“I currently spend 80% of my time doing planning and 20% of my time doing analysis and I want to flip that ratio so that I spend 80% of my time doing analysis and 20% of my time doing planning.” A client shared this with me a few months ago when we were implementing Anaplan for an FP&A department. Having seen (and experienced!) the time-consuming and menial tasks involved in many companies’ planning processes, I understood what he meant. Employees want to contribute their critical thinking skills to focus on meaningful analyses and drive decisions, and companies ultimately benefit when their employees are engaged and working at the top of their ability.
Do you need to flip the ratio? If so, Anaplan can help! There are a number of tasks that many FP&A teams currently are performing manually that can be eliminated, automated, or facilitated by implementing Anaplan. If you’re familiar with the FP&A planning process, see if any of the pain points below resonate with you.
1. “I’ve been sitting here for 5 minutes, waiting for my Excel file to open. I hope it doesn’t crash again.”
Many of our clients built or inherited complicated and massive Excel files that take a long time to open. These files started out simple and small when the company was just getting started, but now that the company has grown, it has out-grown its Excel models. Modeling in Excel was fine when the company was modeling one type of transactional revenue in one region, but Excel now is having a tough time handling the new, massive subscription revenue model in multiple regions, segments, products, etc.
How Anaplan can help: Anaplan can scale. With Anaplan, your model can grow along with your company so that large volumes of data with multiple dimensions (e.g., departments, geos, segments, products, GL accounts) can be handled seamlessly. As for accessing your model, Anaplan is a cloud-based system so you can log in using your email and password. You also can enable single sign-on to make the login process even easier.
2. “My files are open, but my links are broken because we opened a new department/GL Account and now I have to go add new rows and re-link all of the data in the source tabs/files.”
Not only is this task incredibly time-intensive, but it often leads to human errors, which means that people have to spend extra time validating the data. While I’m a huge proponent of validating data, I can see why it would be frustrating to do it often and across so many sheets and files. Many of my clients at hyper-growth companies are consistently adding to their company structures, so this kind of manual maintenance eats up significant portions of their time and resources.
How Anaplan can help: Changes in master data flow through modules automatically within Anaplan. This means that if you add a new department or GL account (or any other dimension) to a list, that new department or GL account (or any other dimension) will now appear in every module throughout the model where that list is already a dimension. You can add that new department in the list and go immediately to your income statement to see that department’s actual and forecast data flow through.
3. “Which version should I be working in now? Hey, co-worker, can you let me know when you’re out of that file you’re working in? I’ll save a version down on my desktop and try to consolidate it when you’re out of the file on the server.”
Version control can be a huge issue while working in Excel, since only one person can be making changes within the model at a time. If there are 4 people working in the FP&A department but only 1 master file, co-workers will have to take turns working in the file and this situation inevitably will lead to multiple versions getting created in a graveyard of superseded files on desktops and servers. This could lead to confusion about which version is the most comprehensive version and may duplicate work for people who have to make updates in multiple versions.
How Anaplan can help: Anaplan allows users to simultaneously enter data and make changes, which means that I could be in the model uploading actual data and all budget owners can immediately see that data as they work on the latest forecast at the same time. All changes in the model are live and saved automatically, which eliminates this version problem discussed above.
4. “We just finished our close for this month, and I now have to go through all the Excel files and copy/paste the latest month’s actuals.”
At the beginning of every month, many companies refresh their forecast files with the actual numbers that came in for the previous month to update their new forecast and to compare their previous forecast with the actuals. Even if they are able to export data from a system like NetSuite or SAP in a single file, many clients have to incorporate these numbers manually into all of their models, reports, and other forecast-related files. Populating actual data may involve some combination of paste-values and vlookups, which can be tedious to maintain and prone to error.
How Anaplan can help: You can use a single field entry to determine which months display actual or planned amounts in your forecast version(s). For example, after loading September actual data into Anaplan, you can tell Anaplan to display 9 months of actual data and 3 months of forecast data for that year. This refresh automatically will incorporate September actuals into your new forecast and variance reports. You would do the same update next month — when October actual data comes into Anaplan, change your switchover date to show 10 months of actual data and 2 months of forecast data and you’ll see October actual data replace your September forecast data. This native Anaplan functionality eliminates much of the manual reconciliation related to marrying actuals with forecasts within versions.
5. I have to email every budget owner a separate Excel file and, when the information comes back to me, I have to incorporate all that data into all my other files.
If you’re working with multiple budget owners, you probably are juggling multiple budget templates and variance reports based on what each budget owner wants to see. It takes time to prepare and manage those separate files on a monthly or quarterly basis, incorporate all the information into other consolidation files, and keep updating the consolidation files based on what new information you may receive.
How Anaplan can help: Anaplan allows its users to work in the model at the same time while controlling what each user can see. You can allow each budget owner a different level of access within the Anaplan model, which allows you to give the budget owner more ownership of managing her/his own budget. For example, if you want your Sales budget owner to only see Sales department information, you can limit her/his access to the Sales department. Additionally, if there’s increased sensitivity around salary information, we can build the model and set access so that the Sales budget owner can see everything in the Sales department except individual salary information. And, if the latest actual data has been loaded (see #4 above), the budget owner can immediately track budgets/forecasts against the actuals within Anaplan. Lastly, at any given point, the Workflow feature in Anaplan allows users to see where each budget owner stands in the process (e.g., Completed, In Progress, Not Started) and email budget owners reminders of when budgets are due. And since Anaplan is web-based, users can access the information remotely and make updates as often as necessary.
6. “I’m in a meeting and my bosses are asking me for different cuts of information. What would this data look like for just the tech department? Or just for EMEA? In Q1 2017? Compared to prior year?”
We all try to anticipate which questions we’ll be asked during meetings and try our best to come prepared with the best data available. However, when asked unexpected questions, we need to be equipped with the proper data to field these questions on the fly. Being limited to static data halts the flow of discussion, since analysts need time to re-gather and re-cut the data to answer each discrete request. In addition, having to go back and forth to answer various rounds of questions leads to the scheduling of many redundant and unnecessary meetings in people’s already filled schedules.
How Anaplan can help: Dynamic data allows for dynamic discussions. Anaplan allows users to easily cut, pivot, and drill-down into the data to help answer unanticipated questions. Being able to look at data from different angles and levels allows analysts to provide real-time answers to unexpected questions and provides more time for value-adding discussions.
What you do not see listed above is, “What does this data mean?” Anaplan cannot answer this question in the same way that an analyst can. However, Anaplan can help free up the analyst’s time and resources by reducing the pain points above, and provide its users with more bandwidth to perform more analysis. In other words, Anaplan can provide the data and tools to enable our FP&A clients so that they can flip the ratio to spend closer to 80% of their time answering this question.