reporting With Anaplan
As we’ve already mentioned a number of times, Anaplan also provides real-time planning, modeling, and reporting capabilities. So, as soon as you enter or update data in the system, outputs and reports reflect those changes immediately.
This ability drives rapid insights and scenario analysis based on real-time data. Teams can collaboratively model different versions of plans and forecasts, instantly seeing the enterprise-wide impacts. Moreover, the in-memory calculation engine enables large-scale models with hundreds of thousands of data elements, all updating on the fly.
In practice, this means sales teams can adjust quotas and forecasts and immediately view bottom-line profitability implications. The CFO can model different budget scenarios and quickly understand downstream effects. And since Anaplan offers out-of-the-box dashboards and reports, role-based insights and KPI monitoring are never a heavy lift
Enhanced Workflow and Collaboration in Anaplan
On the workflow front, the Anaplan platform also fosters collaboration across business units. Different teams can jointly update plans and forecasts in – you guessed it – real time and in a single system.
This ability aligns the organization around shared metrics and plans. Everyone works from a single source of truth rather than through disjointed processes and static handoffs. Built-in workflow and approvals enforce oversight and compliance without slowing planning cycles. Granular user access controls enable decentralizing planning to business users across the enterprise as needed.
For example, traditionally, sales would deliver a forecast to finance through email or in a spreadsheet. Now, FP&A teams can model joint assumptions collaboratively in Anaplan while the platform’s integration capabilities connect easily to complementary systems like ERPs and CRMs.
Anaplan's Security Features
To state the obvious, security is essential in today's hyper-connected business environment. That’s why Anaplan provides such robust security features, ensuring data privacy and compliance with regulatory requirements.
In fact, the platform employs industry-leading practices like encryption in transit and at rest, multi-factor authentication, and regular security audits. Additionally, Anaplan follows a stringent data governance framework and adheres to international security standards such as ISO 27001, SOC 2, and GDPR, ensuring a secure environment for business-critical data.
Auditability and Control Features of Anaplan
Anaplan also provides full auditability and control capabilities. Every input, change, and access to the system is logged and traceable. This supports compliance initiatives and provides an audit trail for how companies use and manipulate plans and data, also allowing for the granular control of user access and permissions. For instance, financial controllers can restrict certain users from adjusting forecasts or budgets without approval workflows.
Anaplan's Compliance with Regulatory and Industry Standards
Expanding on the previous sections, Anaplan also features a strong focus on compliance with various regulatory and industry standards. The platform's built-in audit trails, role-based access control, and data encryption help companies adhere to compliance requirements across different regions and industries.
By maintaining compliance with relevant standards and requirements – Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX), GDPR, and HIPAA, to name just a few – Anaplan ensures organizations remain compliant in their planning and performance management processes.
What Is Anaplan Used For? Use Cases and Applications
Now, let’s roll up our sleeves a bit more and take a look at the practical, everyday Anaplan use cases that probably prompted you to read these insights in the first place – connected planning at its finest.
Anaplan for Financial Planning, Budgeting, and Forecasting
Financial planning and analysis is at the center of what the Anaplan platform is all about, providing a centralized solution to model and connect operations planning directly to FP&A.
Driver-based modeling builds budgets from the bottom-up based on metrics like sales headcount or production volume. What-if scenario modeling assesses the financial impact of different operational assumptions and plans. SImilarly, Anaplan enables continuous rolling forecasts rather than static annual budgeting to improve agility.
Further, built-in financial intelligence streamlines detailed planning activities and dynamic allocations. As such, machine learning improves forecast accuracy over time based on historical data. Dashboards provide real-time visibility into financial KPIs across the enterprise.
Anaplan for Sales Planning and Quota Modeling
Anaplan gives sales teams an automated platform for territory, account, and quota planning. Bottom-up forecast modeling starts with individual sales rep-level forecasts, which roll up into an integrated view.
Analysis and segmentation can model sales productivity, pipeline trends, product performance, and more. This provides insights so teams can optimize quotas, sales capacity, incentives, and other investments. And, of course, the direct integration with financial plans improves planning and budgeting.
Anaplan for Supply Chain Planning
Anaplan models the entire supply chain, including procurement, production, inventory, logistics, fulfillment, and more. Also, the platform’s demand forecasting integration aligns supply plans with sales, while scenario modeling optimizes supply plans based on financial impact analysis.
Continuing on the supply chain front, inventory optimization lets companies align stock levels, logistics, and fulfillment costs with expected demand, and constraints analysis identifies bottlenecks. As with the other use cases, actual costs flow into financial plans for total visibility and, thus, help both model and mitigate supply chain risks that would otherwise continue to flourish in the shadows.
Anaplan for Workforce Planning
Anaplan lets HR teams model talent needs, costs, risks, and investments holistically. Workforce plans can project hiring needs, compensation costs, and talent gaps and, as always, integrate directly into financial plans for total cost visibility.
In addition, what-if workforce scenarios help HR optimize talent investments, mitigate risks, and improve agility. Ultimately, Anaplan provides a single platform to manage workforce planning across regions, business units, and functions. AI-driven insights enhance workforce planning over time. And that’s tough to put a price on in such a volatile labor market.
Anaplan for Modeling Various Operational Processes
Lastly, Anaplan connects and optimizes many other operational processes as well:
- Marketing campaign ROI analysis and budgeting
- R&D portfolio optimization and resource allocation
- New product demand modeling and launch planning
- IT investment planning and portfolio management
- Capital projects planning and ROI analysis
The bottom line is this – Anaplan helps you unleash your inner connected planning beast. The platform integrates all these processes so you can analyze downstream financial impact analysis for holistic planning and optimization. And that’s worth its weight in strategic gold.
Best Practices for Implementing Anaplan
Of course, even the best tools on the market still aren’t magic. It takes experience, expertise, and a whole lotta buy-in to make the most of an investment, Anaplan included. So, on that note, we also have some implementation tips to help you make the most of the platform.
Taking a Phased, Agile Approach
When implementing Anaplan, it’s best to take an iterative, phased approach rather than trying to deploy an extensive system all at once. Focus first on getting a minimum viable product (MVP) live, one that provides basic connected planning for a few key processes. You know – the proverbial low-hanging fruit for some quick but impactful wins.
This MVP approach allows organizations to realize immediate value while allowing time to optimize processes and data inputs. Such quick wins build momentum and free resources to incrementally expand the Anaplan model over subsequent phases. And remember, you’ll probably continue to identify use cases, so a walk-before-you-run approach will help you maximize your ROI.
Relying on Skilled Consultants
Anaplan’s own training and resources, while nothing to scoff at, might not be adequate to stand your team up and really get you up and running with connected planning. Thus, organizations benefit greatly by partnering with experts during the implementation phase, not to mention ongoing optimization.
Experienced Anaplan specialists ensure companies follow best practices from the start, streamlining deployment while transferring knowledge to internal teams. Similarly, this ongoing expertise also helps optimize and enhance the model after the initial launch.
Since most enterprises lack the internal expertise to truly optimize Anaplan – and most purpose-built technology solutions, for that matter – consultants fill this gap and then some. Well, assuming you choose the right specialists.
Improving Processes Alongside Technology
Anaplan implementations don’t take place in a vacuum. They’re most successful when a company invests equal focus on improving planning processes as well as leveraging the technology’s capabilities. Too often, teams focus just on configuring Anaplan without addressing underlying process constraints.
To ensure you start on the right foot, an Anaplan implementation should involve:
- Mapping out current business processes.
- Identifying disconnects between departments.
- Envisioning an optimized cross-functional planning methodology.
This approach makes certain the tool drives desired process improvements rather than automating a dysfunctional status quo. Ideally, Anaplan will drive process change and improvement, not just fancy technology, propelling a broader optimization initiative that focuses on people, processes, and technology in equal parts.
The biggest takeaway here – genuine transformation is a three-legged stool. If any of the legs – people, processes, or technology – are too short or insufficient, that stool isn’t going to stand.
Prioritizing Data Integrity
Finally, no planning tool can provide valuable insights without clean, accurate, and timely data inputs, even with the most advanced systems. Garbage in, garbage out. To that point, Anaplan relies on properly structured data from source systems, ideally integrated via APIs and ETL processes.
That makes data governance and management critical for Anaplan success, including:
- Establishing common data definitions across units
- Enforcing data entry standards
- Monitoring data quality
- Fixing issues at the source where possible
- Making master data management and data governance priorities
Embark, You, and the Power of Connected Planning
Anaplan brings an entirely new approach to enterprise planning. By connecting previously isolated planning processes across business units, companies can eliminate those age-old silos for the first time, gaining an unprecedented level of transparency into how all the pieces interlink.
From a broader perspective, the platform powers a transformation in planning and informed decision-making, driving agility and holistic insights with its real-time modeling and scenario analysis capabilities. The result – forward-looking business intelligence for better decision-making and, most importantly, superior results.
Sounds pretty great, right? Well, it is. So let us know when you’re ready to sit down with our Anaplan specialists to discover what this platform can do for your business. We promise it’ll be one of the best decisions you ever make for your organization.