Connected Planning

SBB: Connected corporate planning with Anaplan

The Swiss Federal Railways rely on networked planning in real time and the simulation capability of the cloud-based Anaplan solution. Together with valantic, SBB modeled the previous financial planning in Anaplan in a coaching process.

SBB train on its journey through the Swiss mountains | Success Story SBB: Corporate Planning with Anaplan

SBB's networks with Anaplan partial planning, reduces complexity, and is now able to simulate

The Swiss Federal Railways

The Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) is the most important service provider of public transport in Switzerland: With almost 15,000 employees and consolidated sales of around 5.5 billion Swiss Francs, it is also the largest of the four SBB divisions. SBB transports 1.32 million passengers each day. To ensure that trains run safely, and all passengers arrive at their destination on time, precise planning is essential, and it has to be simple, networked, and in real time.

SBB website

Challenge

Harmonization and simplification of complex financial planning to increase transparency and accuracy

Consulting approach

Introduction of an agile, auditable, and IT-independent planning solution based on the Anaplan platform

Customer benefits and solution

Shorten the planning process, consolidate at the touch of a button, proactive, simulation-ready planning control

Marcel Krummer
Team Leader Services (Controlling Service Center), SBB Passenger transport

”Once upon a time when we did consolidation, it required four people for about four hours apiece. With Anaplan we consolidate promptly and efficiently.“

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Urban Ehret
Head of Finance, SBB Passenger transport

”With Anaplan, we have increased accuracy, and we are audit-capable.“

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Fabia Odermatt
Head of Controlling Service Center Passenger transport Finance, SBB Passenger transport

”Today, we know at an early stage where the financial or personnel resources are insufficient, and we can actively correct this. A train without a train driver cannot reach its destination. Only those who recognize bottlenecks at an early stage can counteract them.“

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Challenge

The central point of the planning: the timetable

“How can we simplify our complex planning while increasing transparency and accuracy? How can partial planning be networked automatically so that we can plan more transparently, consolidate faster, and simulate effortlessly?” These are the questions that Urban Ehret, Head of Finance SBB Passenger Division, asks when describing the central requirements for a new planning solution.

The basis for operation is the integrated business planning, which is planned several years in advance and integrated with its financial plan. However, before the financial plan is finalized, a great many planning steps are required.
“The main focus for us is the timetable,” says Urban Ehret, stressing that SBB is clearly different from other companies in this respect.

Picture of a station with an SBB train | Success Story SBB: Business Planning with Anaplan

“At a yogurt factory, the sales plan comes first, then comes the production plan. For us, the timetable determines demand and product planning. And once the timetable has been published, it is final.”

Railway companies also have two other special features: In addition to the medium-term planning horizon (for example, in the case of timetables), there are the sometimes-long planning periods of up to 100 years for infrastructure routes and about 25 years for trains. That’s why the medium-term corporate planning (MUP) examines a period of six years and is the central control horizon for Urban Ehret’s team. On the other hand, SBB is integrated vertically and horizontally along the value chain, which makes planning extensive and complex. Sales, services, IT, maintenance, and other units work on their own, but they depend on one another. About 30 planning units have to coordinate with one other in the Passenger Division alone.

SBB train on its journey through the Swiss mountains | Success Story SBB: Corporate Planning with Anaplan

20 Excel files, 12,000 VBA formulas or "playing ‘Telephone’ at a birthday party"

The complexity, scope, and number of planning units make it clear: SBB’s Passenger Division needs a professional planning tool. But first of all, it is important to standardize business and planning logistics in Excel. The team builds a prototype for later transfer to a professional planning environment.

20 Excel files with up to 150 tabs are created; 12,000 lines of VBA programming controls the exchange of data between the Excel files. Internally, the prototype is affectionately called the “Jungle Book,” as individual components are named for figures from Rudyard Kipling’s novel.

The “pitfalls” and problems of this approach are obvious. Often units work with different plan numbers, which is “like playing ‘Telephone’ at a birthday party.”

“If you don’t have the same data base, you can’t coordinate or plan joint capacities reliably,” says Fabia Odermatt, Head of Controlling Service Center Passenger Finance. The many data transfers are error-prone. In addition, there are performance issues: When consolidation is pending, aggregation takes days.

SBB’s financial planning is the basis for public subsidies in regional transport. The federal government and the cantons want to understand the subsidy requirements based on the planning. An audit trail is mandatory as a compliance requirement – and Excel really doesn’t do that.

Customer benefits and solution

This is what the new planning platform should look like

This makes the criteria clear: The new planning solution should be audit-capable because the Federal Transport Ministry and the external and internal audits also demand transparent information. Above all, the planning should become more integrated, simpler, and more intuitive for planners. “Adaptive is also an important criterion for us – adaptability to new conditions,” emphasizes Urban Ehret. “We have always had organizational changes and re-statements. It is therefore important to be able to adapt the planning quickly and as independently as possible of the IT department.” Additional criteria are the networking of planning in real time and simulation capability. For example, if there are fewer people traveling because of the coronavirus, how and where can costs be reduced? Unforeseen events make it necessary to be able to simulate alternatives.

Railroad Station in Switzerland | Success Story SBB: Corporate Planning with Anaplan

Selection of Anaplan: Sophisticated integrated planning

In 2019, the team started looking for a planning solution. The decision was made using a standardized selection procedure: Anaplan will be the new planning solution for SBB Passenger Division Finance. The successor to the “Jungle Book” fulfills the requirements: Simple handling, independence from IT, and a convincing proof of concept speak for Anaplan. In addition, “the sophistication of the solution, for the required functionalities are numerous and the planning is complex”, emphasizes Fabia Odermatt, referring to the Anaplan’s numerous reference customers, including the Dutch railway company.

Rail system with an SBB locomotive | Success Story SBB: Corporate planning with Anaplan

Kernel for networking from the cloud

The connected planning approach is particularly compelling because this is the clear answer to the 12,000 VBA formulas. “The kernel for networking in Anaplan – that’s exactly what we needed in order to be able to seamlessly integrate operational partial planning into the financial planning,” says Urban Ehret.

Because Anaplan is cloud-based, no technical arrangements have to be made. Once the contract is signed, the access data will arrive and mapping of the financial planning in Anaplan can begin.

To this end, SBB has secured support from the IT and process consulting firm valantic. “Together, we modeled the previous financial planning from the ‘Jungle Book’ in Anaplan in a coaching process. valantic is working with three SBB model builders to implement the best technical methods and expertise. The coaching enabled us to create planning models on our own,” reports Fabia Odermatt.

Swiss Federal Railways train leaving the station | Success Story SBB: Corporate Planning with Anaplan

Capable of simulation means responsive

From January to May 2020, the teams built the models for the new financial planning. As the effects of the coronavirus spread, reaction and simulation capability had to be available immediately. Therefore, project and investment planning (IR) was implemented earlier and networked with financial planning (ER). This was the only way to analyze scenarios given the changed conditions for the approximately 350 projects with a volume of around one billion Swiss francs per annum. If, for example, the resource requirements for the IC 2020 train modernization change: How many employees have to be recruited? Do you have enough overtime, or will there be delays in the project? “Instead of interfaces and playing ‘Telephone,’ with Anaplan, one touch of a button is enough; we are immediately responsive, and we can adjust,” explains Fabia Odermatt.

Train station with Swiss Federal Railways train | Success Story SBB: Corporate planning with Anaplan

The future is today - or just minutes instead of days

Today, medium-term business planning is networked, and it runs in real time. At the same time, the basis has been laid for the migration of further partial planning to Anaplan. At present, this is still being done in steps, but it should be continuously optimized, says Marcel Kummer, Team Leader in the Controlling Service Center for Passenger Division Finance. Later, long-term financial planning with a 30-year horizon will also be integrated.

Although there are still more plans in the works, SBB has already achieved a great deal. “Meanwhile, about 100 planners work regularly with Anaplan and they are satisfied,” says Marcel Kummer. “Once upon a time when we did consolidation, it required four people for about four hours apiece. With Anaplan we consolidate promptly and efficiently.”

The investment planning process takes 1.5 months less time, but the qualitative improvements are even more crucial. “The improvements allow the right questions to be asked in planning discussions: Instead of ‘What are the right numbers?’ to considerations such as ‘Where are we lacking resources? How do we steer against this?’ – in other words, a management discussion.” says Marcel Kummer.

Bridge with Swiss flags | Success Story SBB: Corporate Planning with Anaplan

Transparent and in real time – there is a pleasure in proactive plan control

Business planning with Anaplan has made a qualitative leap. “With Anaplan, we have increased accuracy, and we are audit-compliant,” sums up Urban Ehret. And because error-prone manual steps are a thing of the past and all partial plans communicate with one other, aggregations and simulations can be created with the touch of a button. “This means that Anaplan allows us to proactively control planning,” stresses Fabia Odermatt, pointing out the relevance to the overall strategy. “Today, we know at an early stage where the financial or personnel resources are insufficient, and we can actively correct this. A train without a train driver cannot reach its destination. Only those who recognize bottlenecks early on can correct them.” That’s what CFO Urban Ehret is doing in SBB’s decision-making bodies, so that SBB trains will continue to reach their destination safely and punctually in the next 30 years.

SBB train on its journey through the Swiss mountains | Success Story SBB: Corporate Planning with Anaplan

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About Anaplan

Anaplan sets new standards for networked business planning (“connected planning”). The platform is based on Hyperblock™ technology that they have developed specifically in-house for the networking of planning. The technology enables dynamic, collaborative, and intelligent planning. Large global companies are already using the Anaplan solution to connect their employees, data, and plans. The result: Organizations plan in real time and make better decisions even in rapidly changing business environments. Headquartered in San Francisco, Anaplan have over 20 offices, 175 partners, and more than 1,600 customers worldwide.

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Marc Philipp Managing Director, valantic Business Analytics Swiss

Marc Philipp

Managing Director & Partner