So far in this series – a planning software buyer's guide – I've written about the benefits of workflow and the interesting ways our customers are using spreading to automate plan creation. Today I'll address another key component of modern planning systems: offline planning, which is particularly helpful for a geographically distributed workforce.
Whether planners are in remote locations or simply travel frequently, there is value in being able to access a planning system offline. One of our non-profit customers has staff responsible for project-based budgeting located in Africa – in areas with limited bandwidth and a sporadic internet connection at best. Spotty internet isn't an excuse for a late budget. In this situation, it's easy to see why their arcplan planning system needs to be functional for offline staff. Once they reach an access point, they can sync their plans to the centralized repository and their supervisors can proceed with suggesting edits or approving the plans.
Perhaps this is more relevant to your company: planners traveling on a plane may want to complete their work in the absence of an internet connection. Though many flights now offer Wi-Fi, it's usually slow, expensive and ultimately not worth the fee, especially if your flight will be relatively short. In this case, planners can be most efficient by simply working offline and connecting to the system when it is more convenient. Situations such as these push the requirement for offline planning capabilities to the forefront, so planners have the flexibility to complete their planning projects when it works for them.
arcplan is able to use Excel from a Web Services-based interface to conduct offline planning with true functional parity. So how does it work? In short, arcplan uses its Excel Add-In, arcplan Excel Analytics, and secured Excel sheets as a tactical local data source to enable users to budget and plan offline. Budgets, metadata, accounts, historical performance and resource data is pre-configured on the web-based version of the planning system, but only the budget's metadata is downloaded to the local offline version. Nevertheless, when working in an offline version of the planning report, users can work in a familiar Excel environment to query, analyze and modify data, while taking advantage of all their arcplan objects like hierarchies, radio buttons, check boxes, menus and graphics right in the Excel interface. Features used in online planning are maintained in offline mode; later users can reconnect to the network and synchronize the offline version of the report with the online "parent" version, thus maintaining consistency across all reports.
The benefits of offline planning capabilities are very practical ones:
- Budgeting timelines are not shattered because of limitations in system access.
- Planners get the flexibility they need and can be productive even without an internet connection. This is a key differentiator between arplan's solution and other cloud-only systems.
- The offline solution will always be a lighter-weight tactical version of planning. Offline publications call on metadata attributes and not the actual content itself. Planners are still able to quickly make changes to business data and complete key workflow processes offline, then feed this information to the online planning system once connected.
Choosing planning software is a huge undertaking that requires consideration of the needs of the entire planning workforce. Offline planning might be a component you hadn't thought of before.
Check out the other posts in this series: