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Agility and control key for CFOs at Anaplan’s Hub16 event

Ian Stone, AnaplanTHRUMMING with activity and excitement – which may seem incongruous for what is essentially an enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform conference – technology unicorn Anaplan held its UK event Hub16 earlier this month.

Finance chiefs from large and small UK-based companies related their stories of digital transformation, driven by Anaplan’s technology, at The Brewery in London’s trendy East End.

Customers flocked to the event, whose main Hub event takes place in San Francisco where the company is headquartered, to present and share their stories.

Despite ‘loving to hate’ spreadsheets, a surprising number of finance directors continue to base their entire finance function on them. But if Anaplan’s continued growth trajectory is anything to go by, the technology – created by Anaplan founder and company demi-god Michael Gould – may well be the death of the spreadsheet for finance teams.

FDs’ biggest challenges

As Ian Stone, Anaplan managing director, UK & Ireland (pictured) tells Financial Director that the biggest challenges for FDs looking to transform their finance functions are scale, cost and pace of change in the business.

And the reason Anaplan is growing so fast, hoovering up customers from larger rivals like IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft, is because Anaplan’s technology not only solves all of these issues but because Stone believes “the platform we have can join disparate divisions within an organisation”.

Anaplan can take just days to set up, what with it being cloud-based, unlike other legacy systems in which it would take months to plan and design and then even longer to install. “The intellectual property and trademark that Michael built has put us years ahead. We have first-mover advantage,” Stone says.

Brexit has not dampened interest either, in fact on the contrary. The volatility resulting from the referendum decision, FDs are keener than ever to obtain a solution that provides them with a clear overview of the business, and allows them to run multiple scenarios in different configurations.  This is just one of the reasons why Cote Restaurants’ new CFO Strahan Wilson chose Anaplan to transform the restaurant chain’s finance function.

Restaurants = data silos

Cote’s finances are run off 82 spreadsheets – one for each restaurant – resulting in data silos within the business and meaning that the data cannot be extracted efficiently. The French-inspired restaurant also imports many of its products from the country, and with the pound falling and the UK exit from the EU – costs are expected to rise. The ability to run different scenarios by inputting different sets of data into the new system will be a huge advantage to Wilson in his planning and analysis of the business in the months ahead.

“FX is changing rapidly. It’s enormously challenging since Brexit. Our supply chain is heavily Euro denominated. We are protected at the moment but we will see some significant price increases,” he says.

Volatility is also a significant issue for Matthew Jones, regional CFO of AXA Art – which provides art insurance for high net-worth individuals.

“The volatility of FX at the moment is a huge challenge. The ability to refresh and do new plans and flow that through all of the models that are built is the capability we strive towards,” Jones says.

Beyond finance; to HR and marketing

Jones was familiar with Anaplan in his previous role at RSA so when he joined AXA he was pleased to find out its head office in Paris has a centre of excellence dedicated to Anaplan’s platform. He is implementing the platform in his EMEA region, and his users are not just finance teams either. They are marketing heads and HR, too. Ultimately he wants the underwriters to be using the platform so that everyone can work with “a single version of the truth”.

“With Anaplan I’m building models myself so you can sit with an end user and you can deal with issues in real time. It’s agile so you can achieve goals really quickly but also change direction while you are building models,” says Jones.

Strahan Wilson is aiming for more rigorous processes and greater control, which in turn frees up his finance team to spend more time on analysis.

“My view of planning is that it shouldn’t be this annual back-breaking event where nothing else gets done because you’re all too busy. It’s soul-destroying,” says Wilson, the former CFO of EAT – whose finance function also runs on Anaplan platform.

Control and regulation are core benefits to FDs too. “The CFO is faced with regulatory pressures. You saw what happened with the Tesco executives. FDs need control and no surprises. The great thing about our technology is that you don’t have to do anything big. You can take something small and add it on,” Stone says.

Anaplan’s customer success stories are borne out in not just their fast-growing customer base – recent big name new customers include Del Monte, Gatwick Airport, Louis Vuitton and La Moda – but also in their results too.

Revenue grew more than 80% year-on-year to around $125m (£m) this year, driven by new customer wins across more than 20 countries, which increased Anaplan’s global user base to 100,000.

The company also reported its cash flow break-even for the first time since the company launched in 2012, and a year ahead of schedule. Its global workforce has also ballooned by more than 35% year-on-year to 600+ employees. And it has a 95% customer retention rate.

Handing the keys over to investors

Anaplan group CFO James Budge is so confident about the company’s finances and technology platform that during the last round of funding he gave investors a password to the company’s dashboard, so they could also dig deeper behind the data – beyond the usual KPIs.

Budge tells Financial Director that the company’s two biggest challenges currently are finding the right CEO – the former boss stepped down earlier this year – and the staff “empowerment structure”, because they have grown so fast and hired so many people so quickly. But he says that both of those issues are being dealt with and will be resolved by the New Year.

Once a new boss is in place he says he’s focused on readying the business to go public, which he estimates will happen late next year.

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