Five UX features you may not have discovered

The release last year of the Anaplan UX was one of the largest and most eagerly anticipated product updates that Anaplan has seen.

In the months since the first public UX release, we have seen hundreds of updates to the UX with extra features being delivered on an almost daily basis. Some of these new features will be quite clear to anyone building or using an App, but other features are a little more hidden. Here are five UX features which you may, or may not, have already discovered. 

Filtering a Page Selector

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In dashboards, we always had the ability to attach a filter to a page selector as shown in the screenshot below. This would allow us to dynamically restrict the list selections available to the user, without the need for a list subset.

The biggest drawback was that we could only apply this filter to page selectors on a view. There was never a way to filter a page selector that had been published separately on a dashboard.

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The UX brings the ability to filter selectors to the entire page. You can now filter the context selectors that sit across the page ribbon.

This feature can be helpful in certain situations—for example:

  • You want to restrict a user from selecting certain list items only on specific pages (and therefore selective access would not be suitable).
  • You want to force a user selection, for example where they have made a line item selection and you want this to be reflected in their context selection.

New Styles for Conditional Formatting

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Dashboards offered us the functionality to apply conditional formatting to a line item by filling the background of the cells using a choice of two, or three, ranges of color. It did the job of highlighting cells when needed (for things like variance analysis and input validations) but lacked a variety of styles and was limited in customization.

The UX brings new styles and customizations that allow us to be a lot more creative when formatting cells within a grid or worksheet.

Page builders can choose from a selection of three styles:

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  1. The traditional background, which is what we are familiar with from dashboards.
  2. A new Border style, which shows a darkened edge of the cell and a lightened center containing the number. I like to use this style when displaying a summary line item.
  3. Another new Morse style, which shows a colored bar within the cell that changes color and size according to values. A handy feature for comparing data values and highlighting numerical variances.

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As well as these new styles, the UX also offers a much broader range of colors and color scales to choose from. Dashboards were limited to a handful of pre-defined color sets, offering various combinations of red, yellow, blue, green, and white.

In UX, Page Builders can choose from a pallet of 36 colors and build their color scales by selecting a mixture of any of them.

KPI Card Sparklines

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KPI cards are a brand-new feature to the UX which we didn’t have with dashboards. They allow a Page Builder to publish a single value on a card, representing a key metric or KPI. While KPI cards have been around since the early days of the UX, the last few weeks has seen the introduction of sparklines on a KPI card.

While the KPI card might display a full-year total as a value, the inclusion of a sparkline can be used to show a trend over time. The image below shows how we have used KPI cards with sparklines within an Insurance FP&A example.

Users can also hover over the sparkline at various points to see the corresponding values.

Split Screen Views in Worksheets

The UX introduced two types of pages—boards and worksheets. While boards are great for presenting several individual elements (grids, charts, KPI cards, etc), worksheets are optimized for displaying a single large grid of data.

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Being able to easily navigate through a large grid of data is helpful, but very often, we want to review this data alongside another grid, perhaps with a synchronization between the two grids. In dashboards, we might try to align two views next to each other, but the result was often a lot of scrollbars and attempts at clever filtering to try and make the views work together.

The UX delivers a clean and comfortable interface for working within a single large grid but also delivers functionality to include a secondary view at the bottom of the page which will automatically sync with your context selections. I’ve found this very useful for allowing the user to compare two grids, displaying a graph or a chart related to your primary grid, or even to give the user the ability to modify assumptions and see the immediate impact on results—for example, if you want to run some scenario analysis.

Text Field Validations in Forms

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Finally, the last feature of the UX to be covered in this article is the ability to apply validations to fields when using a Form. Forms are an entirely new concept to the UX, providing Page Builders with the ability to add a pop-up view for creating new list items. Within a form, Page Builders can define which list properties or line items should be shown for the users to enter data.

In dashboards, we would validate input cells using formula logic and some bright conditional formatting which would hopefully alert the user to an invalid input. Overall it worked well enough to prevent invalid data entering the model, but we could never force the validation at the point of data entry.

The UX introduces several options for validation rules which can be set on any text formatted line item.

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The screenshot shows an example where Expense Name is selected as a field that is required. Anaplan will append a red asterisk to the end of the field name (to provide a visual indication that it is a mandatory field) and will not enable the Submit button until this field is completed.

Given the range of validation rules currently on offer, the one I am likely to use the most often is Field is required. Being able to make a field mandatory, and preventing the user from submitting the form until the field has been populated, is something that is quite difficult to achieve with dashboards and more often requires the end user to notice an error message (which they may or may not choose to ignore!).

These might not be the most talked-about features of the UX within the Anaplan community, but don’t underestimate the value that they can bring to your Apps! While we always look forward to the big product announcements, remember to also look out for those lesser publicized features which might offer something that can make a big difference to your user experience.

Using Anaplan for Supply Chain Planning

We hear from many prospective customers about the challenges they face with accurately and efficiently conducting their supply chain planning. One area where we’ve gained a lot of experience is helping customers enhance their S&OP processes. Historically, these businesses would have relied on Microsoft Excel and Access solutions to complete their planning, but the reality of using these tools is often far from ideal. The sort of challenges they face are as follows:

• Capturing inputs from multiple users across the business is tricky. Spreadsheets end up being emailed around the organisation and then linked back together in a confusing web of linked spreadsheets.
• The level of granularity that can be achieved through a spreadsheet may not be enough for the business to plan accurately.
• Building in the ability to calculate a statistical forecast or seasonality can be tricky in Excel.
• Sharing the results of a forecast across the business can be slow, especially when different versions of the truth emerge. It can then be very time consuming to produce reporting packs which may end up needing to be redone if the plan gets updated.

Mentat Technology has worked with several customers to deliver S&OP solutions in Anaplan. We’ve helped these customers remove the limitations presented by their old solutions and realise the benefits of implementing a cloud-based, integrated model. In turn, these companies have gone on to roll-out Anaplan across other parts of their organisation such as Finance, thereby leveraging the benefits of connected planning.
Our customers have reported significant reductions in the time it takes to produce forecasts, and that has allowed them to increase their forecasting frequency. Some customers have chosen to implement statistical forecasts that greatly improve the accuracy of their sales forecast, to the point where the accuracies of these statistical forecasts beat those of their own sales team!

Read more about how Mentat Technology have helped Tarmac use Anaplan for their supply chain planning.
If you would like to learn more about how Mentat Technology can help with supply chain planning, please contact us.
Read more about Supply Chain planning in Anaplan 

Anaplan Partner Hub

This week we attended Anaplan’s first full day Partner Hub in London. It was a chance to learn more about the platform changes being planned for release in the short, near and long-term and to also hear about their vision for how they see the product evolving over the coming years.

There was too much covered during the day to share everything, but some of the highlights for us were the demonstrations we saw of the new workflow functionality and Excel add-in. Anaplan have clearly invested a lot of time and resources in redeveloping both of these – and the results are impressive.

The new Anaplan workflow, or ‘Tasks’ as we will probably come to know it, allows planning cycles to be much more task driven. Instead of accessing their planning dashboards within the models as they would have done previously, users can receive an email notification which will take them to a new Tasks portal. From here they can see all tasks assigned to themselves and complete each one in order – without leaving the portal.

The new Excel add-in currently in development has made huge improvements since the current release. One major change in the new build is that the add-in allows users to manage the data they retrieve themselves, rather than relying on a model builder to create the appropriate views within the model. As a result, users can be more selective about what data they pull in to Excel from Anaplan. We have also seen big improvements in how data can be pivoted and sliced once it is in Excel.

If you would like to understand more about upcoming changes to Anaplan, please contact us.