I’ve been involved in business planning, forecasting and analysis for a couple of decades now, and during this time have seen a lot of evolution, and a couple of revolutions.
The first revolution came 20+ years ago when dedicated planning tools started coming to market. No longer did business planning have to reside in a spreadsheet or get squeezed into an accounting tool. This was the point at which planning got its own toys.
The second revolution was 10 years ago when planning started to move to the cloud. The removal of reliance on IT infrastructure wasn’t just a technical advance but also delivered business benefit. Planning tool implementations became easier, more successful, and able to reach a wider audience.
Now I believe we are embarking on a third revolution as we start to see the opportunity to exploit Artificial Intelligence (AI) as part of the planning process. I’m delighted that with the introduction of PlanIQ, Anaplan is at the forefront of this revolution.
PlanIQ allows Anaplan customers to take advantage of the power of Amazon Forecast (the same tech as used by Amazon itself). Anaplan remains at the heart of their planning world, but within that, Amazon Forecast can be deployed for areas of the forecast where there are multiple variables, complex interrelationships and large data sets.
It’s all about time series forecasting, which just comes down to looking at a historic data series and using that to produce a forecast. Statistical Forecasting techniques have long been at the fingertips of the planner for this requirement, but they tend to just focus on the past and future trend of whatever the objective is, such as sales. PlanIQ recognizes that there are layers of complex dynamics which sit behind a single series such as sales.
At Vuealta, we are really excited by the opportunity our customers now have with the release of PlanIQ. And that excitement is shared by our customers themselves. Many of our customer conversations are focussing on how far they can go, and through what approach, and most share the view that this is a step-change in business planning.
Here’s a couple of reasons why I think AI will be the driving force behind planning, and why I think PlanIQ gets it right.
Complexity is reality
Keeping with a sales use case, it’s interesting to think about what drives a company’s performance. If you want to plan sales then you need to think about the influence of your pricing, and indeed your competitor’s pricing. Then there’s other drivers which the company can control such as advertising and promotion spend. Macro-economic external factors such as the strength of the economy can provide a useful time series. The range of drivers can be overwhelming; weather, social media sentiment, web traffic, physical footfall and so on. This complexity needs AI and PlanIQ recognises that.
If we are going to truly make use of AI within a planning process, then it needs to be in the hands of the same business user who would build and own the wider planning model. Otherwise, it will not be embraced into the heart of that process. Requiring specialist data scientists for relatively standard AI doesn’t make sense. I’m not necessarily suggesting that everyone needs to become an expert with an understanding of when to use a neural network vs additive regression, or how exactly to interpret a Root Mean Square Error, but I do think that the types of use cases which PlanIQ can target do allow some element of self-service for a generalist model builder.
AI isn’t going to be the answer for every part of a planning process, but instead is an important piece of the jigsaw. It will be focussed on those use cases which demand the technique, with other elements being delivered by Anaplan’s long proven capabilities for bring people, data, and calculation rules together. The result will be the best of both worlds. Through PlanIQ, Anaplan have found the way of seamlessly incorporating AI into a wider planning process.
In summary, Anaplan has been a leader in the planning space for 10+ years, and in my mind has delivered on two key mission statements. Firstly, it has put the creation and maintenance of planning models into the hands of the business user, without the need for technical skills. Secondly, it has taken planning out of business silos and allowed commercial, supply chain, finance and workforce planning to be connected. PlanIQ brings AI into the process whilst staying true to those two themes.
Look out for more blogs from me, as I set out too explore some of the use cases and tips and tricks for implementing PlanIQ.
Adam Bimson is Chief Customer Officer & Co-Founder at Vuealta. With more than 15 years commercial experience Adam is a recognized evangelist and leader in performance management and business intelligence, across multiple industries.