Five things that make a great Anaplan consultant
Anaplan is growing rapidly with more and more customers choosing to adopt this market leading cloud-based planning solution. Despite having spent two decades implementing rival SAP’s EPM solutions, we are building Fidenda around Anaplan as we’re convinced this is the best planning platform on the market. The process of launching Fidenda has led to some interesting discussions around what we believe makes a great Anaplan consultant, what we can bring from our SAP heritage, and how we can build our company around that model. I believe there are five pillars.
Technical Anaplan Expertise
This is a given. Anaplan is functionally rich and intuitive to end users in equal measure and consultants must have a sound grasp of all areas of technical configuration. Focusing on the core planning modelling is not sufficient, and expertise around peripheral elements is essential to delivering sound, scalable Anaplan solutions:
Data Integration. One of the largest challenges facing EPM projects is how to extract and harmonise source data and import it into the EPM tool in a timely fashion. Consultants who simply expect their customer to provide a nicely formatted upload file are not delivering a great service. There are several technical approaches which enable data to be sourced directly from the system of record, and it’s important for consultants to be proficient in these. This will inevitably require straying beyond the technical boundaries of Anaplan and investigating the source technology.
Architecture. I’ve had the fortune to be asked to review many sub-optimal EPM solutions over the last twenty years and a large portion of those solutions have failed due to a poor design. No planning tool is immune to bad design and it’s imperative that Anaplan consultants fully understand the techniques used to ensure good performance, and manage model size and sparsity, whilst supporting functional requirements.
Ergonomic design. Business users expect the sort of user experience they have on their smart phones – aesthetically pleasing, intuitive and utilitarian applications that do what they need them to do. Consultants should not just be aware of design principles for dashboards and the array of data visualisations available in Anaplan, but should be able to advise on integration with other reporting tools, like Tableau.
Accounting and Process and Industry Experience
Anaplan deliver supporting technology for business processes, and it’s important for consultants to be able to bring process knowledge and best-practice to the project. We’ve moved on from a world where EPM was 90% finance-focused. In that world it was important for consultants to have deep knowledge of accounting principles and practice, especially for specialist topics like group accounting. This remains a core competency for all Anaplan consultants, but is no longer enough on its own.
EPM has progressed to a world of Connected Planning where the whole enterprise benefits from a data-driven approach to performance management. Now the EPM consultant must be conversant with other business processes in the operational side of the enterprise. It common now to see planning solutions for sales quotas, compensation and forecasts, for asset management and project delivery, for workforce planning. Industry specific solutions such as Trade Promotions Planning in CPG, or Merchandise Planning in Retail, are also now common. No one consultant can cover everything, but a great Anaplan consultant will have deep experience in a few and the thirst to become expert in others.
Wider Enterprise IT Experience
Applications developed on the Anaplan platform do not sit in a vacuum, and usually form part of a larger business process, sharing data with other enterprise solutions. No single consultant can be expert in all ERP solutions, but they should have good working technical and functional knowledge of at least one of the major ones, such as SAP ERP or Oracle Financials. This is important in order to be able to design a solution that integrates into the customer’s enterprise landscape, both technically and in terms of data and business process. As well as core ERP, consultants with experience of other enterprise systems such as HCM (e.g. SAP HCM, Workday), CRM (e.g. Salesforce, SAP Hybris) and Data Warehousing (e.g. SAP Business Warehouse) are able to cover wider sets of business processes.
As an example, if your customer wants to develop a Financial Planning, Consolidation and Management Reporting solution in Anaplan and they use SAP ERP, then the following skills will be needed to create a seamless and robust end to end solution: Anaplan, SAP General Ledger, SAP Controlling, SAP Business Warehouse and SAP’s ABAP programming language. If you can find those skills in one or two people on your team then your project will be all the more successful.
A background in or understanding of Anaplan’s competitor EPM solutions (e.g. SAP BPC, Cognos, Oracle Hyperion, Adaptive, Tagetik) is useful, especially if there is a need to migrate data from one of these legacy solutions.
A poor consultant will treat an Anaplan project as an IT project, expecting to be fed requirements that can simply be converted into a configured system. Customers are looking to be advised and led through the whole process. Anaplan Consultants should ask themselves:
Are you able to assess your customer’s current EPM processes, people and technology against leading practice, and build a business case to improve them?
Can you effectively plan and manage an Anaplan project, with the experience to avoid common challenges, or even turn around a project in distress?
Are you comfortable working with ambiguity, with the techniques to drive out the clarity needed to develop a working solution?
Do you liaise effectively with senior stakeholders, actively listening to them, communicating with them effectively, and building up trust?
Perhaps this last pillar underlines the others. You will not become a great Anaplan consultant if you don’t harbour a deep and geeky obsession with the whole area of EPM. It takes a lifetime’s commitment to continual learning to master all the things I have discussed here. It has to be your purpose.
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