FSN interviews Guy Haddleton, CEO Anaplan

14th March 2011

It was the opportunity to do things better which tempted Adaytum founder and industry veteran Guy Haddleton back into the Business Intelligence market. Interviewed last week by FSN’s managing editor, Gary Simon, Guy talked about the excitement generated around his latest venture Anaplan, a new cloud-based BI platform designed for business analysis, budgeting, planning and forecasting.

Of course Haddleton is no stranger to the field.  Adaytum was arguably the most successful budgeting and planning tool before it was sold to Cognos in 2003 for $160 million in cash.  With many devotees it broke the mould then by allowing offline working on budgets at a time when competitors could only offer slow and complicated model building on a centralised platform.  As a result Adaytum swept up hundreds or even thousands of budget contributors at a time and claimed a leadership position. And that could have been the end of the story had it not been for Guy Haddleton’s desire to start all over again with his trusted development team, financial backers eager to re-invest and a marketplace yearning for something, simpler to build and maintain, that does a better job than the big BI suites and yet is less expensive and more accessible.

“Business intelligence suites were a rip-off” declares Haddleton. “You had to spend thousands of dollars on software licences, thousands on new hardware to run it on and then employ an army of consultants to develop the application over many months.  And if you wanted to change anything, because your business had changed you were faced with more expense and time delays.”

“You ended up spending ninety percent of your time managing data rather than analysing the business because the applications were built in silos.  As a result, spreadsheets became the integration tool of choice.”

After taking a back seat for 5 years Haddleton realised that the BI industry had not changed yet the technology certainly had. “Nobody got sacked for buying one of the major BI suites but they should have! Where was the innovation?” he chides.

So Guy Haddleton went back to the drawing board and brought in his old Adaytum colleague Michael Gould as Chief Architect of the newly formed Anaplan.  Gould had been a developer in the enterprise performance planning arena for over 20 years, initially as co author of Adaytum and then as a senior developer at IBM/Cognos.

“We threw out all of the old ideas and Michael locked himself away in a cold Yorkshire farm for a year to think about a new paradigm for this market.”

But Haddleton and Gould wanted to go beyond cloud computing.  “There was no innovation in ‘first generation’ cloud computing. It was mainly about re-building on-premise solutions in the cloud and where was the innovation in that?” challenges Haddleton.

“We wanted to do something radically different that would leverage multi-core processing, that would handle truly massive volumes, that utilized in-memory storage for near instantaneous response and could leverage a next generation calculation engine for changes in the moment.”

But this wasn’t about technology for its own sake but to exploit the technology for more business advantage.  “The innovation had to be end-user focused.  So models had to be quick to build and change, we wanted a single user- interface, a single database and repository for metadata and there should definitely be no scripting or macros.  We wanted the user to take charge of the applications, so calculations and business rules had to use natural language.  Why are people still using Visual Basic programming to get what they need?”

These changes coupled with the ability to handle large data volumes in ‘dense cell’ models opened up the opportunity to move away from the old business model of operating in functional silos to the new paradigm of integrated planning across entire business processes. “In reality you want your CRM based sales model, to be linked to your sales forecast, commissions forecast, resources utilization and right through to financial forecasts including cash on the balance sheet,” adds Haddleton.

Unlike conventional business start ups Haddleton and Gould had the luxury of time and were well funded.  “We wanted to get it right. This is the fifth time that Michael has built a planning product and he knows all the pitfalls.  We wanted to make sure that the architecture we adopted didn’t lock us in at a future date. And we didn’t have the pressure of venture capitalists breathing down our necks.  We didn’t have to make any compromises,” adds Haddleton.

After two years the initial design was complete and Anaplan was ready to gear up the development team but of course Guy Haddleton and Michael Gould needed to look no further than their old Adaytum colleagues who were eager to come on board. “We didn’t have to build a team from scratch which was an incredible advantage. We have seen much bigger organizations with 50 man development teams try to do what we have done and fail,” adds Haddleton.

But technical breakthroughs such as ‘in the moment change’ over the web isn’t the only innovation to come out of the Anaplan camp. Haddleton also turned his mind to pricing models and decided that they  were also too complicated. “People don’t want to spend $50,000 just to get started – it’s another rip-off!  We want to encourage organizations to build a community of users so we allow you to have an unlimited number of users starting at around $1000 per month.  The charges are based on data volumes; so for example, 1 gigabyte of RAM will cost you about $2,000 per month.”

For those who may be skeptical the company has thrown down the gauntlet with the Anaplan challenge. “We say to people send us your most difficult planning spreadsheet and we will have your planning or budgeting application up and running in a matter of hours for you to try.  It completely removes the risk - unlike in the old days when you didn’t know if the application was going to work until half way through the project.”

It is a formula that seems to be working.  Anaplan is already making significant sales and early reports from consultants in the field are suggesting significantly reduced implementation timescales. What is refreshing about the Anaplan proposition is that it isn’t solely about cloud computing. Guy Haddleton and Michael Gould have used their market experience to overcome the limitations of existing BI platforms and then presented the results of this new thinking in the cloud.