Anaplan was not even a blip on technology’s radar when I started college, and I never could have predicted the seriousness of my ultimate relationship with the company and platform.
I started out as a nerdy auditor at one of the top accounting firms in the country. While I hate to admit my age, this was a time when a MAC Plus was considered “portable” and yellow ledger paper flourished. We dug through our client’s paper file cabinets looking for clues to help us uncover potential weaknesses in their accounting processes. A simple spreadsheet would have felt like a blessing of organized information. General Ledger systems were elementary at best and certainly did not provide any insight as to the origins of the transactions and how amounts were calculated. All information was stored in the brains of clients who squirmed at the idea of having to sit through an interview with an audit rookie.
From audit, I moved over to consulting. Two stints at “Big Six” firms (again, showing my age), and later to Akili (a.k.a. #bestplacetowork), where I joined the process-engineering revolution. My role was to help companies (typically finance and accounting departments) revolutionize their processes. General Ledger systems were starting to improve but required processes to fit around the system. These systems required a significant capital outlay from my clients, but they definitely helped them inch up the efficiency scale. Then came Online Analytical Processing (OLAP). Now, this was true magic. Companies finally had the ability to do something useful with their numbers. They could slice and dice their hearts out looking at information in multidimensional ways, and the environment was secure and auditable. The trouble was that even though these OLAP models were built with the best processes and intentions in mind, the businesses changed. My best-intentioned clients did not have the skills to update their expensive OLAP applications, and the companies had little appetite to spend more money on IT professionals and consultants to reconfigure. So, as many resourceful people will do, my clients moved to Microsoft Excel to work around their system constraints. After all, Excel is powerful, flexible, and very convenient.
Fast forward a few years and a few large companies later (now the early 2000s) my personal life and career desires landed me a job as a finance director at a large advertising firm in San Francisco. I led a team of brilliant, diverse, hard-working spreadsheet jockeys. I did my best to help them grow their skills and careers by moving away from the jockeying into the realm of analytical thinking and management. They were very capable and excited, but no matter how hard we tried, we could never fully escape the inevitable 12-hour days at the beginning of each month, trying to gain the confidence that the numbers we were sending off to the SEC were “accurate to the best of our knowledge”. That life finally killed my spirit (not to mention my marriage). I quit my job, traveled the world, volunteered, and generally enjoyed everything life had to offer outside of corporate America. I loved every minute of it — until I got bored.
Enter Akili (round 2). As I alluded to earlier, up until this time, Akili had been my absolute favorite job, and I was truly excited when they tracked me down and hired me back. Akili is a boutique consulting firm based in Dallas, Texas. Their core purpose is to improve the business performance of their clients through the application of people, process, and technology. They deliver the best combination of technology and consulting to ensure that their clients’ business objectives are met. Having been at several big consulting firms, as well as some top-notch corporations, I can honestly say that Akili is a true gem. It’s a culture that promotes excellence in delivery while having fun doing it—with outstanding, smart, and fun people. I have never felt more at home and happy with a team.
A few years after my return to Akili, we became partners with Anaplan. For those unfamiliar with Anaplan, it is essentially the solution to all of the limitations of my previous career experience. Anaplan is a cloud-based SaaS planning platform that is business-owned, flexible, and available like a spreadsheet environment, combined with the security, scalability, and auditability of a point solution. It was an instant attraction between us.
For the past five years, I have been working with clients to solve their business problems and improve the efficiency of their processes using Anaplan. One of my favorite projects was helping the FP&A team of a large media company move from herding and consolidating more than 40 multi-tabbed spreadsheets (sent by their TV stations across the country via email and all in different formats) into a consolidated P&L forecast on a monthly basis, to a standardized upload of data directly from the stations into Anaplan. As soon as the stations clicked the button to upload their data, the forecast was consolidated and ready for the corporate FP&A team to review. The process went from several weeks a month, with error-riddled data and a lot of iterations, to an almost-instantaneous result with much more accurate data. We later moved on to building models for their capital expenditure and workforce planning that fed even more accurate information directly into the FP&A P&L forecast. It was very satisfying to see such a huge reduction in time, errors, money, and frustration.
I have no technical programming training, but I have latched on to Anaplan model building, and now I can’t imagine my life (especially my client’s life) without it. It truly is the best of all worlds:
Cloud based SaaS—My clients do not have to invest in on-site software, data storage, and IT staff. They effectively “lease” space and a robust planning application for what they need. No long-term commitment, and limited risk.
Business-owned—If a nerdy accountant like myself can figure out how to build it, so can just about any spreadsheet-savvy millennial and beyond.
Flexible—A typical initial implementation is 8-12 weeks, and simple formula changes can be made almost instantaneously to adapt to business needs. Formulas are simple, if not more so, than Excel.
Secure and auditable—Only business owner administrators can change formulas and structures, and there is an audit trail of changes made. Users log in using single-sign-on from anywhere in the world, enter their information, and get their reports instantaneously. Heaven to my auditor mind.
It may sound odd, but I have passed up several opportunities for higher-level positions over the years because I just don’t want to break-up with Anaplan model building. Perhaps I need rehab.
Are you an Anaplan addict? Tell us why in the comments below.
Julie Ziemer, CPA & Sr. Business Planning Consultant at Akili Inc., is a Certified Master Anaplanner and Solution Architect. Julie has been working with Finance and Accounting processes and systems and management for over 20 years. Since joining Akili, Julie has worked with the Anaplan platform on a variety of engagements ranging from streamlining Financial Planning processes, Workforce Planning, Capital Expenditures, and Oil & Gas Volume planning.