The Higher Ed Honeycomb: An Overview of Connected Planning Use Cases for Higher Education

edited April 2023 in Groups

If you have worked in Anaplan for any length of time, you have likely heard the term honeycomb. The honeycomb is a visualization of the connected planning journey in Anaplan – a glimpse into the art of the possible.

In this article series we will explore the Higher Ed honeycomb – the various use cases that Higher Ed institutions rely on to help them navigate the challenges they face every day and prepare to face the unknown that lies ahead.

What’s the point?

Before we dive into an overview of some of Higher Ed’s most common Anaplan use cases, let’s stop for a second and ask ourselves why all this matters – what’s the point?

Each Higher Ed institution has a distinctive mission; one that defines their reason for existence, informs their decisions, and guides their path. Although each institution is unique, at a fundamental level every Higher Ed institution exists to serve students and advance society’s collective knowledge, understanding, and human potential.

To realize their missions’, institutions must outline a vision, proactively define goals, and develop a plan to achieve those goals. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry states in his profound, witty, and charming book, The Little Prince, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” The point of all of this is to better position your institution to achieve its strategic goals and as a result, better serve your students and help society progress together.

Key Activities and Use Cases

The activities involved in developing, executing, and refining good plans are expansive and may vary in importance from institution to institution. However, there are some key activities that are common across all Higher Ed institutions. The graphic below provides a visual of some of the most common Higher Ed planning use cases that support four key planning activities: strategic planning, budgeting, forecasting, and monitoring.

Key Activities

Strategic Planning – Generally, institutions develop a strategic plan that outlines the goals and objectives that will be implemented over the next 3-5 years to help advance their mission. These plans are not inherently financial; however, they must be supported by a 3-5 year strategic financial plan, often referred to as a long-range plan.

The typical output of a long-range plan is a set of multiyear, pro-forma financial statements along with key financial ratios that help the institution’s leadership assess the financial viability of their plans and inform strategies to mitigate risks posed to their plans. Leadership will often use the information provided to them in the long-range plan to inform the parameters used for upcoming planning cycles such as budget parameters and targets.

Budgeting – Budgeting is generally focused on developing a detailed financial plan for the upcoming year’s operations and a plan for the purchase, acquisition, and development of long-term capital assets. In other words, institutions develop two key budgets: an operating budget and capital budget.

Budget development is a deeply connected process and involves extensive coordination across the campus to ensure success. The focus is on aligning resources with institutional and departmental priorities that ultimately coalesce with the institutions strategic plan.

Although typically an annual activity with an emphasis on the upcoming or recently started year, some institutions generate a multi-year budget that allows them to have a more detailed look at the institution’s expected performance over the next 1-3 years.

Forecasting – Forecasting can be broken down into two key activities: in-year forecasting and multiyear forecasting. In-year forecasting focuses on re-forecasting the operating results of the current year on a regular cadence such as monthly or quarterly. This allows institutions to quickly identify any unfavorable trends and enact plans to mitigate or nullify the impact of those trends before they are unavoidable. Multiyear forecasting often extends the in-year forecast by layering on management assumptions for the future years to create a projection of the next 1-3 years that can provide an early warning system by visualizing trends over a longer time horizon.

Monitoring – Monitoring activities allow an institution to see how well actual activity is tracking to their various plans. Some common monitoring activities include variance or flux analysis, trend analysis, and benchmark analysis. Variance analysis is one of the most common monitoring activities and may include budget-to-actual variances, year-over-year actual variances, and forecast-to-actual variances. Trend analysis seeks to identify trends in planning data over time including both historical data and projections. Benchmark analysis may include reports comparing the results of an institution to a peer or competitor group or comparing results to industry averages.

Bringing it All Together

Each key activity outlined above is critical to an organization’s success; however, to gain the most value from these activities they must be interconnected. The sum of the parts does not equal the whole – the whole has a higher value when each part is working in concert to guide the institution, enable them to adjust to changes quickly and efficiently, and ultimately achieve their mission.

For anyone involved in the planning activities outlined above, you know that the process of planning for a Higher Ed institution is anything but simple. It is deeply complex and interconnected. In this article series, we will continue to delve into the world of planning in Higher Ed. In each article we will expand on the key activities and use cases outlined in this article and highlight how connected planning in Anaplan can better position your institution to successfully achieve its mission.