Anaplan corners the big data heavyweights

Armed with $100 million in fresh funding, San Francisco-based Anaplan has set its sights on Australia and reckons it has the technology to give the likes of Oracle and SAP a run for their money.

Cloud-based planning and collaboration platform Anaplan's chief executive Fred Laluyaux isn't a fan of the frothy epithets associated with his company. Anaplan has been touted as an "Excel killer" and toasted as a company that's about to make life difficult for the likes of Oracle, SAP and IBM in the enterprise performance management space, but Laluyaux is more circumspect.

"It's a credible possibility but we are focused on solving a very old problem (for businesses) that hasn't been addressed by big vendors," Laluyaux says.

The problem is one of managing and analysing the myriad processes within an organisation -- from payroll to sales forecasts -- without relying on Microsoft's Excel spreadsheets or shelling out a lot of cash for custom on-premises solutions.

Armed with $100 million in fresh funding, the San Francisco-based company has recently set up shop in Australia and Laluyaux is confident that Anaplan's technology is good enough to make an impact without the need of jazzed up PR.

While businesses have relied on Excel spreadsheets or on-premise solutions to manage their data, Anaplan's pitch revolves around its modelling and planning platform, HyperBlock -- an in-memory calculation engine that helps users quickly organise and analyse disparate sets of data.

Built from scratch, HyperBlock's creation has been a labour of love for Anaplan's chief technology officer Michael Gould, who left IBM in 2007 and then proceeded to lock himself in a barn in the UK and start building the platform.

Laluyaux joined Anaplan in 2012 and says he was blown away by what Gould had achieved.

"This wasn't just assembled from bits and pieces of relevant technology, this was built from scratch," he said. "I saw what Michael had built and I said he had cracked the code."

With HyperBlock ready for service, Anaplan was ready to start its journey -- and it's been an impressive one so far.

Since its official launch in 2010, Anaplan has grown from strength to strength. It has managed to raise $US150 million from a string of investors, including Salesforce.com, and attracted a stack of heavyweight customers, including HP, Pandora, Aviva and McAfee to name a few. It has been in Australia for a couple of months but has already signed up Target Australia and Super Retail Group as big local customers.

Anaplan is part of a new breed of Software as a Service (SaaS) players that have managed to seize the massive market opportunities left untapped by bigger vendors.

When it comes to enterprise planning, Excel may have been the weapon of choice for many smaller companies but it was never designed for that job. Planning for a businesses is tough and complex, and Excel is prone to errors and not geared for collaboration. Meanwhile, on-premise ERP/BI solutions can’t provide the flexibility that businesses are clamouring for.

According to Laluyaux, market dynamics have certainly help propel Anaplan into the space and the advent of cloud computing has helped showcase the prowess of HyperBlock.

“We are good enough to win against the big guys even if we were an on-premise solution, but the cloud has augmented the value of our platform,” he said.

Another pillar in that value chain is Anaplan’s move to build apps in-house or via its partners for organisations to serve specific needs.

This function sits on top of the Anaplan platform and provides a customisation and a solutions value-add that Laluyaux hopes will seal the deal for prospective Australian customers.