How Anaplan helped Thomas Cook align ecommerce and retail forecasts

© Thomas Cook
© Thomas Cook

The SaaS vendor’s technology is helping the travel agent transition to the digital age

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Thomas Cook is a business in flux, looking to compete in an increasingly digital world where the internet has given every consumer the ability to be their own travel agent. Technology can help close that gap not just on the front end, but also for back office processes.

Originally a family-run travel agent, and one of the first to offer an escorted 'round-the-world' voyage, Thomas Cook has gone through nationalisations, subsequent privatisations, mergers and acquisitions in its more than 100-year heritage. Now it is adjusting to digital and has enlisted Anaplan's cloud solution to help it align its bricks and mortar retail presence with its burgeoning ecommerce channels.

Speaking at Anaplan Hub in London yesterday, Andrew Tye, head of finance transformation projects at Thomas Cook said: "Anaplan helped us enable that change and that speed of decision making."

Anaplan focuses on helping enterprise customers move away from financial planning and forecasting processes based on a plethora of disconnected Excel spreadsheets with its cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution.

"Before we would have had spreadsheets for retail and others for ecommerce and neither talked to each other," Tye told Computerworld UK after his talk.

The travel agent has cut its retail store footprint down from 1,000 five years ago to 600 shops today.

"We're not suddenly selling 40 percent less holidays," Tye said. However instead of relying on retail, which is relatively easy to forecast, the business is increasingly turning to online channels like Google search, creating a new set of business planning challenges.

Now, by using Anaplan's cloud system the business can make changes "far more dynamically" as well as more easily modelling the impact of those changes, according to Tye. 

For example, if Thomas Cook closes more shops, how does the finance department model the impact of that?

"We will look at how much volume will disappear from the retail curve but see if we could migrate someone like you online," Tye explained.

More importantly, where this would have been two separate people - retail and online - collaborating on an Excel spreadsheet that was liable to falling over, now it is one person using an Anaplan model.

Adoption of Anaplan

Taking a step back, Thomas Cook has been an Anaplan customer for two years, firstly using it as a simple tool to improve and align its booking intake forecast process, regardless of the channel.

Tye did also assess SAP but decided it would be too expensive. Thomas Cook already uses IBM's TM1, but it was deemed too inflexible a solution for all of its needs.

The firm originally opted for a 'lift and shift' approach, moving its Excel spreadsheets into the Anaplan platform within three months. Tye subsequently rebuilt the model now that he and the end users are more familiar with it, cutting reporting times in half again.

It would previously take two or three days to get the Excel modelling to the point where the team could put assumptions in. "With the first model it halved and with the new model it halved again," Tye said.

This means that finance can start to have "actual forecasting meetings" with business owners and "have that proper discussion with them about their forecast, instead of just 'finance says'," he added.

Use cases

At the most basic level, Anaplan has allowed Thomas Cook's finance team to dramatically cut down the time it takes to report to senior leaders.

"It killed a whole bunch of effort," Tye said. "We've just finished our financial plan for next year and it would have taken us weeks just to get to the point where we can start to put in assumptions of next year, let alone actually running the thing.

"Now you just add an extra year in to model and maybe change some hierarchies and you're ready to go. So we were ready to start actual budget conversations with senior leaders."

Another example of how Thomas Cook is leveraging Anaplan now that it's in place is how it models compensation for customers who are ill while on one of their holidays.

"We had an Excel spreadsheet and the reporting process of holiday illness claims was horrific," Tye said. "It took me a day and a half to put it into Anaplan and I have never seen people more happy to get off an Excel spreadsheet in my life.

"Now we're able to report on how many people are ill, how much it would cost us, where previously it took a week."

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