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Threat or opportunity? How to plan for interesting times



Expert | Opinion

By Patrick Elliott

‘May you live in interesting times’ is purportedly a Chinese curse which passed into the common parlance after being quoted in a speech by US Senator Robert Kennedy in 1966.

It has particular resonance in 2019, as enterprises globally navigate an economic landscape which has uncertainty as its hallmark.

In Australia, the share market has dropped significantly in the space of a few months, residential property is on the slide (significantly so in the once red-hot markets of Sydney and Melbourne) and a federal election which may see significant regulatory and taxation changes for individuals and businesses is looming.

At the same time, rapidly evolving consumer dynamics and the ongoing onslaught of technological change continue to shake up traditional businesses and generate opportunities for nimble players to enter the market.

Dealing with disruption

‘Disruption’ was high on the list of over-used business terms for 2018 and its popularity appears undimmed in 2019. It’s an umbrella word which is now used to describe any form of rapid, wholesale change, from the decimation of the local taxi industry, following the launch of ride sharing giant Uber to the ongoing reform of the financial services sector, post the damaging revelations which emerged from last year’s Banking Royal Commission.

Disruption can signal disaster or opportunity. How businesses plan for evolving conditions, identify emerging opportunities and pivot on the fly can mean the difference between struggling to stay relevant and viable and succeeding in a much altered business landscape.

While some businesses update their plans regularly to reflect changing conditions, they’re in the minority. Anaplan’s recent State of Connected Planning study which surveyed 1000 businesses around the globe, revealed only one in four enterprises does so on a continual basis.

That means tens of thousands of Australian enterprises are working with business plans which don’t accurately reflect the markets they’re operating in and the unique challenges they’re throwing up in 2019.

By definition, these companies are behind the market – not a good place to be, for those which aspire to move forward and capitalise on the opportunities created by disruption. To be able to do so, businesses need to stay ahead of trends, or be poised to adapt to them, as they emerge.

Traditional paper or spreadsheet-based planning isn’t conducive to this sort of agility. Deploying an enterprise planning platform which can access and synthesise real time data and insights puts businesses in a better position to track market developments and respond to changes as they happen.

Prioritise planning across the enterprise

For businesses which are yet to embrace dynamic planning, it’s time to start playing catch up.

This begins with the commitment to make planning a priority, not at quarterly or annual sessions but continuously and across all areas of the enterprise. It’s something uber-fast growth companies do religiously and Anaplan research suggests it’s pivotal to their success.

Rather than treating planning as an abstract idea or an occasional academic exercise, these enterprises plan actively and frequently and incorporate market information into their plans, along with internal data.

Sustaining the pace that separates businesses on a high growth trajectory from flash-in-the-pan concerns requires a weather eye for trends and a focus on keeping employee activity aligned with business goals.

Providing all business units with access to the same planning platform and tools is key to the construction of an enterprise where departmental plans are attuned to internal and external changes and aligned to wider business goals.

The technological edge

Technology is the not-so-secret weapon in the battle to ensure business planning remains dynamic and current.

Increasing uncertainty and market volatility make it imperative for businesses to operate with agile plans which can be adjusted quickly and effectively, in a way that static plans cannot.

Advanced data analytics tools and technologies, including predictive analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, can be used to produce more accurate forecasting, based on current internal and external variables and risk factors.

Using a platform which can harness their power allows planners to identify potential risks and disruption factors more quickly, forecast their impact on every aspect of operations more effectively and reduce the decision-making time frame significantly.

Given the times are not just interesting but changing at a pace that’s unprecedented in corporate history, being able to do so has never been more important.


About the author

Patrick Elliott, ANZ Regional Vice President at Anaplan