With shows and theaters in eight countries worldwide, strategic planning matters for Stage Entertainment. In order to calculate complex strategic choices and complex scenarios, the international entertainment company has chosen a planning solution in Anaplan. This new cloud-based planning process offers more structure, works faster and is cost-efficient.
“It was extremely important for us to be able to make a dynamic, adaptable business plan,” Eric Groenland of Stage Entertainment tells us. The international entertainment company is active in eight countries worldwide, from Russia to the United States. Besides producing shows of other producers, Stage Entertainment also has its own productions. In addition, the company manages several theaters worldwide.
“We did have a budget, but we needed more visibility,” Eric continues. “We wanted to submit these budgets to different scenarios with variables like new theaters, new productions or price increases. Excel simply didn’t cut it anymore for our business plan. It was difficult to take account of the complexity of all business units, cross charging and scenarios in order to visualize performance; there just wasn’t enough flexibility. Moreover, it was impossible to collaborate in one single file, which complicates things when four people need to work simultaneously on the same file.”
Strategic planning was even more important for Stage Entertainment, because the company was in the process of determining the next step in the company’s strategy. Eric: “There were many questions. For instance ‘where do we want to take the company?’ and ‘in which markets do we want to grow?’.”
“We wanted to submit these budgets to different scenarios with variables like new theaters, new productions or price increases.”
Stage Entertainment has chosen Anaplan as its planning solution. “We also considered other tools, but Anaplan was the most flexible and comprehensive planning solution,” Eric says. Anaplan is a cloud-based package. Eric didn’t note much difference between an on premise and a cloud-based solution. “The biggest challenge is convincing the IT department.” It is a popular misbelief that there is no need to involve the IT department when it comes tot a cloud-based solution. “While there is no support needed for Anaplan itself, you still need it to connect everything together. Besides, IT is necessary for the system landscape.” “For data integration, security and IT architecture, IT is essential. This means it is best to involve them from the very beginning in the selection process,” recommends Martijn Meuling of Finext.
Best of Breed
For years, the entertainment company has been using Oracle HFM for its consolidation and reporting processes. The decision to add another software provider for planning in parallel was a deliberate decision. “I am in favor of deploying several tools and to use the most appropriate one in a given situation,” Eric continues. “The power of Anaplan is its flexibility when it comes to forecasting, while the power of HFM is in consolidating. In HFM it is technically possible to add any Key Performance Indicator, but this could lead to unreliable business scenarios.” Martijn: “Therefor we have chosen the ‘best of breed’-approach: the best solution for a specific issue.” The data is not integrated between the different solutions. “Of course, the applications need to be able to communicate,” Eric says. “During the selection process we verified if Anaplan was suitable for all planning processes at Stage Entertainment. When you choose the ‘best of breed’ approach, you want to avoid creating a patchwork,” Martijn says. Going forward, it is now possible to transfer all budgeting and sales reporting, which currently run in Excel, to Anaplan.
Previously, Finext implemented the consolidation solution in Oracle HFM at Stage Entertainment. Choosing Finext as implementation partner for Anaplan was a logical next step, according to Eric. “We already had good experiences with the implementation of HFM by Finext, and in previous positions at Heineken and CEVA I had already enjoyed working with Finext. Finext is a great partner for various software packages and they have very knowledgeable consultants.”
Stage Entertainment is positive about the results of the new planning solution. “It meets all our expectations regarding scenario analysis. We did not experience any limitations in the model; on the contrary, we were able to implement everything we wanted,” Eric says. “The strategic plan is a very interactive process. The Board of Directors provides us with the direction and the targets, which we can now handle in a flexible way. Conceptually it works the way it should work and transferring the numbers is very straightforward. Previously, one had to open the right Excel-version and it was difficult to split a line in the model. Now it is possible to quickly split a line, after which someone in Spain can continue working on the document.”
“For us at corporate level, our key-users work in a more easy manner with this package than with Excel. There is a more solid framework and things go faster; it´s just a more pleasant way of working. It is much more professional” “A true professional has good tools,” Martijn says. “A good carpenter also needs good tools,” Eric confirms. The end users at Stage Entertainment are also enthusiastic. “The Board of Directors has a much better insight in the five-year plan and its structure. In addition, we are able to communicate with all parties,” Eric continues “and the new planning process has undoubtedly saved time and money. The short implementation period and the fact that there are many things you can do yourself, have a cost-efficient effect.”
Finding the tilting point
The entertainment business has a number of specific challenges with respect tot the planning process. At the ‘front-end’, we have fairly large projects and the associated budgets are spread across a certain running time. This running time depends on the shortening or the extension of the production; now we are able to adapt it flexibly and calculate the costs and benefits,” Eric says. “It is easy to see the effect of a two-month extension of a show; not only the impact on the show itself, but also on the other productions and theaters,” Martijn adds. “This allows us to always look for the tilting point; when is a good moment to stop the production, for how much longer is it economically profitable to extend the running time?”
“Make sure you have a good key user who can work with the model, and hire external specialists for more complex matters.”
Moving to Anaplan is part of a broader Finance Transformation project. “Within the framework of the Finance Transformation project, we are looking at all finance areas to see what can be improved. Not only regarding the processes, but also regarding the systems,” Eric says. “I see that the use of Anaplan can be extended further, for instance regarding forecasting. At the beginning of the project, we have taken a cautious stance. “In order to rapidly achieve success, we started of on a small scale. Going forward, we would like for instance to implement the 13-week cash flow forecasting and the spend visibility.`
We asked Eric if he had any recommendations for other organizations, and he recommends careful consideration at the beginning. “Think carefully whether you want to tackle several processes at the same time or if you want to focus on the smooth implementation of only one process.” “It is in any case important to always keep the bigger picture in mind,” Martijn adds.
A further consideration to be taken into account is what knowledge you want to build internally. “I don’t need in-house technical specialists; they can be contracted externally. Make sure you have a good key user who can work with the model, and hire external specialists for more complex matters. Develop and implement together, so that you know what has happened and how it works.”