How to launch a highly effective Anaplan Center of Excellence

Markets and supply chains are changing constantly, and the cost of implementing changes in business processes and IT solutions can significantly affect a company’s competitiveness and viability. This makes a company’s in-house Center of Excellence (Center of Expertise, Center of Excellence, CoE) increasingly important. These Centers aim to advance the capabilities of the Anaplan integrated planning platform to make business processes more effective and to solve strategic tasks.

What is an Anaplan Center of Excellence? It’s a team of experts who ensure the effectiveness of Anaplan-based integrated planning processes. They develop the platform in accordance with the needs of the business, while also preserving and enhancing knowledge in the company.

Anaplan Center of Excellence Business Model

The creation of a Center of Excellence (CoE) in any company begins with deciding on a CoE model:

  • Minimally involved CoE: user support, improvement of existing functions, and the creation of new functions are all outsourced. The in-house СoE identifies a development strategy and formulates business tasks.
  • Moderately autonomous CoE: development and maintenance of existing functions are carried out by the in-house CoE. New functions are created by external experts.
  • Maximally autonomous CoE: development and maintenance of existing functions as well as creation of new functions are carried out by the in-house CoE.

Participants’ Roles in the Center of Excellence

The following roles and responsibilities are needed for the CoE to function effectively and for its full benefits to be realized:

  • The Sponsor / Process Owner sets priorities for the process in accordance with the business strategy.
  • Manager coordinates the CoE’s activities to meet needs and implement strategic business initiatives.
  • The In-house Consultant / Anaplan Modeler works out and implements solutions and best practices for the development of the platform.
  • The Ambassador works by example to inspire others to develop and use IT solutions.
  • The Business Expert figures out opportunities for the business process development to use the platform to its full potential.

The distribution of employees across these roles depends on the company structure and its culture. There is no universal solution applicable to all companies.

Launching the Anaplan CoE from Scratch: Factors to Consider

The following steps need to be taken to create a CoE:

  1. Deciding on a business model for the CoE (a minimal involvement CoE, a moderately autonomous CoE or a maximally autonomous CoE)
  2. Defining roles, tasks, areas of responsibility, and a pattern of interaction between the CoE and adjacent teams (business, IT, integrators, etc.)
  3. Selecting participants for the CoE and releasing their time as needed, in accordance with the chosen business model
  4. Familiarizing the CoE participants with their roles, tasks, work and interaction patterns between the teams
  5. Anaplan training: independent online L1/L2 learning or coach-assisted programs from certified Anaplan partners
  6. Using the company’s models for practice
  7. Building on auditing knowledge
  8. Training based on the results of the audit

When creating the CoE as part of a platform launch, choose the participants before the start of the project so that they can handle the automated processes and study Anaplan in practice.

Throughout the project, get regular architectural overviews of the CoE’s performance outcomes with the help of the project’s architects. This will provide you with an opportunity to correct mistakes and see if there is any need for additional team training, depending on the adopted model of maintenance and system development.

The Anaplan Center of Excellence Drivers of Success

  • Support from management.
  • The right people. This doesn’t necessarily mean choosing the most experienced employees: fundamental soft skills are much more important.
  • Allocated time. When working on both business tasks and CoE tasks, employees often have to spend the majority of their time solving urgent operational issues, which slows down the development of processes and systems. To ensure effective performance, the CoE’s Business Expert and the In-house Consultant should be able to spend 50–100% of their time on strategic issues. See this as an investment in your company’s future, rather than as additional expenses and an increased headcount.
  • Incentive and retention programs. On average, it takes 6–8 months to find and train a new member of staff, whose work efficiency will steadily grow. During this period, most of the initiatives for processes and platform development stagnate. The company can’t react to changes quickly, which negatively affects business against a backdrop of global economic instability. Moreover, if the specialists who launched the automation project leave the company, it loses considerable subject expertise, and this loss is often irreparable.

CoE in practice: Successful cases, and cases to learn from

Let’s consider some real-life examples of the Anaplan CoE in practice:

  • For the launch of an automation project, an international FMCG company made the decision to create its own CoE to maintain and develop the Anaplan functionality. A working team was made up of people who had worked on the project from the beginning to the end, so there was no need for external consultants. Later, the CoE that had been developed in one country was maintaining business units all over the world, thereby significantly reducing the time and costs of change implementation in other countries.
  • A major FMCG manufacturer nominated their newly-hired business expert to participate in the project. Simultaneously, the specialist was expected to keep on carrying out a range of operational tasks. The company disregarded the learning curve and the simple fact that even an experienced professional needed time to adapt to a new role. Due to a lack of time, the specialist prioritized operational tasks, which didn’t allow for the quality and timely preparation of master data, and thwarted the launch of a multimillion-dollar project. To improve the situation, one more business expert was brought into the team, and the period of intensive maintenance from external consultants was extended by two months. In the end, the project was launched, but significantly past the initial deadline and over the initial budget. This CoE didn’t manage to obtain the skills that were necessary for autonomous performance because of a lack of involvement in the project. Therefore, the company had to bring in external consultants on a regular basis to maintain and develop Anaplan.
  • Another FMCG company’s project got off to a good start — they selected and trained people who were working on the project from beginning to end but neglected to introduce any long-term incentive or retention scheme. As a result, 3–6 months after the project came to a close, several experts quit the company. The knowledge they had acquired made them highly sought-after specialists on the job market. As the successors didn’t have an incentive and were not focused on CoE tasks, the transfer of knowledge from previous team members was carried out as a mere formality. As a result, the company almost entirely lost the expertise that had allowed for independent maintenance and the development of solutions.

In conclusion, a well-developed Anaplan Center of Excellence can almost autonomously maintain and develop the platform and processes, significantly reducing the time and the cost of change implementation, which helps the company quickly react to constant market and business changes. In order to reap these rewards, however, the company should make investments in the team, which will eventually pay off. The decision on whether to invest in the development and maintenance of the Center of Excellence should be adopted before the start of the project, with realistic estimates made of the cost and time needed.

The author is a senior supply chain management expert and former head of process improvement at a large manufacturing company.

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