Shutterstock and Vancouver Coastal Health Move to Agile Planning for an Agile World

Faster, more confident decision-making starts with real-time access to data spanning the enterprise—so that finance can scenario plan in tune with a rapidly changing world. Shutterstock and Vancouver Coastal Health share their journeys to better planning.

Group of happy colleagues in an office conference room

The age of scattershot spreadsheet-based planning is in decline—just 30% of companies still rely on spreadsheets for planning, budgeting, and forecasting, according to Deloitte’s 2023 global planning survey. And many, if certainly not all, businesses have replaced legacy planning systems used by financial planning and analysis (FP&A) teams.

But trouble spots exist. Spreadsheets are still the most widely used tool by finance professionals and more than half (54%) of respondents in the Deloitte survey reported that “they do not make proper use of planning and forecasting technology.”

At the same time, the myriad benefits offered by cloud-based planning have never been clearer. More accurate forecasts and more robust analytics powered by up-to-date enterprise-wide data, as well as AI and machine learning (ML) capabilities, help deliver the agility every business is after these days. Put another way: planning and forecasting processes need to be as dynamic as the enterprise itself.

Achieving that dynamic approach is only possible with a flexible, agile planning platform designed to easily integrate data streams from across the business—not just finance, but also HR, operations, and sales. That saves business users (and IT teams) time, and empowers planners to nimbly scenario plan for a range of possible futures and contingencies.

To be prepared for whatever the future holds—a hallmark for any successful company—organizations need adaptive planning capabilities that “give the business user the ability to be agile,” said James Choi, director of financial transformation and systems at Shutterstock, a global creative content and services company, during a Workday Rising session last year.

Spreadsheet Fatigue

At Shutterstock, Choi saw up close how planning and forecasting processes were falling short. When he arrived at the company in 2019, the planning software “was mostly just a glorified data warehouse,” Choi said. It was hard to tell if data was clean, and integrations with other systems “were constantly breaking.”

Two persistent pain points stood out. First, Shutterstock couldn’t get headcount reconciliation to work, stymieing financial planning and workforce forecasting. Second, Choi said, because the utility of the legacy planning system was so limited, many forecasting and revenue modeling activities were manual and inefficient.

In fact, the finance team was using 100-tab spreadsheets loaded with data extracted from the legacy planning system. This process wasn’t exactly user-friendly and led to version control and security challenges. Finance team members sometimes stayed at the office until 1:00 a.m. to create a forecast or budget presentation deck. 

Shutterstock workers weren’t alone in experiencing a legacy-system-induced lack of sleep. At regional health system Vancouver Coastal Health in British Columbia, Canada, FP&A teams also regularly worked late due to a cumbersome legacy database.

As a result, until 2022, planners at Vancouver Coastal Health, a $6 billion government organization with 29,000 employees, frequently resorted to “shadow planning,” said William Chan, manager, financial planning and business support, during the Workday Rising session.

“When your system is really static, what do you do? You bring data out of the system to Excel and now you’re disconnected,” Chan said. “Nobody likes shadow planning—especially IT.”

Back then, stress and long hours piled up as teams raced to meet deadlines, waiting for assistance from database administrators and working up calculations and ad hoc spreadsheets, Chan said. “It’s not an easy turnaround,” he adds. “People lose sleep.”

Seizing New Value with Agile Planning

For the FP&A team at Vancouver Coastal Health, it wasn’t hard to imagine better ways of working. Everyone from the CFO on down was on the same page. The organization needed a modern, flexible, and user-friendly planning platform that sped up reporting and forecasting processes. A more specific requirement? Integrated multiyear budget forecasting capabilities. 

“Everybody was keen on moving to something more automated to get their life moving a lot faster. Now, with a reliable, centralized data source, the FP&A team is able to easily forecast on a periodic basis,” Chan said. “No need to hunt and wait for the latest version of a data report. That means our team has more time to do higher-value work that helps keep the organization change-ready.”

At Shutterstock, Choi and his team wanted to meet three main business needs through a new, more agile planning system. First, they needed real-time integration between finance and HR to enable headcount planning and faster decision-making. Second, they wanted their business unit P&Ls to span the enterprise. And third, with 65% of Shuterstock’s revenue coming from e-commerce, the company needed to work up revenue models integrated with its database.

“On top of all that, we wanted something that was more simple and elegant,” Choi said.

A single view across finance and HR enables Shutterstock to make real-time decisions to keep pace with the market.


After an RFP, Shutterstock decided to implement Workday Adaptive Planning. More than a year later, the value realized in the wake of that decision is significant and multifaceted. With seamless integrations between Workday Human Capital Management (HCM) and Workday Adaptive Planning, clean, real-time data supporting workforce planning is the new normal. For the first time, the FP&A team can easily switch between business units, toggling between forecasted and actual quarterly and monthly budgets.

And here’s the productivity kicker: “Our FP&A team finished the budget six weeks faster,” Choi said. “They really took ownership of processes—they’re running integrations and building their own reports.”

For Vancouver Coastal Health, which also implemented Workday Adaptive Planning in 2022, the biggest value has been having a single source of data truth—everyone has access to the same real-time data in the cloud, which is refreshed daily and immediately accessible. Gone is the need to wait for a report request to be run or to interact with database administrators.

“Now, with a reliable, centralized data source, the FP&A team is able to easily forecast on a periodic basis. No need to hunt and wait for the latest version of a data report. That means our team has more time to do higher-value work that helps keep the organization change-ready.”

William Chan Manager, Financial Planning and Business Support Vancouver Coastal Health
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Clear ROI

The decision to transition to a modern planning and forecasting system and move beyond spreadsheets and manual processes is a weighty one. Teams grow accustomed to certain ways of working even if those methods involve imperfect and time-consuming legacy systems. Change requires vision, focus, energy, and some powers of persuasion.

But according to a 2023 Forrester Consulting study, the economic value of deploying Workday Adaptive Planning is clear. Organizations that do so increase FP&A productivity by up to 20% and achieve an average ROI of 249%, the study found. And, average users of the platform achieve 70% shorter planning cycles.

That sizable productivity jump is in part due to AI and machine learning (ML), which are integrated into Workday Adaptive Planning. These technologies are helping to drive a step change in how FP&A teams can benefit from automation.

With many reporting functions and finance-related processes and transactions now automated, teams have more time to spend on building the future rather than making sense of the organization’s current performance and challenges.

That’s exactly what’s happening at Shutterstock, thanks to the what-if scenario modeling capabilities built into Workday Adaptive Planning. They’ve proven timely at the business, which has acquired 10 other companies during the last 2 years, Choi said. The flexibility to come up with different scenarios as Shutterstock has evolved has been really effective.

“You can have scenario one, two, and three; you can have a doomsday version or an over-the-moon forecast,” Choi said. “We just didn’t do that before. Workday Adaptive Planning has been very impactful for our business—and everyone gets to go home a little bit earlier.”

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