CoE Connect Newsletter | November 2023


Welcome to CoE Connect, your monthly destination for news and insights from the Center of Excellence Program! We hope this newsletter proves both informative and inspiring, and we always welcome your thoughts and ideas for future editions. Thank you for being an integral part of the CoE community — let's stay connected and grow together!

In this month's interview, we had the privilege of delving into the career of Matthew LePori, who works at Applied Materials in Austin, Texas. He shared candid insights into their Anaplan journey, how their CoE operates, and the key steps taken to evolve it over time.

Q: Hi Matthew, please tell us about yourself!

Matthew: I am the Finance Systems & Integrations Director and Anaplan CoE Lead for the Finance Organization at Applied Materials, based out of Austin, Texas.

Share with us your career path and how did you become the CoE Leader?

Matthew: My career is a little unique, in that I've been with Applied for 23 years. Many folks may not be familiar with Applied Materials, but we're the world's #1 semiconductor and display equipment company. We are the leader in materials engineering solutions used to produce virtually every new chip and advanced display in the world. At Applied, I've had the opportunity to take on a number of different roles in multiple capacities between IT and Finance, with the majority of my career focused on business & digital transformation. In my current capacity, I lead our global financial data and dashboard governance, management reporting and analytics, and system administration.

In September 2022, our executive team approached me about taking on the Anaplan CoE Lead role. At that point, the organization had implemented three separate waves, with over five major use cases and another in the pipeline. The challenge at that time — like many other implementations of this size — was to transition from an implementation / hyper care phase to a "steady state."

I'll admit, at first the Anaplan CoE role was very intimidating and challenging. The deployment team had done a fantastic job of developing the initial Anaplan CoE structures and constructs, but further effort was required to implement an effective operating model with clear roles and responsibilities. The team faced an extensive backlog of enhancement requests, break-fixes, performance optimization issues, and an unhappy user base. Over the past nine months, we've invested the time and resources to improve the CoE and user experience and have made great strides. We successfully implemented a two-year roadmap, deployed a velocity calculator, reduced production tickets by nearly 60%, and are now delivering new enhancements on a scheduled basis. Even with all the successes, we still have a ways to go with our Anaplan journey. There are still a few key pain points impacting our users, unrealized uses cases and new modeling capabilities we need to deliver in order to achieve our goals. But I'm excited for the road ahead. The team has purpose, we're motivated, continuously learning and upskilling ourselves, and finding ways to push the envelope.

Do you need to be an Anaplan technical expert to be a CoE Leader?

Matthew: Does it help? Yes. Is it necessary? No. I believe being an effective leader requires us to develop and motivate our teams. It's more than just autonomy or empowerment, but finding ways to build them up. Upskill their skillsets so they can become masters in their domain. As a CoE leader, it's our responsibility to nurture the curious learning in our team. To keep them eager to adopt and learn new technologies, platforms, and methodologies. With upskilling the team comes purpose. Each of our team members must have purpose and understand how even the little things they are doing add up to significant improvements that are impactful to the business. I ask a lot of my team, challenge them constantly, but also have complete trust and faith in them.

As an Anaplan CoE Leader, you must be able to think outside the box. Anaplan provides you with a white canvas, the question is, how will you take the business requirements and turn that into a story? As a CoE Leader, it's up to you to help foster the storytelling. This requires a strong understanding of end-to-end process integration, business inputs/outputs, and the ability to take abstract requests from your business partners and visualize that into tangible outcomes. Having the technical experience and knowledge to help understand both the platform's potential and limitations is key to setting proper expectations and achieving long-term success.

Tell us about your PS engagement and how they helped you scale your CoE?

Matthew: Shortly after taking over the Anaplan CoE Lead role, our Solutions Integration lead had mostly rolled off and we had experienced some attrition within the group. We had reached out to Anaplan Professional Services to come in and assist with reviewing our models, work on maturing our CoE, and help implement best practices. They gave us the tools and building blocks to scale our CoE, while also improving our user experience. With the assistance of the Anaplan SIM, we developed a CoE resource velocity calculator which enabled us to calculate available hours to support enhancements vs. time needed to support sustaining activities. Working with a Master Anaplanner, we were able to upskill our internal team of architects through hands-on instruction, collaboration, knowledge sharing, and new solutions. Lastly, and most importantly, the PS team helped us leverage Anaplan's agile methodologies and model building best practices.

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

Matthew: A CoE is critical to the long-term success and sustainability of the platform. But that CoE must have a clear charter and operating model to be effective. Without that, the team can become easily lost, disgruntled, and focused on the wrong priorities. Once you have that in place, the CoE is really the catalyst to taking concept into reality. A strong CoE will have their finger on the pulse of the user experience, acting as the first point-of-contact and line-of-support for their user base. Our job in the CoE is to proactively identify and address the high-value problems of business partners. To do this, we must be able to understand all perspectives of the business processes from end-to-end — the data sources, structures, integration points and connectivity, inputs/outputs, and where to gain new insights to deliver to the Finance organization.

As a CoE Leader, how do you manage your talent mix? Do you hire externally or upskill talent from within the organization? What are the benefits of the approach you've taken?

Matthew: It's a healthy combination of both. First and foremost, I am a strong believer in building up talent from within the organization, through upskilling and hands-on development. Applied invests heavily in its employees. We have a long-tenured team (our department alone has nearly 300 years of total service across 18 employees), but all have a passion for continuous learning. It's about leveling up each individual to reach their fullest potential, encouraging the team to take on stretch objectives to promote growth, and to pursue next-level certifications (L3, SA, Master Anaplanner). With this much talent, system/process knowledge and tenure, it behooves us to take advantage of this internal talent pool. When presented with new use cases, the team knows exactly what is being asked, because they've lived it first-hand. They know who and what our stakeholders are expecting. Where it makes sense, we do leverage contracted resources to assist with day-to-day execution of administrative tasks, system preparation, and production monitoring as well as to augment the team with external expertise, such as Anaplan PS. These resources are not sourced to perform the work on our behalf, but to serve as advisory resources for our team to leverage and exchange ideas. We look to our PS resources to impart their knowledge and experience, and help us build up and develop our team even further.

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

Matthew: Break-fixes always take priority, first and foremost. Our support teams are the first line of defense when it comes to bugs and break-fixes. Depending on the severity and complexity, the more senior CoE team members may get pulled in to assist. The majority of our CE resources are focused on projects and new enhancements. Since the demand for new enhancements is increasing, the finance organization has implemented a Planning Council, which is made up of planning FP&A leaders from across the organization with the CoE Lead. The council is tasked with providing governance and prioritization of our planning processes and functionality. We review and prioritize requests for enhancements based on business impact, and ask the question, what high-value problem does the enhancement address? We assess if the enhancement is aligned with our goals and our new digital way of working. To determine priority, the benefits are weighed against the scope, level of effort, velocity or available capacity, impacted user base, and impact to the model performance and size.

A big thank you to Matthew, for sharing his story and expertise with us!

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.