How Anaplan makes dynamic strategic planning a reality

Founder and CTO Michael Gould outlines how Anaplan’s cloud-based platform pulls strategic planning out of spreadsheet hell.

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CIO.com: Michael, you had substantial venture investment in your company since the founding. How have you used that investment to advance Anaplan?

Gould: Two main areas. One is expanding globally in terms of our sales team. Even from an early stage we were a very global company. Our first sale was in the U.S. The second one was in Australia. The third one was in the U.S. again and we quickly started getting customers in Europe.

We have offices around the world, 15 countries, in the Far East, Russia and Europe as well as in the States. That partly reflects the fact that even though we’re a relatively early stage company, we’re dealing with primarily large global organizations and so require that local presence anyway. That’s one side. The other side is R&D.

We have a fairly complex platform. We’ve been working on it for 10 years, but there’s still a lot of development going on and we’re investing in building up the engineering team. We’re just about to open a new development center in London to bring in back-end Java developers working on our core engine there.

CIO.com: I want to ask you about the Anaplan App Hub and if you could explain a little bit more about what that is, what’s available on there and how you see it growing?

Gould: These are preconfigured applications. The platform is very open and is very flexible. In a sense, if you just start with the platform you’re starting with a blank sheet. What the App Hub is providing is previous applications and they range from fully fledged applications that you take from the App Hub and use as is with minimal configuration. For example, for consolidation you don’t want to be reinventing accounting rules and how those are implemented from scratch. You want to have those built for you. That would be one end of the scale.

At the other end of the scale, there are applications that are, if you like, examples or templates to get you started, to show you how to approach particular problems. A lot of our focus more recently has been on having partners bringing applications to the App Hub. More than half of the applications there are built by partners, some smaller boutique firms but also some of the big players -- Deloitte, PWC, Accenture and others bringing their applications to the App Hub. This is really a vehicle for them to bring their domain expertise into the platform that we provide.

As a company, we never expect to have deep understanding of all different nuances of financial planning applications or supply chain. Zero-based budgeting would be a great example. We have a number of the large consulting firms providing zero-based budgeting solutions and that’s not a skill set that we have in-house. A great example of that would be Kellogg’s, who worked with McKenzie implementing zero-based budgeting on App Hub.

CIO.com: Is that a mix of free and paid applications?

Gould: Yes. The Anaplan ones are included with the platform subscription. Essentially, any Anaplan provided application is available. The partners are free to charge for the app or just charge for the professional services that go with it.

CIO.com: Obviously, corporate strategic plans are about as important and critical data as companies have. Can you talk about the security aspects of the platform? Is security an obstacle to adoption of the platform?

Gould: It’s certainly a question that comes up a lot. We deal with, as you say, a lot of very sensitive information for very large companies. We obviously take it very, very seriously. It’s incredibly important that we’re secure. One of the things that we’re about to roll out is bring-your-own-key encryptions. This is essentially putting the management of the encryption keys in the hands of our customer security team and separating that from the running of our data centers. This is around how the data is encrypted at rest from its storage into the actual app server, where the data is being processed, right through to the point where it is in memory. Enabling that kind of technology is absolutely critical.

We deal with large banks doing HR planning. Morgan Stanley is one who has been using Anaplan for incentive compensation management, so highly sensitive information there. What we’re seeing is that it’s a very important topic. It isn’t a roadblock. We haven’t seen customers who walk away from it. When you get down to the reality of it, if you really look at what your risks are, they’re probably just as great in your own data center, possibly higher than in a cloud-based platform. For one thing, you’ve got a lot more people actually testing it. Pretty well all our large customers run their own penetration tests on our network prior to signing up with us and, obviously, an in-house data center doesn’t have that level of scrutiny.

You’ve also got some aspects of separation of duties, particularly with the BYOK encryption. The encryption keys will be managed by the customers’ security teams and separated from our own data center staff, who run the physical hardware so there’s some benefit there. It is clearly a very hot topic, but I think it’s one that is overall, even the biggest companies and most security conscious ones, are accepting and working with rather than pushing back against.

CIO.com: What’s the pricing model for the product?

Gould: We’re comparable with other SaaS vendors. It’s essentially a per-user pricing model. We’re probably at the high end compared with others in the space, but not dramatically above others.

CIO.com: Any sense of what that is to give people a better understanding?

Gould: I’m not sure if it’s okay. I’d rather not go into details with the pricing model if that’s okay with you.

CIO.com: What’s ahead for the coming year, what would you want people to know you’re working on or you expect to deliver in the coming year?

Gould: A big focus for us is on reporting and integration, really aiming at opening up the platform further for integration with third-party tools. We have a lot of customers who have reporting systems in place and want to use different visualizations and so we’re working with a number of partners, some of whom are customers. We’re doing a lot of work on predictive analytics as we touched on earlier, forecasting techniques, Monte Carlo simulation and continuing to invest in the core platform, the scalability, the performance, handling large models and getting faster response times.

CIO.com: What’s the one key thing you would want a CIO or another senior IT executive to understand about the company?

Gould: Anaplan is a platform that can run across multiple use cases across their business. So as a CIO, it’s a way of putting into the hands of the different functions within the business a tool that they can build their planning applications on and run them, still under control of IT.

Compared with a lot of what happens with spreadsheet-based systems or people with their own little databases on local servers in a very fragmented landscape, I think the one key thing that we offer is a platform that you can use to drive your decision making right across the business. And that’s great news for a CIO to have that potentially available to them.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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