Yesterday, Anaplan, the cloud-based vendor of budgeting, planning, forecasting and performance management systems held its first global user conference in London’s Science Museum, hosted by its UK distributor and partner, Vue Analytics. It was a landmark occasion which signalled a fresh phase in Anaplan’s development, as Fred Laluyaux, the newly appointed CEO of Anaplan took over the helm from founder and chairman Guy Haddleton and described Anaplan’s ambitious growth plans. Gary Simon, FSN’s managing editor was at the event.
Anaplan is one a small cluster of performance management vendors in the Cloud. Anaplan and its competitors such as Host Analytics and Adaptive Planning are changing the game by deploying solutions specifically developed for a Cloud based environment – challenging the historic dominance of Oracle, SAP and IBM who are largely, (but not exclusively) focussed on traditional ‘on-premises’ solutions.
Arguably, the Cloud itself is a ‘disruptive’ platform. Companies appreciate the accessibility, small IT footprint, immediacy and economic benefits of the Cloud-based paradigm. In fact it is rare these days that businesses do not consider the likes of Anaplan alongside traditional vendors when considering a move away from spreadsheets (most often) or their existing budgeting solutions.
But the move to the Cloud doesn’t explain the meteoric growth of Anaplan which is roughly doubling in size every quarter. Customer logins are running at 2,500 weekly. The ‘disruption’, it seems, is taking place through a mixture of subtle and not so subtle innovations.
The underlying architecture is the brain child of Anaplan’s CTO, Michael Gould – a development veteran of Adaytum and Cognos and one of the world’s leading lights in modelling. If customer testimonials were anything to go by then Gould has solved the performance issues of multidimensional models that bedevilled the early days of budgeting, planning and forecasting. A combination of in-memory calculations, careful management of data sparcity and abundant processing power mean that Anaplan models are regularly handling billions of cells. In the case of McAfee, the central model handles a trillion cells, although by everyone’s admission this is at the ‘bleeding’ edge of Anaplan’s capabilities. (Incidentally, McAfee which is frequently quoted by Anaplan as a customer, and is an acknowledged leader in security, has done wonders for reassuring customers that its Cloud offering is secure.)
The ability to handle large and complex models is giving rise to what Anaplan calls the ‘Land and expand’ phenomenon in which customers take an initial application and very quickly (in a matter of months) increase its reach into other application areas, processes or sub-processes. It happens this way because the customers themselves are able to build models with relative ease and without vast amounts of consulting resources.
According to Fred Laluyaux this is helping to connect operational and financial planning – something that has been talked about for many years but has remained elusive. And Lauyaux should know having only a few months been responsible for leading SAP’s EPM management business. “The old EPM model just doesn’t work. I’ve seen three so-called ‘revolutionary’ changes of EPM in my career and we still are not succeeding. It’s just too complex,” he told FSN. “The way forward is to make the data easily available and let people build their own robust applications.”
David Nicholson, Business Systems Manager at Taylor Wimpey, and a seasoned professional couldn’t have been more effusive about Anaplan’s capabilities. He told the packed audience, “I have often come away from finance systems projects with a bitter taste because the the project hasn’t been able to deliver all of those pre-sales promises. But Anaplan did exactly what it said on the tin and VueAnalytics delivered.”
In a way Taylor Wimpey was typical of many customer testimonials on the day. They are a large diverse publicly quoted company planning at a detailed level of granularity. The ability to change the model ‘on the fly’ (in this case rescheduling the timing of individual house sales – 80,000 per annum) and instantly re-computing the cash flow consequences was impressive.
Probably the most complex planning environment of the day was presented by Bruce Dixon, VP Financial Planning and Analysis with Central Eurpoean Media Enterprises, a sprawling media conglomerate with multiple complex and varied business interests. Dixon explained how other vendors had simply “walked away” from the complexity and while others were still asking questions, Anaplan had built a viable proof of concept model. “We were really impressed with that” he said.
With Laluyaux getting in to his stride, Anaplan is concentrating on expansion, both geographically and in the data centres necessary to support the growing customer base. It is also encouraging the development of an Anaplan community that is willing to share knowledge and best practice. Michael Gould could even see the potential to share chunks of models – perhaps on commercial terms from an App store.
So is Anaplan disrupting the market? Well it is offering a different technical approach – which appears to be working. But it is Anaplan’s culture that shines through – a determination to do things differently and better. Laluyaux must have seen something to tempt him to leave SAP!