CoE Connect - Newsletter September 2023


Welcome to the September edition of CoE Connect, your source for news and insights from the Center of Excellence Program! We aim to both inform and motivate, and we're always eager to hear your feedback or suggestions for what's to come. Thank you for being an essential member of our CoE community — let's continue to grow and help out our fellow CoE Leaders!

  • We have two upcoming events!
  • Join in on our new Community Q&A Challenge! This month, Community members are answering the question, “As an Anaplan model builder, what steps do you take to ensure that changes you make to an existing module don't create unexpected results in the module you made changes to and in other modules?” Check out the incredible advice from people so far and join in with your own expertise! This is a great resource to share with your team!
  • Our latest podcast episode features CoE Leader Stacey Gibbens! In this episode, you’ll hear about Stacey’s introduction to Anaplan, how her career evolved over the years, her thoughts on the Certified Master Anaplanner program, and more.

September's spotlight interview is with Michael Downer! Michael works as the Head of Process and CoE Lead at HSBC in London. Get to know Michael and hear about his perspective on running a CoE, his past experiences, and lessons he has learned.

Q: Hi Michael! Please share with us your career path within the Anaplan ecosystem from first experiences to today.

Michael: I have worked in business forecasting and planning for over 20 years and have a wealth of experience working in larger organizations, helping create and maintain accurate forecasting processes. I started working with Anaplan in 2016 with a previous employer where we built a global resource forecasting model. Over the course of a few months, I learned the basics of Anaplan (I am still learning something new in Anaplan every day!).

In 2018 I was contacted by HSBC to help build/support their planning function within their risk operations area. Here I built out a risk inventory planning solution using Anaplan. The successful deployment of this solution exposed a whole new audience in the bank to Anaplan and better ways of planning. During a random townhall where leaders were talking about AOP planning and its process, I suggested Anaplan might well be a great solution to oversee this process. I was given the task of building out a proof of concept in Anaplan that would do what I had suggested. The following day I presented a rough proof of concept, which was immediately adopted as the new AOP process. At this point we caught the eyes of the senior leadership within the Global Operations teams who asked us to design and oversee a planning solution that would enable the global operations teams worldwide to plan resource levels in a synergized way. This led to the setup of my current Anaplan CoE team within HSBC. We ended up building out a multi-model resource ecosystem that eventually was deemed best in class in the bank and we are now in the midst of a bank wide roll out meaning we will soon be planning resources using Anaplan for over 250k full-time equivalent (FTE).

Q: What are some of the most valuable skills you have learned along that journey?

Michael: Anaplan is a very powerful tool and it’s easy to say “yes, that can be done!” (as most requests can somehow be achieved!). Where I think (as a solutions team) we add value is to be the cog between Anaplan and the business, and always ask the question whether it should be done and whether what the business wants is, a) possible, but also b) logical/practical. Having that logical problem-solving mindset is essential.

Q: What are some of the specific opportunities that being a CoE leader brought to you?

Michael: We started as a team looking after 8k FTE and are now accommodating plans across the bank for over 250k FTE. This has exposed me to many new areas in the bank and massively exposed my network within a massive org structure. This has also allowed me to get involved in processes that are outside of my natural skillset and allowed me to learn much more about processes that teams use within the bank. Learning and applying processes to look after and protect the Anaplan deployment within a CoE have probably been my greatest learning.

Q: As a CoE Leader, in your opinion, what are some of the benefits to having a CoE within an organization?

Michael: The bank’s org structure is gigantic and one of the benefits of introducing Anaplan was that we are now moving towards a bank-wide approach for planning resources. Previously we had countless different approaches to planning with many teams doing similar work but getting there via different paths. Within our new Anaplan world, we have this new shiny solution but without a CoE this could potential quickly grow out of hand if its managed in a decentralized structure. There is a constant danger; people will start inventing new solutions that have already been solved for elsewhere. Having a good CoE and a good relationship with your Anaplan contacts is essential to making sure that new areas within the bank don’t re-invent an existing process and re-create the siloes we have broken down.

Q: How has your journey been leading an Anaplan CoE?

Michael: It’s been very challenging as we set up Anaplan, the new ways of working and the CoE at the same time. This led to many challenges but also allowed us to set up the CoE as close to what we think is best practice (for the bank). Where we spend most time today maintaining key stakeholder relationships that enable us to understand when people are struggling with existing processes. That allows us to keep deployed solutions relevant and adopted. Having engaged stakeholders is also essential for the continued development of new solutions.

Q: In your opinion, do you need to be an Anaplan technical expert to be a CoE leader?

Michael: No, but at HSBC it helps as our CoE is relatively small considering the size of deployment. Our view is that a CoE is the cog that connects how HSBC works with how we can/should build out processes in Anaplan and then build them using best practice. As a team leader, I want my team to solve issues in a creative way but this can sometimes come with risks as our ecosystem is very large.

Q: As a CoE leader how do you prioritize between new projects, enhancements, and bug fixes?

Michael: We separate these duties between different team members. We also apply a backlog for all new projects and enhancements that gets reviewed monthly by a bank-wide user group who help prioritize these requests. And lastly, we track all issues (bug fixes) in an Anaplan model. This model allows users to self-raise an issue they have with any Anaplan dashboard/model (from within any dashboard). My team can then handle those requests and maintain an audit log of all changes (and document these in the revision tags). This helps us gage/forecast the number of changes we expect on any given month. This is also a useful tool to see what type of issues are being raised and indicate what area of our models we should be focusing on.

Q: As a CoE leader, how do you manage your talent mix? How you hire Anaplan talent (do you hire externally, or you upskill talent from within the organization)? What are the benefits of the approach you have taken?

Michael: We have a good mix of in-house trained Anaplan resources and Anaplan skilled hires, so we have seen both sides of this approach. The good thing about this is that it allows for the external candidates to learn the bank’s processes faster but also allows the internal employees to receive coaching from Anaplan skilled team members. All if this needs to be underpinned by training, and the training courses by Anaplan are a must for my team members.

Q: As a CoE leader how do you manage your stakeholders?

Michael: With a good CoE, it is important to know who your stakeholders are. Once you have a strong network of participants (users, IT, compliance, finance etc.), understanding their needs is very important and having regular contact time with them is vital. This allows everyone to understand what’s happening and avoid bottlenecks in decision around the models use and adoption.

Q: As a CoE Leader, what are some benefits to having that connection with Anaplan Business Partners and Customer Success?

Michael: They provide great support with process and function of the Anaplan platform. I have found working with our business partner has also allowed better understanding of what other users are doing with the platform and how they are using it to affect change. I believe a good relationship with the Anaplan business partner is vital to get the most out of the platform (and to keep getting it).

Q: What are some of the resources within the Anaplan Community that you as a CoE leader saw as being the most valuable?

Michael: The most valuable resource is the business partner as they can help direct you to the right area. We also Anaplan use user groups, Anapedia, and attend regular Anaplan events to see what new and what functionality is out there. Staying ahead of what functionality is being added is vital to us as it helps is direct the attention of our stakeholders and what they want to achieve by using the platform.

Q: What are some resources that you wish existed within the Anaplan Community?

Michael: When I think about how we have the moved the needle of change the most is when we have spoken to other users and seen what they have done. It’s always eye opening to see how other people fix the same issues as we’ve had. If I could pick one area I would say — have some kind of way for people to show and tell about their great implementations so others could learn from this (without necessarily seeing every line item of how they have done it).

Q: In your opinion, what is the value of being an active member of the Anaplan Community/ecosystem?

Michael: In general, I believe that knowing how something works is never good enough. I want myself and my team to be able to solve for issues and requests both creatively and efficiently. That kind of knowledge only comes from seeing and feeling how others have solved issues. I believe the forum is a great aid here, as without it, it could be very hard to solve some more complex questions.

Thank you Michael, for sharing your CoE journey with us! HSBC is lucky to have you!

We hope you enjoyed this edition of the newsletter and look forward to engaging and helping you achieve your Connected Planning vision. If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave a comment.