What does a home run ball look like?

Author: Aaron Overfors, Certified Master Anaplanner and Principal Architect at Spaulding Ridge.

Not every software system is designed to do everything. In the early 2000s, however, this was the focus — one platform that could handle everything: resourcing, customer relationships, supply chain, HR, financial planning, billing, and beyond. But similarly to the ‘multiplex’ fad of the 1970s and 1980s, where cities tried to have several sports played in the same place (which fizzled out), so too did this push in the software space. The reasons are basically the same at heart: while it is technically possible to do everything in one place, it didn't do any of those things particularly well. What people realized is that some technologies underpinnings simply allow for better use of their platform for certain business activities than others.

Enter Anaplan. While Anaplan can work in just about any domain (finance, sales, supply chain, HR, IT, and beyond), it is — at its core — a planning platform, and chiefly not something besides that. A planning platform it is, and a powerful one at that. There's almost no planning challenge that it can't tackle, which is what's led to its misuse in some instances. Something I find myself frequently explaining to my clients is that Anaplan can do almost anything — but just because you can, doesn't mean that you should. Can you walk from New York to San Francisco? Probably, but there's a better way to get there.

So what does that “home run” scenario look like? Let's take a look.

Anaplan does planning well. To understand what that means, it's important to consider what Anaplan does not do well. None of these things are likely to shock you; Anaplan will tell you themselves that the platform isn't the place to handle text transformations or data transformation (ETL) activities. It is not well-suited for database-type activities. It is not an hourly scheduling tool. In short, Anaplan is not a transactional system: unless you are a planner, it is not intended to be the place where you go every single day to update records that have changed.

What types of activities are these? Entering customer account and contact information — this should take place in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. Maintaining organization charts — this should take place in a Human Resources Management (HRM) tool. Recording changes to data records (billing, contracts, etc.) — this should take place in an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) tool.

Now let's look at the characteristics of where Anaplan excels. It includes just about everything else: if you can model it, then Anaplan is probably the best place to do it. Anaplan thrives on handling complex data sets that are quantitative in nature (revenue, quotas, quantities, headcount, etc.) that need analyzing and aggregating in a thousand different ways. Anaplan shines in highlighting 1) where you are right now, 2) how you got here, and 3) where the biggest and best future opportunities lie — and multiple potential paths to get there. This is because Anaplan models better than any other platform. Its ability to show multiple versions of what could be, driven off both historical data as well as future-looking predictions, is unmatched. You can plan at multiple levels separately or together to give you the right look into what could be.

All of the other activities mentioned above that it does not do well? It can use that data to help you better use each of those tools. How do you get more, bigger opportunities with prospects and existing customers? Anaplan can show you what has happened and enable you to instruct your sales team more wisely. Do you have enough of the right people in the right roles in the right places in the organization? Anaplan can help you analyze your talent pool and allow you to make the shifts that you need to in your organization. Who is using the billing system the most, and how can we capitalize on it? Anaplan can give you insights into your most profitable customers and most productive sellers, as well as your billing team’s execution velocity. These are your “home run” situations!

While Anaplan isn't a one-size-fits-all technology platform, it is a one-size-fits-all planning platform. Once you recognize the potential of what you can accomplish in Anaplan, the sky is the limit. The key is understanding how Anaplan complements the other types of tools that are available to you.


  • And there are still those out there in big corporate IT departments that think it has to be IBM, Oracle, SAP because it's one solution even if you then end up with a lot of manual outside effort.

    Like you say EDW for transactions, Masterdata for that, visualisation where it's lower than planning granularity and finally planning system for planning. Even if that means a few relationships to manage.

  • It all about the right tool for the job, great reminder @aaron_overfors !

    The piece that always seems to be a little sticky - finding the right balance on the reporting front. There always seems to be this slipery slope because it can be very easy to build reports in Anaplan but that may not actually be the most scalable solution. Often times the slice and dice type of reporting will go well beyond what would be needful to create or validate the plan/forecast.

  • @Tiffany.Rice - so right on the slice/dice report - people want to be able to do it all in one place so much that they then forget that the better option is something else that exists in the organisation. and if all the integrations are set properly end users wouldn't know any different.