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Anaplan: What does the UK’s latest tech unicorn actually do?

Scott Carey | June 24, 2016
Here is how Anaplan grew into the $1bn valued company it is today

After raising $90 million in funding in January this year the media started reporting on the UK's latest tech unicorn: Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software platform Anaplan. What they didn't report was what Anaplan actually does.

With headquarters in San Francisco, Anaplan could be mistaken for just another disruptive software firm. However Michael Gould's story of building the platform out of York in the north of England is quite unique.

After leaving Cognos in 2006, before the business intelligence software provider was acquired by IBM for $4.9bn in 2007, Gould started building a Java-based, core in-memory calculation engine on his own, upon which he would eventually launch Anaplan's enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.

Now chief architect and CTO at Anaplan, Gould told Computerworld UK where the idea for Anaplan came from: "I was with Cognos and have been working in the ERP space for most of my working life.

"The reason I started Anaplan was primarily from seeing that the tools out there had been around for a long time, dating back to the mid-80s, and they were getting old and really not satisfying the needs of businesses to model and plan around large data volumes and a lot of complexity."

Without the right tools, companies started reverting to their standard process: spreadsheets. The problem with spreadsheets is that they aren't naturally collaborative or linked up, creating a fragmented view of the business, which is far from ideal when it comes to complex business planning.

Origins

After two years Gould had the core engine, called Hyperblock. It needed to handle the volumes of data that modern day enterprises require. Hyperblock is designed to handle "trillions of planning cells for thousands of users across multiple models," according to Anaplan.

Once the core was in place Gould hired some help and started looking for funding before launching the SaaS platform in 2010. Since then Anaplan has launched off-the-shelf apps for financial planning, sales, marketing, supply chain and HR. Partners can also build apps off of the core platform themselves and post them in the app marketplace.

As Anaplan's head of applications Michel Morel puts it: "[Anaplan] has an incredibility smart and versatile technology that allow users to model virtually any business. Dozens of independent, ad-hoc systems can be replaced by a single platform. You just need a browser and internet access."

Opening up databases

Anaplan is in essence doing for ERP what the likes of Salesforce.com and Workday have already done for CRM and HR. By going cloud only and utilising in-memory storage and compute power Anaplan is re-imagining an established enterprise product.

This means no dedicated hardware, and in turn less dedicated maintenance requirements. There is almost zero deployment cost and customers can use the platform on a subscription basis. Issues that come with legacy products from the big four software vendors: IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft.

 

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