Anaplan – finally spelling the end of Excel?

indexThe whirlwind Spring event season is finally starting to wind down…sort of. Most recently I was in San Francisco attending the Anaplan user conference at the Fairmont. Not a bad location to spend a few days. Although I will say the hallways remind me a bit of the movie The Shining. Over the past year, Anaplan has emerged as one of Silicon Valley’s unicorns. With a valuation over $1billion and a large cash infusion earlier in 2016, the pressure and expectations are mounting. Rightfully so, their ambitions appear to be on par – to become the de facto planning platform. In essence they are looking to replace the old workhorse known as Microsoft Excel. Talk about an ambitious and lofty goal.

Anaplan plays in a host of functional areas, ranging from finance and human resources to sales and supply chain (more on the last later) and in a range of industries from financial services to CPG. Their underlying technology allows these businesses to create the planning models and apps required to manage their operations, in many cases taking Excel spreadsheets head on. As Anaplan’s CMO Grant Halloran stated from main stage – Excel has spread like a virus. I don’t think he meant that in a positive way! But the reality is the tool has been on our desktops for decades, its simplicity and lack of a comparable cross industry platform has made it ubiquitous. Because of this it has spread like a virus. And for all its shortcomings it does work. Is it the most robust planning tool out there? No. But sometimes good enough is better than perfect. So does Anaplan have a chance? Their momentum suggests it does, particular for large use cases where Excel has simply withered under the sheer volume of data, complexity of the process, or both. Let’s focus on one area they have invested heavily in over the past 2 years – supply chain.

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Gunning for an icon.

First of all, supply chain means a lot of things to a lot of people. While I believe it goes beyond factories and warehouses, the outer boundaries of what supply chain management is remains a moving target. A clear opportunity for Anaplan – but one that will require both focus and execution, as well as making some hard decisions as to what to ignore. Where does the company continue to invest? Do they want to focus on complex planning around bill of materials and sourcing, does it make more sense to focus on demand planning or do they lean on their work with financial planning and look at the sales & operations planning (S&OP) space? They already have an impressive list of customers in the space headlined by the likes of Diageo and Del Monte. Of course these spaces have some entrenched players that Anaplan has been competing against and scoring some wins. However, to continue to build on these successes they need to continue to bolster their supply chain talent across the board, evolve their strategy, and most importantly, keep building the use case library that demonstrates their ability to address supply chain issues.

The challenge for Anaplan remains that their brand is not fully established within the supply chain space. That can be both an opportunity – being the fresh face in the space – but also a challenge – where is your street cred? Supply chain professionals are fickle, they want to know that you have experience and use cases that are tightly aligned with their needs. But nothing ventured, nothing gained!

There is clearly the desire from the top management at Anaplan. As a unicorn with cash, they should have both the resources and cool factor to continue to attract the appropriate talent to make this vision a reality. But the road is full of grizzled veterans and many have tried to displace Excel. I have joked with colleagues that had Microsoft branded itself as a supply chain vendor they would be the #1 vendor, thanks to Excel. Go bold or go home seems to be the name of the game these days, clearly Anaplan is looking to do so. Maybe the new kid has what the grizzled veterans didn’t – the right technology.

For another view of the event please read my colleague Doug Henschen’s piece – click here.

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Filed under Current Events, Supply Chain

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