As companies adapt to the ever-changing landscape of supply chain disruption and technological advancements, many are switching over from outdated tools to modern, more connected solutions. A transition of this nature, though necessary, can be far from easy. Every detail of the process, from choosing a new provider to planning a tool’s implementation, requires strategic decision-making and must be done without compromising the business’s day-to-day operations.
Such was the task at hand for Palo Alto Networks (PAN), a global provider of cybersecurity services, focusing on next-generation firewalls, appliances, cloud, endpoint and analytics solutions. The company was approaching the end of the license period with its then current software as a service (SaaS) provider, and needed a new and improved solution by the time the agreement expired. The new tool it sought needed to replicate the capabilities of its existing system — such as demand planning, forecast disaggregation, supply planning and component forecasting — while improving its integration of sales, supply chain and financial processes. And it needed to achieve this transition within a tight (and nonnegotiable) timeframe, while the company’s regular business processes continued at full speed.
The Search for the Perfect Match
After evaluating all the candidates, the company chose Anaplan Inc., whose SaaS platform connects teams, systems and insights for scenario modeling, forecasting and planning. More than any other platform, Anaplan offered flexibility, scalability and an intuitive user interface, all on schedule and on budget.
Anaplan was no stranger to the challenge. “With customers such as Palo Alto Networks, we often see them starting that journey toward improving their S&OP [sales and operations planning] processes, looking for the right blend of capabilities across the board, at a price point that's going to be beneficial for their organization,” says Evan Quasney, vice president of solutions marketing with Anaplan. “It's a pretty common challenge across key industries, as lots of organizations are driving toward better connectivity across business processes.”
Integrating the New With the Old
Once PAN and Anaplan struck their partnership, the implementation of Anaplan’s system proved just as critical as the solution itself. As part of the user acceptance testing process, the company chose to involve the software’s users as early as possible. “We started by training all the users in Anaplan. This helped them to get really familiar with the tool as we went,” says Nikalaus Satish, senior S&OP analyst with PAN. “Even though we had consultants, we tried to do the model building with our in-house developers. And we made sure that we were constantly doing demos and getting feedback almost daily.”
As they moved through the transition, Anaplan was hard at work ensuring the new software would work not only for its users, but for the rest of the business’s workflow. “Oftentimes what you see happen with other technological approaches is that there can be a desire to focus on the technology, not necessarily on the people impacted or the process — and most importantly how that process fits into the business,” Quasney adds. “In the case of Palo Alto Networks, as with every customer we work with, we want to make sure that the Anaplan process will fit nicely into all the other processes that any customer is utilizing. That way, it minimizes the risk of the implementation and maximizes adoption.”
Involving in-house users from the get-go reaped benefits both during the implementation process and as the company approached its deadline. PAN ultimately avoided last-minute surprises and was able to make a smooth transition to go-live and deployment, thanks to early-stage feedback and user familiarity.
Building a Backbone for the Future
Looking back at a successful transition, Jonathan Morgan, senior director for demand, inventory and spares planning at PAN, recalls the lessons learned from the process. “One of the key things we took away was to not replicate functionality that existed in an Excel model or a prior tool, and just copy and paste this into the new tool,” he says. Instead, PAN followed the Anaplan method and let the technical experts develop new solutions that would serve the right business outcomes. “Don't just build something that satisfies you for the next two quarters of the fiscal year,” Morgan advises. “Think about where the business is going to be a few years out, and try to build that scale.”
Satish cites the importance of foundation-building as another key takeaway from the transition to Anaplan’s software. “It's important to build a strong backbone, because as you keep using the tool, you're going to keep building more modules, add more data, and your processes are going to change. If you build a strong backbone, you save time down the road.” PAN also benefited from a clean and organized process, which allowed new users to easily pick up where others left off. “If you don't do that,” Satish says, “it's very difficult for somebody else to come in to the tool and understand what's going on, and you're just very dependent on the person who built those models.”
Reaping Short- and Long-Term Benefits
Once the deadline was met and Anaplan’s software was deployed, the benefits of the transition became evident. For Morgan, improved flexibility was pivotal. The ability to adjust models quickly, adapt to business changes and automate previously manual processes opened up a host of new opportunities.
“Over the two and a half years or so that we've been running Anaplan, we've added a ton of functionality,” Morgan says. “We actually run our S&OP forecast meetings in Anaplan. We don't do it offline, we don't do slide decks and everything else, we just do it live in the tool.”
From a tech perspective, PAN now enjoys a smoother, more centralized process. In addition to its singular data hub, the company utilizes a more user-friendly model builder. “Adoption was quick,” Satish says. “It's very useful to have all our business processes in one tool rather than having some in Excel spreadsheets and then pulling them into Anaplan and working them.”
As PAN continues to grow as a company, Anaplan’s solution will likewise expand. Planned improvements include business connectivity. “Connected planning is something we haven't taken advantage of yet across the business,” Morgan says. “Connecting into finance and sales operations and budgets is definitely on the roadmap to keep scaling.” On the tech end, Satish looks forward to using CloudWorks, Anaplan’s data integration software, which he believes will streamline certain processes through automation and improved scheduling, as well as continue to improve the overall user experience.
Morgan, Satish and Quasney all consider the relationship between PAN and Anaplan a huge success. Not only did the two companies resolve the initial problem at hand — the upcoming end of its former software’s license period — but PAN has also been able to turn operations around for long-term benefits using Anaplan’s system.
“Since the transition, PAN has been able to drive from a single S&OP use case to basically full end-to-end advanced planning,” Quasney says. “That's what we believe is really compelling about this — that the software helps our clients and customers enable the business outcomes they're looking to achieve.”
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