Anaplan challenges Oracle, SAP, IBM in cloud data storage

So here's an alternative description: Anaplan has created technology that could kill off industry giants Oracle and SAP.

Think I'm exaggerating? DFJ Growth doesn't think so, which is why the venture capital firm led a group, including and Workday, that recently invested $100 million into the San Francisco startup. Since its founding in 2006, Anaplan, which expects sales to once again double this year, has snagged big names like Pandora, Hewlett-Packard, Boston Scientific and Procter & Gamble.

"Anaplan is changing the game," said Randy Glein, managing director of DFJ Growth. "The company is addressing a very large market opportunity."

From scratch

Of course, that's standard speak from any venture capitalist. But Anaplan's prospects have real legs for two reasons: The company has literally created technology from scratch. And corporate enterprise software, an industry long dominated by Oracle, SAP and IBM, is undergoing extensive change because of the growing popularity of cloud computing.

"We're at a real inflection point," Glein said.

In the past, smaller businesses used Microsoft's Excel spreadsheets to manage everything from finances to payroll. But as these businesses grew into large companies, they purchased custom on-premise software from Oracle and SAP to help scale up operations.

But the rise of cloud computing - storing data in remote servers over the Internet - has challenged those industry giants because companies increasingly demand software that offers flexibility and lower IT costs, analysts say. Cloud-based data does not require companies to purchase and house big servers and employ in-house technicians to maintain the machines.

By 2018, at least 30 percent of service-centric companies will move the majority of their needs to the cloud, according to research firm Gartner Inc.

"Large enterprises in energy, manufacturing and distribution industries are paying the penalty of a decade or more of excessive customization," said Gartner Vice President Andy Kyte. "Businesses today can take advantage of lower costs, better functional fit and process flexibility offered" by cloud technologies.

Cloud computing firms including Salesforce and Workday have emerged to challenge Oracle and SAP on specific business operations, like customer sales and human resources. Under President Marc Hurd, Oracle has been scrambling to catch up in cloud technology by purchasing firms like Hyperion, BlueKai and Corente Global.

Bulkier platform

But Laluyaux argues such an add-on, "stacking" approach only makes Oracle's platform even bulkier and harder to use. Anaplan, founded by Chief Technology Officer Michael Gould, decided to create completely new software architecture instead of just incrementally improving Oracle's technologies.

"We're not trying to make components of the stack run better," Laluyaux said. "We're collapsing the entire stack into a new engine."

The result is Hyperblock, a technology that Laluyaux says can help users quickly collect, organize and analyze disparate sets of data - sales, operations, human resources and finance - from across the company.

Anaplan also wants to create an App Store of sorts, in which third parties develop Hyperblock applications the same way Apple encourages developers to create software for the iPhone and iPad. On top of that, the company is developing a Hub where businesses can exchange ideas and practices on how to best use its technology. This "open and sharable" approach contrasts with Oracle and SAP, which tend to guard their software very closely.

But Anaplan still faces a steep climb. In 2012, SAP, Oracle and IBM accounted for nearly 50 percent of the $13.1 billion global sales of such software, according Gartner.

Prying away those customers won't be easy. Nor is teaching Anaplan's customers to make full use of the software. For example, Pandora uses Anaplan's software only to manage its financial data - leaving aside such fields as sales forecasts, human resources and marketing. For now.

"Hyperblock has established shallow roots that are starting to deepen," said Jared Waterman, Pandora's vice president of financial planning and analysis.

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