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Auction.com sold on Anaplan financial planning in cloud

Anaplan submitted the winning bid to Auction.com for a system that forecasts real estate sales and expenses on the cloud.

Auction.com is banging the gavel for its new cloud-based financial planning software from Anaplan.

Billing itself as the nation's leading online marketplace for real estate, the company uses Anaplan for all of its modeling of financial statements, including forecasts for sales and expenses, saving several days of work required to collect business units' financial plans.

While Auction.com doesn't use Anaplan to publish financial reports it does use the system for 100% of its forecasting, said David Osborn, vice president for financial planning and analysis at the company, which is based in Irvine, Calif. Osborn led the process for choosing and deploying Anaplan.

Osborn said Anaplan resembles a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and was easily modified to fit the business -- the kind of open and flexible system he was looking for. San Francisco-based Anaplan submitted the priciest package in a bidding process but stood out for its ability to handling modeling, he said.

"We're really happy with the system. The cost was a little higher than some of the competing systems so it was kind of a tradeoff for us, a little higher cost but a little better product and more functionality. We are really glad we made that tradeoff."

Before Anaplan, Auction.com used IBM Cognos TM1, mostly for general ledger reporting. Forecasting was all done in Excel, but Osborn said the company needed a more structured planning solution. Auction.com no longer uses TM1, but still uses Excel for analysis.

If he had a wish list, Osborn said, it would be for Anaplan to provide a little more robust report writing. The company would like to eventually use Anaplan for publishing reports such as balance sheets or profit and loss statements.

"The problem with one area -- that I think is still being built out -- is the reporting side. We're anxious for future releases that kind of enhance the reporting side of things. We use it for analytics and certain dashboard reporting but definitely not for publishing our financials through it."

Planning in the cloud

Auction.com started its search to replace its older systems in mid-2013, but shelved the search and began again in February.

In June, the company chose Anaplan after using a consultant to write a request for proposals that primarily pitted Anaplan against two other competitors. Auction.com's chief technology officer had almost zero involvement.

"That was part of the reason to use a cloud-based product," Osborn said. "The technology team's focus is on our customer base, and our operations, and revenue generation and all that. They don't have a lot of resources for internal systems development."

Auction.com also spoke with a lot of references who described Anaplan as "Excel in the cloud," Osborn said.

"You can kind of model anything," he said. "You have a blank slate. You can build what you need to build in Anaplan."

For creating consolidated profit and loss statements, Anaplan negates the need for executives to link and troubleshoot Excel spreadsheets and email files.

"In a planning system, such as Anaplan, that is just automatic," Osborn said. "Everyone is working on the same system, in the same database. As they submit, it's essentially instantly available to us."

It took about two months -- all of June and July -- to install the Anaplan software. Osborn, who is not a programmer but is fluent in Excel, and one staffer primarily built the system with some help from Anaplan.

Auction.com's accounting system, including its general ledger, was cloud-based. During the Anaplan implementation, Auction.com was exporting from one cloud application and importing to another, as well as linking up a home-grown system for its real estate operations.

The work was harder than expected, but not because of any issues with Anaplan.

"I had a guy on my staff that was primarily responsible for getting those connections to work. He was frustrated. I was frustrated for a while. Eventually, it was working. Once we got it up and running, it's really been very smooth."

Fast-tracking financial data

Auction.com gets essentially all of its revenues from commissions on the sale of real estate. Its traditional footing is in bank liquidations. Last year it closed on about 30,000 pieces of residential and commercial real estate totaling around $7 billion.

The company uses Anaplan to track real estate through the sales and closing process and the recognition of revenue. About 50 of the 900 employees use the software, including the CFO and some executive vice presidents.

Osborn said he is getting good feedback from employees.

"We created it around our own business needs, customized to Auction.com. When people look at it and say everything makes sense, that it is easy to use, it's good for us because we designed it that way. But it really is a testament to how flexible Anaplan is and how it adapts to the business."

The CFO will use Anaplan during the close of monthly business planning to see how the process is coming along, Osborn said.

With Anaplan, operational data and the general ledger refresh each night. The data can also be refreshed mid-day.

Anaplan also is good for streamlining the use of data in the financial planning process.

Osborn said, for example, that he used to have to manually, one at a time, download a report with real estate data and then have an analyst key those numbers into an Excel spreadsheet for sales modeling.

During the integration with Anaplan, he built a file extractor from Auction.com's systems that loads nightly into Anaplan.

"The data is there the next morning when we show up. There is no downloading of a report, no going to a website and logging in and keying in numbers. It is all just automatically refreshed every morning when we come in."

Next Steps

See some best practices for financial planning and analysis

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