Anaplan vs. Excel: Why Connected Planning Outshines Spreadsheets 

Anaplan vs. Excel: Why Connected Planning Outshines Spreadsheets 

By Marta Teneva

Anaplan vs. Excel: Why Connected Planning Outshines Spreadsheets 

By Kristina Zhelyazkova

January 24, 2024

In a world where Excel has largely dominated financial modeling and business forecasting tools for over three decades, a new contender, Anaplan, is staking its claim. With its breakthroughs in cloud-based solutions, it’s providing scalability and real-time connectivity that challenges Excel’s longstanding reign.   

But the question remains: can Anaplan truly alleviate the spreadsheet chaos familiar to many financial analysts and corporations?   

As we venture into this comprehensive analysis of Anaplan connected planning versus Excel’s widespread adoption and capabilities, we’ll uncover both tools’ strengths, limitations, and potential future in the ever-evolving corporate landscape. 

Explore Our Anaplan Connected Planning Services 

Table of Contents

What Is Anaplan?

What Is an Anaplan Model? 

How Does Anaplan Connected Planning Work? 

Anaplan Software Applications 

Anaplan vs. Excel: Core Differences between Anaplan and Excel 

Anaplan Connected Planning Pros & Cons 

Excel Pros & Cons 

Anaplan vs. Excel: A Comparison Table 

Anaplan Connected Planning FAQs 

From Spreadsheets to Anaplan Connected Planning with B EYE 

What Is Anaplan? 

At its core, Anaplan’s Connected Planning platform is a robust, cloud-based environment designed for agility and security. It elevates planning and sharpens decision-making across every business activity, spanning from strategic to operational levels. With Anaplan, organizations can seamlessly connect with data sources from their existing enterprise platforms. This interconnectedness offers executives a comprehensive, real-time view of data across various business units, fostering quicker and more precise decision-making.  

This synergy of software platforms, enhanced further by Anaplan, forms the essence of the “Anaplan+ ecosystem.” Through this ecosystem, Anaplan complements and amplifies enterprise platforms, streamlining both back-office and front-office operations.  

The result? A cohesive Anaplan connected planning landscape, primed to extract maximum value from business transformations.  

It’s no surprise that Anaplan’s excellence has earned recognition in numerous Gartner Magic Quadrant categories year after year.  

Anaplan caters to a broad spectrum of Global 2000 (G2K) clients, with esteemed names like Coca-Cola and ServiceNow among its user base. The company, which was founded in 2006 and commercially launched in 2010, has a portfolio of over 2,000 satisfied businesses.  

Anaplan’s edge lies in addressing the needs of large global entities hungry for Connected Planning solutions. Such solutions remain elusive for legacy incumbents transitioning from on-premise to cloud and offer limited financial planning capabilities. Cloud-based solutions might replicate individual modules of the Anaplan suite but often falter when scaling complexities arise. And, of course, manual processes, like those dependent on Microsoft Excel, fall short in comparison. 

Discover More: Anaplan — The New Era of Connected Planning 

What Is an Anaplan Model? 

At its core, an Anaplan model provides a detailed view of various areas of your business, setting the stage for effective connected planning. Before setting up a model, you must clarify the business needs you want to address: budgeting, sales projections, or general planning. With these goals in mind, you can incorporate critical business variables, such as your company locations, product assortments, and workforce. 

Modules 

Modules act as the main building blocks within an Anaplan model. They cater to specific tasks, ranging from analyzing margins to planning employee expenses or delving into profit-loss statements. These modules allow data input and computations and can be neatly organized into distinct functional areas, making them easily accessible in the Table of Contents. To enhance user engagement and comprehension, you can display module data on dashboards and save various data viewpoints for a richer analysis experience. 

Line Items 

Consider line items as the metrics or indicators in Anaplan. For instance, within a Profit and Loss module, line items could capture vital data points like revenue, cost of sales, and overall profit. Each business segment gets its unique set of line items, adjusted and configured in a module’s Blueprint. 

Dimensions  

Dimensions give structure and order to a module. They play a crucial role in organizing data, whether displayed in rows, columns, or individual pages. Every model in Anaplan comes with built-in dimensions such as Time and Versions, accompanied by lists like Organization and Users. Additional dimensions, which may include specific lists, help group related items in a model, from different employee roles to distinct geographic sectors. The Time dimension offers flexibility in determining whether planning revolves around months, quarters, or years. With Versions, you can juxtapose real-time data with projections using the default Actual and Forecast settings. 

Different Anaplan model components presented on a NUX Page (Frontend):

1 & 2 – modules
3, 4 & 5 – Time dimension
6, 7, 8 & 9 – Lists (dimensions)
10 – Line items (metrics)
11 – KPI

Additional Model Features 

Besides the primary components, Anaplan models are equipped with:  

  • Customizable user access and designated roles.  
  • Actions and processes automation to streamline routine tasks.  
  • Options for importing and exporting data.  
  • Data tags for more organized and categorized information.  

Whether you’re manually entering data, pulling it from an external source, or relying on in-built formulas, Anaplan models ensure that information remains synchronized. Updating any portion of your model instantly recalculates related data, maintaining coherence and accuracy. 

How Does Anaplan Connected Planning Work? 

Every large enterprise relies heavily on multifaceted applications governing various business aspects—from ERP, HR, and sales planning to real-time data updates from point-of-sale devices. On top of these applications, a separate layer of business intelligence (BI) or analytics tools is commonly added. This layer aims to consolidate the copious data, transforming it into insightful dashboards and reports that guide strategic endeavors.  

Yet, a challenge persists. The data derived from these multifarious enterprise applications might be inconsistent—in pace, format, or even like the queries they address. This lack of uniformity hinders seamless sharing across departments, even more so with analytic tools. As a result, business managers often find themselves manually collating crucial insights into spreadsheets, which then power BI reports. This cumbersome process gives rise to many spreadsheets laden with potentially conflicting or outdated information, demanding excessive time and effort.  

Anaplan steps in right at this juncture, this “coordination gap,” bridging the divide between functional applications and analytical tools. Anaplan connected planning empowers businesses with its cloud-based platform, facilitating the design of shareable, real-time business models. It aids in crafting and assessing scenarios, unveiling overlooked areas and prospects. Crucially, these models foster a direct connection between operational data and BI dashboards, allowing strategies to be adeptly modified in line with desired outcomes.  

Consider a department store chain striving to remain profitable amidst the dynamic retail environment. Each business segment runs on distinct applications, from demand planning, merchandising, and supply chain management to HR, facilities, and finance. Anaplan connected planning integrates these operations, ensuring coherent and informed decision-making across the board, anchoring the business in its quest for sustained profitability. 

You May Also Like: Top 5 Benefits of Connected Planning 

Anaplan Software Applications 

Anaplan’s platform excels at generating, testing, and refining the critical assumptions steering your transactional systems. Its goal? Guiding your organization towards mitigating risks and maximizing profitability. 

Demand Planning and Sales 

In virtually every sector, discerning what the customer desires is paramount. Yet, this becomes a challenge in industries where preferences fluctuate rapidly—be it due to fashion trends or the latest health updates. Anaplan connected planning provides a comprehensive view of all pertinent factors, ensuring agile demand responses and designing more effective sales incentives. 

Supply Chain 

Anaplan’s advanced Optimizer tools promise real-time visibility and scenario-based planning across your entire supply chain. This approach encourages collaboration amongst teams, suppliers, and partners, minimizing unsold stock, potential outages, and inefficient investments. 

HR and Workforce Optimization 

While standard HR systems manage daily employee-related tasks, they often overlook larger workforce strategy concerns. Anaplan connected planning bridges this gap, intertwining HR, finance, and external data sources. This integration facilitates versatile planning for varied workforce requirements and scenarios. 

Finance 

Modern financial dynamics require more agility than traditional planning systems provide. Anaplan’s solution for finance streamlines strategic implementation, fostering connections between financial and operational blueprints. From budgeting to cost management, Anaplan caters to diverse financial needs, ensuring integrated finance use cases.  

With its adoption of AI and machine learning, Anaplan now delivers deeper data insights. Its predictive intelligence tools combine internal business data with global metrics, unveiling overlooked opportunities and actionable strategies.  

A typical business pitfall is the “coordination gap”—the absence of a unified data source accessible across all company levels. Anaplan connected planning eradicates this confusion. It offers a scalable, accurate, and verifiable system that guarantees swift action and accountability. By dismantling organizational silos and weaving in both internal and external influences, Anaplan paves the way for informed decision-making. 

Anaplan vs. Excel: Core Differences Between Anaplan and Excel 

The corporate world is undergoing rapid transformation. With Anaplan connected planning, businesses are empowered to make more informed decisions, bridging the gap between traditional tools like Excel and the advanced features of next-gen platforms like Anaplan. Let’s dissect the key differences: 

1. Depth and Speed of Calculation 

In the realm of Anaplan connected planning, calculation speed is unparalleled. Anaplan leverages advanced CPU cores, efficiently processing vast datasets. Excel, although powerful in its own right, struggles with vast datasets and complex formulas. Anaplan’s unique technology applies code only to related cells in multidimensional models, streamlining calculations. 

2. Comprehensive Cloud Capability  

Anaplan’s cloud infrastructure is a hallmark of its connected planning ecosystem. It enables seamless processing of millions of data rows directly in the cloud without scalability issues, surpassing Excel’s more limited cloud features. 

3. Collaborative Brilliance

Anaplan’s connected planning environment encourages collaboration across borders. Unlike Excel, designed primarily for individual use, Anaplan allows multiple contributors to work on models simultaneously, fostering global team synergy. Users can communicate directly within the model and leave comments or assign tasks to each other. 

4. Stringent Security Controls 

Security is pivotal in Anaplan’s connected planning framework. With flexible permissions, Anaplan ensures that only authorized personnel access sensitive data, providing a more robust security layer than Excel’s general access design. 

5. Simplifying Relational Data Management 

Anaplan outshines Excel in relational data management. Excel users often grapple with Lookup functions and SQL integrations, whereas Anaplan simplifies this with its hyper-block technology. 

6. Hierarchical Handling Proficiency 

With Anaplan connected planning, handling hierarchical data becomes intuitive. Excel, constrained by its 2D layout, faces challenges with nested data. Anaplan, on the other hand, efficiently manages parent-child data relationships, simplifying calculations and insights. 

7. Seamless Integration with Anaplan Connect, Integration API v2.0 and Anaplan CloudWorks API 

Anaplan Connect, Integration API v2.0 and Anaplan CloudWorks API exemplify the platform’s commitment to seamless integration. They reduce manual interventions and offer a myriad of operational connection possibilities, a feature not native to Excel. 

Model actions (Backend) can be added to processes and published on Pages (Frontend) to be run manually by Users, admins or to be automated:

model actions in anaplan backend

8. Integration Supremacy with Power Query 

Anaplan’s connected planning ecosystem is designed for extensive integration. It accommodates third-party solutions with ease, whereas Excel, although powerful with Power Query, doesn’t offer the same breadth of integration capabilities. 

9. Predictive Excellence with PlanIQ 

Anaplan’s AI and ML-powered PlanIQ sets the gold standard for forecasting, providing detailed predictive insights, while Excel’s statistical functions offer only a basic predictive framework. 

10. Advanced Data Visualization with UX Pages 

Anaplan’s UX pages offer a premium data visualization experience, far exceeding Excel’s chart capabilities. This feature is integral to the Anaplan connected planning experience, allowing for tailored business insights. 

Different Anaplan model components presented on a NUX Page (Frontend):

Anaplan model components
Pages allow dynamic selection of dimensions, user input based on role access, data representation based on tables and various charts.

11. Real-time Scenario Planning 

Anaplan can create, compare, and modify business scenarios in real time, providing dynamic insights. Excel, conversely, requires manual adjustments, making real-time analysis cumbersome. 

Beyond Planning: Extracting Data from Anaplan with Qlik Sense 

12. Dynamic Model Building 

Anaplan’s dynamic modeling capability, a cornerstone of its connected planning philosophy, allows users to adjust models on the fly, a feature Excel doesn’t inherently provide. 

Overview of the available modules (tables) within a model (Backend). Easily grouped in custom Functional Areas, their dimensions and size can be reviewed at a glance:

Dynamic Model Building in anaplan

13. Customizable Dashboards 

Anaplan connected planning is accentuated by its customizable and interactive dashboards. While Excel offers dashboard features, Anaplan’s dashboards are tailored to specific business needs, delivering enhanced user engagement. 

14. Streamlined Workflow Processes 

Anaplan’s workflow capabilities guide users through the planning process, ensuring structured and sequential progress. Excel lacks this structured workflow, often leading to fragmented processes. 

15. Contextual Insights and Commentary 

Anaplan connected planning promotes holistic insights. Users can provide feedback directly within the platform, ensuring context-rich commentary. Excel lacks this built-in feature, often necessitating external documentation.   

As companies pivot towards future-ready tools, Anaplan’s connected planning offers a comprehensive suite of features that far outpaces traditional tools like Excel in complex planning and forecasting scenarios. 

Anaplan Connected Planning Pros and Cons 

Anaplan connected planning has emerged as a cutting-edge solution for businesses aiming to unify their planning processes across departments. It harnesses real-time data and intelligent algorithms to foster better decision-making. Yet, like any tool, it brings its own set of advantages and challenges. Let’s delve into a comparative analysis to better understand its merits and areas for consideration. 

Anaplan Pros and Cons

PROS

  • Real-time Collaboration: Facilitates simultaneous planning across departments, ensuring consistent and updated data. 
  • Scalability: Handles vast data sets efficiently, making it suitable for large enterprises. 
  • Integrative Features: Easily connects with a wide array of third-party platforms and tools. 
  • Cloud-based: Allows remote access and ensures data safety with backup and recovery options. 
  • AI & ML Capabilities: Offers predictive insights to enhance decision-making processes. 
  • Role-based Access: Ensures data security and controlled accessibility. 

CONS

  • Learning Curve: While user-friendly, Anaplan might require some initial training for those new to its interface. 
  • Cost: Premium features might be on the pricier side for smaller businesses. 
  • Overwhelming Features: The extensive feature set might be too much for businesses only needing basic planning tools. 
  • Internet Dependency: Being cloud-based means you’ll need a steady internet connection for uninterrupted access. 
  • Customization Limitations: While versatile, there might be instances where specific niche customizations are challenging. 
  • Integration Familiarization: A brief initial guidance might be needed with certain legacy systems. 

Excel Pros and Cons 

Microsoft Excel has long been the go-to software for tasks ranging from simple data storage to complex financial modeling. Its widespread use in industries worldwide is a testament to its utility and flexibility. But while it offers numerous advantages, there are also limitations that users may encounter. Let’s take a comprehensive look at the pros and cons to gauge its effectiveness and potential pain points. 

Excel pros and cons

PROS

  • Versatility: Can be used for a wide range of applications, from basic data entry to complex analyses. 
  • Ubiquity: Almost universally recognized and used, making file sharing straightforward. 
  • Customizable: Allows for a high degree of user customization with functions, macros, and VBA. 
  • Integration with MS Suite: Seamlessly integrates with other Microsoft Office applications. 
  • Cost-effective: Comes bundled with Microsoft Office, making it accessible without additional cost for many. 
  • PivotTables & Graphing Tools: Offers powerful tools for data analysis and visualization. 

CONS

  • Size Limitations: Larger data sets can slow down performance or even crash the software. 
  • Version Inconsistencies: Different versions can sometimes lead to compatibility issues. 
  • Learning Curve: Advanced features require significant time to master and may be daunting for beginners. 
  • Single User Limitation: Real-time collaborative editing isn’t as fluid as some newer platforms. 
  • Security Concerns: Without proper precautions, spreadsheets can be susceptible to errors or breaches. 
  • Lack of Automation: Requires manual updates, unlike some real-time cloud-based tools. 

Anaplan vs Excel: Comparison Table 

When it comes to financial planning and analytics tools, both Anaplan and Excel have made significant marks in their respective domains. While Excel has been a longstanding favorite due to its widespread usage and versatility, Anaplan has emerged as a robust platform designed to cater to sophisticated, large-scale planning needs. How do they measure up when compared head-to-head? Let’s dive into a detailed comparison to understand their strengths and limitations better. 

Anaplan vs Excel: Comparison Table 

Anaplan Connected Planning FAQs 

  1. What is Anaplan? 

Anaplan is a cutting-edge cloud-based planning and performance management platform designed for a variety of business functions. Its unique value proposition lies in its “Hyperblock” technology, which facilitates rapid, multidimensional planning. Built to address the challenges of disconnected information and siloed departments in organizations, Anaplan aims to unify business processes through its connected planning approach. 

  1. What does Anaplan do? 

Anaplan provides businesses with a platform for real-time, data-driven decision-making across various departments. It combines sophisticated calculation capabilities with collaborative tools, allowing teams to plan, model, and execute strategies more efficiently. Whether it’s sales forecasting, workforce planning, budgeting, or supply chain optimization, Anaplan offers tailored solutions. 

  1. What is Anaplan used for? 

Anaplan is leveraged by businesses to streamline their planning and analytical processes. Its use cases span various business functions, from finance and HR to sales and supply chain management. Organizations use Anaplan for budgeting, forecasting, performance tracking, scenario modeling, and more. Its multidimensional modeling capability ensures that complex business challenges can be addressed with agility. 

  1. Does Anaplan need coding? 

While Anaplan is designed to be user-friendly and does not require traditional coding skills, it employs its unique formula language for model building. Though distinct from conventional programming languages, this language has a learning curve. However, the platform is built to be intuitive, with drag-and-drop functionalities and pre-built modules, ensuring that even non-programmers can utilize its capabilities with minimal training. 

  1. Is Anaplan better than Excel? 

“Better” is subjective and depends on the user’s specific needs. Anaplan is specifically designed for large-scale, collaborative, and real-time planning, making it a potent tool for enterprises with complex planning needs. Excel, being a general-purpose spreadsheet application, offers more flexibility for a variety of tasks but falls short when dealing with vast datasets or real-time collaboration. While Anaplan provides specialized features for connected planning, Excel remains a versatile tool for many analytical tasks. 

From Spreadsheets to Anaplan Connected Planning with B EYE 

Transitioning to advanced planning? B EYE is here to help. Our team of Certified Anaplan consultants specializes in transitioning large enterprises from traditional spreadsheets to the agile Anaplan platform. We prioritize: 

  • Connecting Data, People, Plans: It’s more than just data; it’s about establishing meaningful connections for better planning. 
  • Customized Service: We begin by evaluating business requirements, then proceed to model design, development, and post-development support. 
  • Expertise in Anaplan: Recognized as a leader in connected planning, Anaplan’s machine learning capabilities enable superior forecasting. We harness this power to transform our clients’ planning processes. 

Ready to elevate your planning processes? Book a consultation with us today and make the shift to Anaplan with B EYE. 

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