By Steven Barry | Business Planning Consultant
My journey throughout the various functional areas in the supply chain has certainly had its mix of ups and downs. Each area seemed to have its strengths and weaknesses, but there was one glaring problem that seemed to keep appearing regardless of where I was working: the almighty spreadsheet. At least one person in every business unit seemed to have one of these that was used as the single source of truth for their business, and each of these spreadsheets was considered gospel.
The approach itself is not flawed: take all the relevant information that you have and use it to make informed business decisions.
But that approach leaves a lot of opportunities on the table.
Let’s take the following example and see exactly how this becomes a problem very quickly: Company A has 12 business units. Each of these business units have dedicated employees in OM, Forecasting, T&Q, ICM, Demand Planning, Supply Planning, Manufacturing, and Finance. Each business unit handles their end-to-end process by using spreadsheets. They receive emailed spreadsheets from upstream in the process, use that data to make decisions for their functional area, and then email the new data downstream as the process progresses. By the time the process is complete, it is time to begin the next monthly cycle and start all over.
In this example, we have the potential for 96 “single sources of truth” spread across the 12 business units. We also have the potential for delays due to emails being the primary means of data transfer between functional areas. Aggregating this data for an executive overview would be all but impossible, and we are heavily reliant on a LOT of manually entered data to ensure that we are even the least bit accurate on our numbers.
We’ve identified a problem that is very real to many companies all around the world. As you would expect with a prevalent problem such as this one, there are a multitude of IT systems that you can choose to implement to remove the need for spreadsheets and to avoid the issues associated with using them. So, what is it that sets Anaplan apart from the others? Why should you choose to implement Anaplan for your connected planning journey?
The answer lies at the root of our example: the employees with the almighty spreadsheets.
We’ve all heard some form of these responses before when implementing new IT solutions – “This data doesn’t match what I have in my spreadsheet! There’s no way it can be correct! I’ve used this exact spreadsheet for the last decade and we’ve done fine!” I’d like to add my personal favorite to the mix as well: “Until there’s an IT system that can do exactly what I do in my spreadsheets better, then I refuse to stop using them!”
Time and time again, I’ve watched new IT solutions be delivered that should improve the overall planning process but ultimately find themselves unused within a year of implementation. In some cases, it’s because the tools don’t offer the flexibility that is found in Excel. In others, it’s because they are too difficult to use. Finally, there are just some users that are resistant to change and do not want to give new systems a chance. This is where Anaplan shines the brightest.
Anaplan can address every problem listed above and then some. The platform is flexible enough to address every use case I have mentioned. Also, via the use of a Data Hub, we can avoid the need for each business unit to have their own sources of truth and instead have a governed, auditable data source for all spoke models and use cases. Each spreadsheet can be replaced by a dashboard which can be set up to have all of the functionality present in the spreadsheet, and transferring data downstream through the planning process is now as simple as pressing a button.
In a business world that is constantly evolving and moving faster each day, it is critical to move away from the spreadsheet approach. Anaplan is an improvement across the board from this approach, and it offers enough familiarity to help those who are resistant to change to progress with the rest of your business.