supply chain

Anaplan: A Complete, Connected and Living Plan

A lot of planning can and should happen in any company. It all starts with a business plan, followed by financial planning, budgeting and workforce planning. Then you better have a sales plan, with territories, quotas and incentive compensation, which should tie in with a revenue plan. Of course this leads to demand planning and sales and operations planning. If you want to grow those sales, you better do some marketing and campaign planning. If you sell a consumer product, you might have a trade and promotion plan and you’ll definitely have to plan for inventory. Maybe you need to plan projects. And throughout, you need to watch your cash flow.

But how do you tie all these plans together? How do you stay vigilant, monitor performance and adjust the plan as you move forward? More often than not, you don’t. You rely heavily on spreadsheets and even if you have software tools to help you plan, each department works in its own silo, oftentimes using disparate solutions that essentially ignore each other. This can happen even when you buy these different solutions from a single vendor.

Anaplan has set out to solve this problem by creating an enterprise planning cloud designed to solve any planning challenge across all functions of your enterprise. Unlike most plans, developed at an aggregate summary level, Anaplan’s patented technology supports a level of granular detail that lets you connect all the dots naturally. And because visibility and transparency are built in, you can easily adjust the plan as you monitor performance. Instead of letting your plan lie dormant on the shelf, only to be dusted off periodically (if ever), it becomes a living plan.

The Anaplan Approach

Anaplan takes a platform approach to planning. At the core is its planning engine, built on 64-bit in-memory technology, which facilitates real-time modeling that can handle large volumes of data. As a result, planning can be done using very detailed data that might not be possible without in-memory computing power – think of forecasting for each customer down to the product level, rather than having to make a regional forecast in total or by product category. The planning engine uses Anaplan’s patented HyperblockTM calculation engine. It can perform modeling, including the ability to do simulations prior to making changes. But when changes are made, a full history is maintained.

While this planning engine is extremely powerful, it is useless without data and this data might come from any number of sources, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), human capital management (HCM), additional financial applications or any other source of structured data. Therefore data integration is an important piece of the Anaplan Planning Platform. Anaplan has prebuilt many common connectors, but also provides application programming interfaces (APIs) to facilitate building out more custom connectors quite easily.

While the planning engine sits on top of the data, the user interface sits on top of the planning engine. Here is where individual Anaplan customers develop the model map (typically by dragging and dropping elements) and tweak the settings. This is also where the reporting, the analytics and the actual planning gets set up. If you are savvy enough to use Excel, you are savvy enough to set up planning and analysis in Anaplan. In fact the user interface looks and feels a lot like Excel (by design). However, Excel has two dimensions whereas Anaplan let’s you look at your data in any and all of the ways that make sense to your business.

Planning and performance management are business exercises, but all too often it is the Information Technology (IT) department that is required to do the heavy lifting. Plans and actuals often reside in different systems and can only be compared once a data warehouse is built, populated and periodically refreshed. This type of scenario leads to a very common concern among business leaders: over-reliance on IT.

The 2015 Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Study asked leaders to check off all causes for concern over solutions used to actually run their businesses. Forty-one percent (41%) expressed concern over integrity of data, and an equal number (also 41%) were concerned over difficulty in reconciling different sub ledgers and different systems. This situation is only exacerbated during the planning and performance management process. The last thing you need is to make a plan based on faulty assumptions that come from bad data.

Relying too heavily on IT also means waiting for models to be built, and what happens when the model itself needs to change? Are you able to tweak it mid-cycle? Are you able to perform a “what if” analysis?

Over-reliance on IT also means the results aren’t available in real time and are only as good as the last request for analysis.

Not only does Anaplan provide real-time access to the real data (not one or more copies that must be periodically refreshed), but also it removes IT from the middle of the planning process, except of course in IT planning.

Additionally, you have applications built with the platform. Anaplan (and its partners) provide some pre-built apps, but these are all developed with the app designer, so they can easily be modified and managed. Or you can build your own using model templates, pre-built algorithms and business rules.

A Complete And Connected Plan

Planning means very different things to different leaders throughout your organization. If you are in Finance you think of budgeting, cost and profitability analysis and cash flows. But you also forecast revenue. You probably think first of applications for financial planning, budgeting and forecasting.

If you are in manufacturing operations you think of material requirements and manufacturing resource planning (MRP and RRP), long and short term capacity planning (CRP). You worry about the demand plan and how that impacts your supply chain. You try to optimize your inventory. You have a sales and operations plan (S&OP), which by necessity includes a workforce plan. You might try to accomplish all this in your ERP solution, perhaps extended with some specialty applications.

In Sales? You think of account segmentation and scoring, territory coverage and quota assignments, as well as incentive compensation planning. Your primary “go to” application might be sales force automation (SFA) and/or customer relationship management (CRM). But does it really support these planning functions or is all the information sitting in spreadsheets?

Meanwhile your human resources (HR) department is building out a workforce plan. Is that tied in with your sales plan and your manufacturing operations plan? If you start running significantly ahead of your sales plan, how does this potentially impact demand, inventory and other operational costs? What if you are falling short? Does that mean you start to cut jobs? What impact will this have on your ability to respond to a rebound in sales? Are you closing the door to recovery? How does all this impact margins, cash flow, debt, credit?

Anaplan makes these connections based on the different data elements that make up the plan. If inventory (at a warehouse, regional or corporate level) is part of the operational plan and also part of the sales plan, these plans are intrinsically and inherently tied together. Actual sales ties the sales forecast to the revenue plan to accounts receivable to cash flow and profitability goals.

The Right Level of Detail

The key to tying this all together is developing the plan at the right level of detail. If forced to plan at too high a level, you may not be able to connect the dots or even spot problems. You may appear to be right on track, hiding the fact that one region is totally over-performing while others are struggling. Will you have enough people and product in place to service that regional demand or will you be facing chronic shortages in that region while you sit on excess capacity elsewhere? Left unchecked, overall performance could take a nosedive. On the other hand, you may be falling short of your goals because of a serious failure limited to just one area. Over-reacting to an overall shortfall can result in blanket cost cutting measures that could make matters worse.

Anaplan lets you plan and manage performance at the lowest level of granularity required, pinpointing failure or success, and taking appropriate action. Anaplan has already built apps to use as a start (or end) point for functions within finance, sales, marketing, human resources, supply chain and operations. No need to start from scratch. Give yourself a jumpstart in launching what can and should be an iterative process, including the analysis of simulated results.

With the Convenience of the Cloud

And oh, by the way, Anaplan does all this in the cloud. According to Mint Jutras research, few companies today are looking to build out on-premise deployments. When it comes to applications, like ERP, that are used to run the business, companies are almost twice as likely to consider a Software as a Service (SaaS) deployment as a traditional on-premise implementation. We ask the question each year, “If you were to consider a solution today, which deployment options would you consider?” Participants are allowed to check any or all options (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Deployment Options that would be Considered Today

Anaplan fig 1Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies
* Option added in 2015
Note: The time span between the 2011 and 2013 studies was about 18 months as Mint Jutras shifted the timing of the study during the calendar year.

This does not mean SaaS will dominate overnight, simply because there are so many of these solution on premise today, and many are reluctant to simply rip them out and replace them. In fact, with the availability of complementary solutions such as Anaplan, companies have the option of leaving solutions in place while they extend functionality and venture into the cloud.

There are many different reasons for this preference for cloud, not the least of which are cost, ease of upgrade and support of increasingly distributed environments. But perhaps most important to the planning functions, the cloud facilitates collaboration. A plan that is made collaboratively is much more easily accepted and embraced. With fewer constituents fighting the plan and more working together, the higher the likelihood of achieving your goals.

Make it a Living Plan

All too often the planning process is time-consuming and painful. The sooner it’s done, the sooner you can get back to your business. But if that’s the way you feel – and react – you aren’t getting the most value out of the process or the plan. And yet most enterprises today separate the processes of planning and performance management. They quickly lose whatever confidence (if any) they had in that plan.

And then of course, there’s change. Business conditions change. The economy changes. Competition changes. New products and new business models enter the market. On the one hand, you need to keep a snapshot of your original plan (and Anaplan does that). After all, you need to see how close you came to predicting outcomes, in order to continue to get better at it. But continuing to operate against a plan that you know is not achievable is like continuing to behave the same way while expecting different results. That is the very definition of insanity. Or, on a more positive note, continuing to blow out sales quotas with the same inventory plan is a sure way to put the brakes on exceeding quotas.

Anaplan takes a different approach. It fuses the two processes together. You essentially manage performance from the plan. All the reporting and analysis ties back to the plan, which remains front and center of reporting and analysis. You don’t put the plan on the shelf and forget about it until you remember your bonus might be affected or the board of directors starts asking the tough questions. You want to make it a living, breathing plan. That’s the Anaplan approach.

Summary

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s good to have a plan. But it’s not enough just to have a strategic business plan. Finance, Sales, Marketing, HR and Operations can no longer afford to work in their own silos of data, applications and reporting. They all need plans that pull together in order to achieve the overall company goals. The plan needs to be developed collaboratively; it needs to be complete and connected. But in order to take full advantage of opportunity today, it needs to be a living plan. As many of us are closing the year and looking forward to growth in the coming calendar year, now is the perfect time to scrutinize your plan… and perhaps scrutinize the tools used to develop it, manage it … and get ready to exceed your goals for 2016.

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Think The Plex Manufacturing Cloud is Just for Small Companies? Think Again

Plex Enterprise Edition Makes its Debut at PowerPlex 2014

Recently at its annual PowerPlex conference, Plex Systems announced Plex Enterprise Edition, a suite of applications built to support complex, global, multiplant manufacturing organizations with multi-entity financial and supply chain management requirements. As always, Plex worked closely with its customers to define those requirements and has the first component of Plex Enterprise Edition — Financials — for centralized accounting and cash management ready to deliver the end of this month. Many of its competitors (and even some industry analysts) write Plex off as a non-threat except perhaps in small companies. Big mistake! Even without the multi-entity capabilities announced this week, Plex has been providing continuous innovation and steadily expanding the range in size of companies that are attracted to its Plex Manufacturing Cloud solution.

Clearing Up Some Misperceptions

Why do competitors assume Plex is just for small companies? One reason is the fact that Plex has exclusively offered its solution as Software as a Service (SaaS) since 2001, long before the cloud became popular. And many also wrongly assume SaaS ERP is only for small companies. Yet the Mint Jutras ERP Solution Study found the willingness to consider SaaS as a deployment option for ERP only grows with company size (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Willingness to Consider SaaS Grows with Company Size

Plex Fig 1Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

NOTE: Mint Jutras believes these percentages may be understated. We ask participants to select all deployment options they would consider if they were to purchase a solution today. “Hosted by your ERP vendor” is often confused with SaaS. Percentages of participants considering that option were similar to those shown in Figure 1 above.

Why Might That Be?

As companies grow, they become more distributed. Most companies, both large and small trade internationally and our ERP Study found 66% of manufacturers operate across multiple locations and the number of sites grows along with annual revenues (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Distributed Environments

Plex Fig 2Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Defining Corporate Standards

In the past it was very likely that these different operating locations would have been left on their own to find and select a solution to meet their local needs for manufacturing. However, more and more companies are defining standards for enterprise applications. Companies have been talking about this kind of consolidation of solutions for years, but now it is really happening and World Class ERP implementations are most likely to have defined and executed a strategy that includes a standard ERP solution (Figure 3). What better way to control and enforce these standards than implementing a SaaS-based solution throughout the enterprise?

Figure 3: Have you defined corporate standards?

Plex Fig 3Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Of course not all standards involve just a single ERP. In some cases we see two (or more) tier standards where one ERP solution is implemented at corporate headquarters and a different standard (or standards) is defined for the operating locations. This is most evident in manufacturing companies where the corporate solution is strong in financials, consolidation and reporting, but perhaps lacks the features and functions required to manage manufacturing processes. The operating locations require these manufacturing functions and also balk at the complexity often imposed by these corporate financials.

With a two-tier approach, a single ERP is also selected for the manufacturing facilities, in addition to an ERP for consolidated financials at corporate headquarters. In a multi-tier environment, often we see different types of operating locations (for example, distribution versus manufacturing, or significantly different styles and methods of manufacturing) requiring multiple standards (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Single, Two or Multi-tier Standard?

Plex Fig 4Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

While almost half of others with multiple operating locations choose this multi-tier approach, not so with Plex customers. A full 93% have decided on Plex and expect the solution to be their only solution. So it is not surprising that customers have collaborated with Plex to fulfill this need.

Of course, if a company has grown through acquisition, or the enterprise is extremely diversified or simply a holding company, there is an increased likelihood of multiple ERP solutions. But many view a single standard almost as a no-brainer when it comes to expansion in pursuit of green field opportunities. Many Plex customers have grown like this, leading Plex into parts of the world where it might not have previously ventured.

Case in Point: Shape Corporation

One such Plex customer is Shape Corporation, North America’s top manufacturer of automotive bumpers. Shape also manufactures impact energy management systems and performs advanced custom roll-forming for furniture, agricultural, recreation and health care industries.

While based in Michigan, Shape also has locations around the world, including China, Japan, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Germany, Korea and other locations within the United States. “All are running the same Plex system. Our users in China run on the same system as our users in Mexico, our subcontractors in Alabama, and everyone on the shop floor in our Michigan facilities. All our expansion is into new green field territory. We can have the Plex system up and running in a new location in a matter of weeks,” said Molly Hunting, Director of Information Technology

As Shape grew back in the 1980s and 1990s, it had acquired and implemented separate stand-alone systems, upgrading and linking them as needed. Maintenance became cumbersome and resource-intensive, inspiring the company to seek a single solution: the Plex Manufacturing Cloud.

The Plex solution replaced several separate systems for preventive maintenance, production, gages, problem controls, reporting, and more. While the solutions it replaced were not able to communicate with each other, all Plex functions are completely integrated.

The Plex Manufacturing Cloud now manages all core shop-floor functions for Shape, including bills of material, purchasing, receiving, inventory, manufacturing, basic quality, planning and scheduling, shipping, key measures, EDI, engineering change tracking, subcontracting, financials, and document control. Shape also implemented Plex’s advanced human resources, quoting, maintenance, advanced quality, and program management functions. “We probably use as much, if not more of the Plex solution than any other customer today,” according to Ms. Hunting.

The Desire for a Complete and Comprehensive Solution

This also is indicative of another consistency across the Plex customer base: the preference for and the implementation of a broad and comprehensive solution. While the majority of all manufacturers surveyed (92%) prefer an end-to-end integrated solution, the larger portion of that majority is cautious about sacrificing functional requirements for ease of integration or the luxury of dealing with a single vendor (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Preferences for a Suite?

Plex Fig 5Source: Mint Jutras 2014 ERP Solution Study

Only 26% have an overriding preference for a complete, fully integrated end-to-end solution supported by a single vendor. But that percentage more than doubles (to 53%) across the Plex customers we surveyed. Clearly these customers are drawn to the Plex Manufacturing Cloud, at least in part, by the breadth of the solution, shattering another misperception that customers only run shop floor-centric processes or an otherwise incomplete solution from Plex Systems.

Ms. Hunting acknowledged only one weakness in the past: support for multi-entity finance and supply chain operations. Tax and regulatory compliance requirements force companies like Shape into a multi-entity environment as soon as they set up shop in a foreign land. So while Shape’s preference is to have a single solution and solution provider, for now, it is using a solution from an independent software provider to manage the consolidation and financial reporting requirements.

But this type of solution has its drawbacks when it comes to managing the supply chain issues. Any movement of goods between multiple entities and any joint sales opportunities between these locations create not only financial requirements, but also supply chain issues. While operationally movement of inventory is a simple transfer, in fact behind the scenes it must be treated as a purchase of one entity and a sale to another. And that’s the easy part. What happens when multiple operating locations sell to a common customer, who of course, wants to take advantage of corporate discounts based on total volume? And what about your own purchasing? Do you have master purchase agreements that need to be managed across sites and across legal entities?

And all the while each of these separate legal entities needs to be managed as its own business, probably with its own language, localizations, tax and regulatory reporting, global labeling and printing. It doesn’t take long before you realize just how complicated your business has become. The typical Plex customer does not want to add to the burden of that complexity by adding new “add-on” software products or, even worse, different ERP solutions.

This is exactly why Plex worked closely with several of its customers that are large manufacturing organizations, to design and develop applications to support the complexities of multisite, global manufacturing operations. Inteva Products was one of these customers actively engaged in the design and development of the new Enterprise Edition.

Customers Help Define the Problem: Inteva Products

Inteva is a global tier-one automotive supplier with 14 manufacturing locations and two joint ventures covering three continents, six countries and four U.S. states. While many of Plex’s customers grew into larger multisite manufacturing organizations over time, as a former division of Delphi Corp., Inteva was an instant multisite, global enterprise with multiple entities and all the associated challenges. Needing to get off its former parent’s systems within 12 months and being tasked to reduce IT costs from 2% of revenue to less than 1%, Inteva chose the Plex Manufacturing Cloud and never looked back.

Plex met Inteva’s tight time frame for implementation and migrated all sites from Delphi’s systems to Plex in less than 12 months. Germany was first, followed by one in Mexico, then two manufacturing facilities in Alabama three months later. The remaining launches were completed three months afterwards at all of Inteva’s remaining locations in Mexico, Europe, and the United States. As a result, it certainly had the experience to bring to the design table to help Plex.

“Plex enables us to run more than 30 manufacturing facilities around the world, all on a single cloud platform,” said Dennis Hodges, chief information officer of Inteva. “Just as important, the Plex Manufacturing Cloud gives Inteva access to continuous innovation, so my team can take advantage of new opportunities to drive our business forward, whether that means deploying Plex in a new facility or enabling new functionality. Plex makes enterprise software a business decision rather than an IT decision, and that’s transformed how we run our operation.”

Sharp Corporation will be looking more closely at the phased delivery of Plex Enterprise Edition, but will continue to operate with its third party solution until more of the required pieces are in place.

 A Phased Delivery Planned

The first phase of delivery is Plex Enterprise Financials, available now. It includes centralized accounting and corporate cash management.

Centralized accounting includes

  • Entity relationship management, which may be hierarchical across a group and may include due to and due from accounts
  • General ledger chart of account management, with full chart segment replication
  • General ledger journals with inter-entity journal accounting
  • Transaction level drill down from consolidated financial statements

Corporate cash management delivers:

  • Consolidated cash disbursements, including accounts payable invoices for multiple entities
  • Consolidated cash collections, including invoices for multiple entities
  • Consolidated bank reconciliation with the option of a single bank account representing multiple entities

Plex Enterprise Supply Chain, scheduled for the second half of 2014, includes:

  • Sales Order Management, which enables central administration of customer sales orders and billing, allowing any facility in the organization to fulfill orders
  • Purchasing, which similarly provides for a single, central operating unit to order goods and services on behalf of any business entity and manage purchase orders executed by any unit across the group.

Both centralized sales order management and purchasing also support automated inter-entity billing as part of the distributed order fulfillment process.

Plex Enterprise Edition also enable provides consolidated visibility and insight across the entire business, as well as deep-dive analysis of specific plants and products — all through Plex’s embedded business intelligence.

Summary and Key Takeaways

This is a massive undertaking by Plex. It is not short-circuiting the process or shrinking from the complexities of this global world by any means. It “gets’ multi-entity financial and supply chain issues. It is working directly with customers to define real needs for real manufacturers. Those needs are complex, and impact multiple facets of a manufacturer’s business.

Those unfamiliar with Plex’s rapid application development capabilities might think the company is getting out of the gate too late to make a big impact in the world of complex, global, multi-plant manufacturing organizations with multi-entity financial and supply chain management requirements. But Plex has already carried many of its customers through growth phases. Its engaged customers and its aspirations to play on a bigger stage will help them continue that momentum.

In addition, Plex Systems is not your average software developer. It has mastered the art and science of delivering continuous innovation. Not only does it “do” rapid application development, and do it well, but also Plex has a distinct advantage over those that do not deliver a multi-tenant solution deployed exclusively as SaaS. Plex only needs to maintain one single set of code. It is not juggling multiple versions, running on different operating systems, different platforms, or even different databases. So it only has to develop innovations once and it is done. This too is a huge advantage.

Plex Systems also knows how to make money in a SaaS-based business. This is important for customers and prospects alike. Nobody wants to do business with a company that is living hand to mouth, nor does talent want to work there. Plex has been one of only a few SaaS-only companies that can claim this. While it has been self-funded in the past, investment firms Francisco Partners and Accel Partners have infused it with new capital and it has made more progress. Now more recently T. Rowe Price and another round from Accel Partners has resulted in a new infusion of $50 million.

Competitors say they don’t see Plex in deals. Look for this new round of funding to allow them to put far more feet on the street, both direct sales as well as channels. When that happens, look out! When they get invited to the party, they are typically a big hit. Look for that to happen more and more. Competitors that might be tempted to write them off: Be warned. Do so at your own risk.

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