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UK restaurant chain Cote Brasserie has adopted Anaplan's cloud-based financial planning software in a bid to modernise the firm's budget and reporting processes.

Speaking at Anaplan's Hub 16 event in London yesterday, Cote Brasserie's new CFO Strahan Wilson explained how he has been able to reduce the company's business planning cycle from quarterly to every two or three weeks with the help of Anaplan's finance solution.

"The business is only nine years old and it was still being run as if there are only two restaurants," Wilson told Computerworld UK. "Everything is manual, everything is on spreadsheets."

Wilson, who is only two months into the job at Cote Brasserie, had overseen a similar reduction in the business planning cycle time during his previous role at restaurant chain Eat.

When he arrived at Cote the budget planning process was not nearly as streamlined.

"I found that we were stuck in the Excel dark ages," he said. "We did one budget a year, which was done for July, and it was essentially a one man operation. My finance director basically took it upon himself to manage this whole process by himself, lock himself in a room for three months and come out with the number."

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In order to find a more collaborative approach, Wilson brought in Anaplan within two months, and Wilson expects to be working the way he did at Eat by early next year.

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This sort of process just wouldn't have been possible using Excel spreadsheets, Wilson said. Cote has 80 restaurants across the UK, "and that means 80 spreadsheets. So each time you change a variable you need to change it 80 times if you need to change the approach, therefore you never do."

By hooking up its Sage 200 enterprise resource planning (ERP) system with Anaplan, Wilson was able to quickly migrate over and start to streamline the budget planning process.

"By changing master data once you build the module that affects that line and it doesn't care if there are 80 restaurants or a thousand restaurants, it is just elements within your model and takes all of that into consideration," he said.

Triangle of finance

Wilson said that Anaplan helps him to empower the finance team to do more interesting work "to solve business issues, which is just more gratifying than locking yourself in a room for three months to create a budget."

He uses an analogy called "the triangle of finance" to explain the process of reaching this point, which starts with getting the accounts right and ends with finance becoming a partner to the rest of the business, rather than a pain.

He explained: "At its core [finance] needs to get the accounts right. If you don't get that right then frankly there is no point doing anything else. Then you have the FP&A (financial planning and analysis) layer. Then at the top is the business partner, which is what the business finds most useful as you respond in real time to their needs rather than imposing your needs on them."

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When he arrived at Cote, Wilson said the organisation was languishing on the bottom layer "with absolutely no business partner piece".

For example, finance can now aid marketing and procurement when it comes to pricing decisions in near to real time. This is especially important in the current world where foreign exchange rates are so volatile.

He explained: "Being a French brand, all of our wine is sourced from France. Even if the underlying commodity price is the same, sterling has dropped 15 percent, so wine has gone up. So we need to know that from a pricing and sales perspective."

Wilson said that "before Anaplan we wouldn't have even bothered" trying to react to foreign exchange rates. "We would have asked the procurement team, they would say ask the supplier and we have no way of validating the number we get from them. You are just guessing in the dark."

IT department

Wilson doesn't plan to stop with Anaplan, as he wants to bring in a central data warehouse with Microsoft's Azure cloud and layer Power BI reporting capabilities on top.

Cote's existing Sage 200 ERP system is currently "just about good enough" according to Wilson, but he would like to improve that area also. It won't be Anaplan however, with Wilson saying he would rather "let Anaplan concentrate on what they do best, which is flexible analysis, planning and business insight. It could do the BI side but on the ERP side I'm not sure I would go with Anaplan".

Wilson laid out his role over the coming years: "I was brought in to professionalise the organisation. There was a recognition from the shareholders and CEO that we have probably grown too quickly and haven't looked at our back-end processes with enough focus and therefore what we need to do is step into the twenty first century to do that," he said.

Wilson is doing all of this without an IT team at present, and he doesn't see the need for more than maybe one IT person. "The challenge for me is to see if the cloud is sufficiently mature today to allow me to run an IT department without having one," the CFO said.

Wilson sees IT traditionally serving three functions: hardware support, help desk and development functions. "I think hardware we will get ourselves to a point where we don't have any at all. IT help desk is already outsourced.

"So the one question I have is if we would benefit from having IT development in-house. So as you start integrating these systems, someone who understands it and could evolve it over time [..] seems to me to be a worthwhile investment."