• Sophisticated planning at Booking.com

Booking.com is growing extremely fast. Based in Amsterdam, the travel e-commerce company now employs over 15.000 people worldwide. To align the forecast with that growth, the company wants to move her forecast away from Excel. By implementing advanced planning at Booking.com, Anaplan allows the company to forecast the operational expenses in various ways, from manual input to automated statistical forecasts.

By Danielle Gruijs, November 2017

Advanced planning and forecasting at Booking.com

Planning at booking.com
Chiara Guglielmetti

“We wanted to improve the way we forecast, as our company is growing very fast. Booking.com employees and the number of properties available on our website have nearly doubled in the last 3 years. We needed to find the right solution to align with that growth,” Chiara Guglielmetti of Booking.com says.

Established in 1996 in Amsterdam, Booking.com has grown from a small Dutch start-up to one of the largest travel e-commerce companies in the world. Booking.com now employs more than 15,000 employees in 204 offices spreaded over 70 countries worldwide.

No constraints

After considering various options, Booking.com decides to use Anaplan for her planning processes. “We choose Anaplan because of the flexibility,” Chiara says. “In a company like Booking.com, where changes happen every day, we need a tool that can adapt to changes easily.” “We were looking for a scalable solution,” Andrew DeGennaro of Booking.com adds.

The flexibility of the new tool also aligns with the company’s culture. Chiara: “We have an informal and open culture, where we promote creativity. We don’t like constraints, if we see a better way to do something, we want to be able to change it.”

Statistical forecasts

The main goal is to have the entire set of operational expenses forecasted in Anaplan. “No more Excel,” Chiara says. Previously, the company used more than 50 Excel models to forecast her operational expenses.

“Very simple lines,but also statistical methods to create automated forecasts.”

The sheer size and volume of data impact the planning process. Therefore, advanced planning at Booking.com was necessary. Chiara: “The volume of data is getting bigger and bigger.” “The total roll-up is very large; we forecast on over a 1000 combinations,” Stef Jansen in de Wal says. As a consultant at Finext he is closely involved in the implementation of Anaplan at Booking.com.

Various methods are used to calculated the forecast. “Very simple lines, like input by controllers based on their knowledge, but also statistical methods to create automated forecasts. They can apply any method they want on any level of detail,” explains Stef.

Planning at booking.com
Stef Jansen in de Wal, Chiara Guglielmetti and Andrew DeGennaro

Trade-off between time and accuracy

However, all these possibilities lead to dilemmas as well. “The deeper the level of detail, the higher the level of accuracy,” Chiara states. “As a company, we are still finding the right balance between granularity, speed and efficiency. It is a constant trade-off between time and accuracy.”

Therefore, the team spent a lot of time to design the basis for the planning model. “That time was very well spent,” Chiara says. “Invest time in the beginning to look at the full picture. In an agile environment, you are tempted to work in sprints and to start with the small things. But the scoping and planning phase needs to set the scene. At the time, it feels like you’re not doing anything concrete, but you gain on speed later.”

Clearer and faster

Chiara and Andrew are enthusiastic about the new advanced planning tool. “The real-time calculations help us; once you update one part of the model, everything is updated,” Chiara explains. “Also, the data integrity is much better, I trust Anaplan more than excel.” “It’s very modular. If there’s a problem, you can easily find the part of the model where the calculations take place, and the realization with the equations. This makes issues easy to solve, whether it’s a quick fix in a formula or an issue in the basic assumption,” Andrew says.

Previously, all 50 Excel models had to be manually loaded into the consolidation tool. “Now, we have almost no manual work, which saves time and reduces the risk of manual mistakes,” Chiara continues. “All calculations are done in Anaplan, after which we only need to run one export to the consolidation tool.”

Both expect to experience even more benefits in the future. “We have only been live for one cycle. In six months, we will really see the benefits; the forecast will be clearer, faster and we will spend less time on processing data and more time on analyzing and helping the business with their decisions.”

CFO of your own department

The end users are positive as well. Andrew: “We see that the ones who fully adapted it are excited about how they can model their data, and how they can present it visually. Graphs give a better understanding of the holistic picture. Before, the data was more a need to know, now the departments have the actual decisions in their hands.”

“We want everyone to be the CFO of their own department or region.”

“This helps us to streamline the processes,” Chiara says. “Each region uses its own approach. With the new application, we give a strong suggestion for an approach by providing a common model, with common drivers and assumptions. This gives us more alignment across the regions.”

This approach suits the phase the company is currently experiencing. “As you grow, you need people that are closer to the business to decide what the forecast will be,” Chiara says. “Anaplan helps us to achieve this.” “We want everyone to be the CFO of their own department or region,” Andrew concludes.

Photography: MLBfoto

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