by Byron Connolly

Cloud planning app rescues retailer from ‘Excel hell’

Oct 01, 2015
Cloud Computing

Prior to 2012, financial planning and budgeting specialists at national retail chain, Super Retail Group, were in what can only be described as ‘Excel hell’.

Budgeting and planning was taking weeks and even months for staff who were consolidating financials for three divisions – auto, leisure and sports – across 500 retail stores. These include brands such as Amart, Supercheap and Ray’s Outdoors.

“I went through a budget one year when we were using spreadsheets and I looked at the MD and CFO of the day and said, ‘I am not going to stay around if you don’t put in place some sort of technology to help us do budgeting and planning,” said Brett Gibson, financial planning at analysis manager at Super Retail Group.

Version control was a big issue and staff would need to wait for the latest spreadsheet update to be delivered. It could take up to a week to make sure spreadsheet data added up correctly, said Gibson.

This was made even more complicated by the fact that hundreds of people are involved in the budgeting and planning process for the retail group, which now has 600 stores and turns over in excess of $2 billion in annual sales.

“When all those people are moving spreadsheets around, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that you need planning application to do your budgeting more effectively,” Gibson said. “There’s no one way of doing [budgeting and planning] and we have three managing directors of the different business units who had different ways of doing it.”

Super Retail Group needed to introduce a far more structured and unified approach to budgeting and planning.

In late 2012, the retail group turned to the Anaplan planning application delivered under a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Gibson said the company had some initial issues with updates but bought into the concept of cloud and was prepared to take a ‘bit of pain’ before the application fully realised its potential.

The cloud solution was particularly appealing as it could be switched on very quickly at budget time by staff at stores dispersed across the country, he said.

“For instance, we have a sports division in Sydney and a Brisbane-based leisure and auto business so we were looking for something that can be deployed across these geographical locations and clearly a [SaaS system] provides that straight away,” Gibson said.

Initially, Super Retail Group deployed the app’s core financial consolidation function out to about 100 finance and cost centre management staff. Now, the app is used to complete sales and wage forecasting across 450 stores.

The retail group runs modules that have made it easier to consolidate sales and gross profits, store operating expenses, workforce planning, rent, and head count and salary changes for team members.

“The system has enabled us to be far more sophisticated in our business planning,” said Gibson. “I could argue another way and say that now we have so much detail, we don’t know what to do with it.”

In particular, the cloud app has provided a great deal of automation in the retail group’s logistics area, said Gibson.

“We used to plan our freight replenishment from the warehouse to the store at a very macro level,” he said. “We’d ask: How many units are we going to move? How many pallets does that represent and how many dollars per pallet?

“We now have the ability to look at these factors across all our individual stores and calculate how much stock they are going to get and what the delivery point is for each particular piece of stock. We can change each one of those parameters and the system will recalculate the change across the board very quickly.”

The cloud app can also be segregated, enabling logistics staff can see one part of the system and planning staff another.

“Because it’s an online system rather than a spreadsheet, you are actually able to say, ‘you are responsible for this section, and I am responsible for another section’, and everything is just calculated in real time,” Gibson said.

“The cloud service is well designed to allow for collaboration,” he said. “This is a big win for us because people say ‘I am going to make a change and you will see the consequences of that change in real time and we are going to be working off the same set of numbers at the same time,’” he said.

Better quality budget reviews

The SaaS application has also improved the quality of budget reviews across the organisation, Gibson said.

“When you start to see what the platform can do, which is more than just planning, you can actually improve business processes as a result,” he said. “We have improved the level of review and the data we are able to review.

Gibson said Super Retail Group was reviewing its budget for next financial year and had a number of roles within a cost centre area that the retailer was deciding whether or not to employ.

“We decided not to put these staff on and the change was made instantly in the workforce planning module we’ve built. Those roles were taken out and it instantly calculated the group result,” he said.

Data that will be used to complete the budget can be pulled out of the retail group’s core SAP system and loaded into the cloud app in a couple of days. This process previously took up to four weeks, Gibson said.

“Excel is a cell-based solution so you can’t just say ‘do a data dump, grab accounts and the month’s values and load it in a table’ – it doesn’t work,” he continued. “With the Anaplan platform, that works every time. It just helps with data integrity, data loads – and the effort to reset a framework is very easy.

“For instance, we work 52 weeks for four years and we do a 53rd week. Setting up a template for a 53rd week is a two-second job in Anaplan – in an Excel spreadsheet it’s a nightmare.”

Future expansion

The next step for Super Retail Group is to expand the solution across its supply chain business where there is a great deal of data being moved through its distribution centres, Gibson said. It may also use the system to complete capital expenditure management and human resources reporting in the future.

“The more we learn about the application, the more we see that it can be extended to allow for collaborative applications to be developed,” he said.

Gibson said the company expects to rollout more SaaS solutions in the future, mainly integration platforms across its core SAP, and Manhattan warehouse management system. The retail group was an early adopter of the PageUp SaaS-based staff recruitment solution, Gibson said.

Super Retail Group


SRG was looking to reduce the time and effort required to complete budgeting and planning across the retailer’s 600 stores


A cloud-based planning application provided by Anaplan has allowed the retailer to ensure data integrity and streamline workflow