What is NetSuite – Common Limitations

NetSuite used to use the tag line “One System, No Limits”. As a NetSuite administrator I am personally pretty happy they made the move away from this tag line and style of selling the product. Having a sales person tell all of the C-level executives at your business that the system they were selling had no limits and could do anything, only to later leave and leave you as the administrator with the burden of revealing the truth to those same people is thankfully a process that has been for the most part left in the past. Still it is important to make sure that when you are being sold NetSuite, you make sure that it will deliver on all of the critical features that your business will need. This does not mean NetSuite needs to deliver on all that you want or ever could want, but that it needs to deliver on all that you truly need to get business done, including those things that provide a strategic advantage for your business. With that in mind I have created this article in the What is NetSuite article series. This article contains information about some of the more common limitations you may run into when using NetSuite.

Backup and Recovery: Because NetSuite is a hosted solution there is not the same need for backup and recovery that there is with traditional on premise systems, which are traditionally disaster recovery type backups. NetSuite for their part does maintain backups of its systems for this type of situation. So the scenario that a server will go down and your company will lose all of its data is unlikely, and in fact almost impossible since this is the type of situation that on a scale of many customers would put NetSuite out of business. There are however many other reasons that companies keep backups, and knowing that NetSuite keeps them only for disaster recovery purposes means that if your company needs them for other reasons that can be problematic. Some examples of reasons you may wish to keep historical backups are for financial or information technology audit reasons, or because you may need to roll back just a few transactions. There are some workarounds to being able to keep these types of backups, but this is a limitation that is not easy to get around. This however is pretty common to the software as a service industry

Rollback: This is an area where NetSuite mostly falls flat. In many systems if you were to delete a transaction, or make a change to a transaction such as a sales order or purchase order, there would be a way you could rollback that change. NetSuite does not have this ability. In the event that you make changes to a transaction there is a system log that will show what changes are made, and while it captures most changes and certainly the meaningful ones, it does not capture all changes. If you delete a transaction however you are also deleting the log of the transaction. This does not mean that you can delete a sales order that has been fulfilled for example, as you would have to delete the fulfillment record as well, so at least the system prevents you from leaving transactions orphaned; though it would be much nicer if the system had a log that showed all transactions that were put in then removed from the system. There are some benefits to being able to cleanly delete transactions though, for example you can test transactions in the system then quickly delete them in times where this is needed. There are also some workarounds to this problem using either workflows, scripting and/or external logging systems, and they range from simple to complex.

Browser Limitations: NetSuite is browser based; this can be a good thing since you can use it on any computer with a modern web browser and an internet connection. There are some limitations of browser based software though, and you should be aware of the most common of these. Many of the keyboard shortcuts that you can normally use in client / server software are not present on browser based software. There are some keyboard shortcuts in NetSuite, however if you are used to using only a keyboard to navigate a traditional ERP system you may find this an issue; NetSuite was made to be used with a pointing device such as a mouse or track pad. More importantly, some browser shortcuts may occasionally cause problems inside a system such as NetSuite, and while this does not tend to be a huge problem or happen often, it can be very annoying when it does. One example is accidently using the backspace key when your curser is not inside a text field since in many browsers this takes you back to the previous page. Browsers also for the most part are stateless, they may maintain that you are logged into a website through cookies, sessions and other advanced techniques, however they are generally not talking back and forth to the server as changes to a record are made; the exception to this is when they implement AJAX technology which only some parts of NetSuite use. This means that while it is rare, there are times when you can enter all of your data into a record, save it, and due to a problem on your computer, on NetSuite’s servers, or somewhere in between, the record may not save. You will always know when this happens, since you will not receive back the page you were expecting but will receive an error instead. It can still be annoying if you spend a lot of time entering data into the record. Truthfully this does not happen very often, and most of the time when it does it is something on your end such as internet problems or local computer errors, but it can still be annoying. Having a robust Internet connection and good working computer can help avoid this.

Hosted Limitations: Because NetSuite is a hosted solution, you have no control of how the back end systems are run. Truthfully they are run pretty well, and the number of problems they have are few and far between, however there are occasional outages, and you have no control of these. Most of the outages are scheduled and happen late in the evening or in the early morning hours; that is sometime between about 9pm and2am in the Pacific Time Zone. Usually you have a week or more notice that the outage will happen as well, and the outages are typically short ranging from about ten minutes to an hour. You can usually expect these outages to happen only about once every few months. This can still be a problem if you work in an environment where there are a significant number of people using the system during the hours NetSuite will be performing maintenance, either because of night shifts or due to them being outside of the United States. In addition to the scheduled outages there are occasional problems and outages that can occur at any time. I tend to see about two or three of these per year, and when you figure your average working day you will probably see these during the workday about once a year. These outages are typically pretty short (less than half an hour), but depending on your company culture, what you do, and how you use NetSuite, these outages can either be minor annoyances or major sources of pain.

Difficult to Customize: Some things in NetSuite are very easy to customize, for example adding data fields to a record, but there are some areas that are very difficult to customize. It might be more accurate to say that there are some areas of NetSuite that require a good amount of time investment to customize, and/or have a steep learning curve for how to customize. I will not go into all the pieces of NetSuite that I believe are complex since that would be an exhaustive process, but just know that little things can be easy to modify but larger things can sometimes be much harder and the line of delineation between what is and is not a big or small thing is easily blurred.

Administration Time: Many people think of Software as a Service with the mistaken belief that by purchasing software as a service they will no longer need to have someone manage or perform administration on that software. This is false for most SaaS offerings, and NetSuite is no exception. While some administration and maintenance tasks get easier, they do not go away, and they still take time though you may be able to shave off a good percentage of the time, perhaps 20% to 40% of the time you spend now will no longer need to be spent performing administration of the software, but this still leaves 60% to 80% of the time you currently spend. NetSuite for their part, when selling the system will tell you that it does not require much if any administration, but that is simply not true. NetSuite administration will still be a significant investment. However you will no longer need to worry about all of the back end management that you did before such as server and software maintenance, licensing and costs.

Support Response Times: NetSuite support does a pretty good job of resolving problems with one call, however sometimes the problems you encounter will be more complex than what they have seen in the past, sometimes the problems will be related to backend system defects, sometimes you will get a support rep who is new, or there could be a slew of other reasons that sometimes getting a problem resolved will take time. There are occasions when getting support to resolve the problem right away may not matter as much, such as for a new process that you are trying to implement, however there are other times when something is broken when you may need an answer right away. Sometimes you can get that answer right away and sometimes you can’t. Other than working with your account rep, and they are usually pretty helpful, to get your issue listed as a higher priority there is not that much that you can do.

Shared System Slowdowns: Because NetSuite is a shared system, you may notice that things slowdown from time to time. Internally NetSuite appears to prioritize their processing power to support standard user operations such as interacting with the system. This however means that if you use data imports or mass updates you may notice times when you must wait for some time period before an operation you asked to complete is queued and completed. In practice this is usually not a huge deal, but it can be from time to time depending on what you are doing and if downstream operations that are time sensitive depend on what you are doing.

System Functionality Limitations: In addition to those limitations listed above, there are also many limitations of what the system can do based on how it was designed. Whether these are really limitations depend on your business processes, since not having a function that you never use really does not make much of a difference anyway. A great example of one of these limitations that is used by many companies is the line item discount since NetSuite does not provide a native way to do line item discounts. There are things such as discount items, and blended discounts, but at the line item a discount does not exist. Of course you can write a workaround to this using the available customizations and some light scripting, however this is just one example of a process that is not available. My best advice would be to go through your companies’ processes, mapping them out and testing them thoroughly before deciding on this or any other system. This takes more time, however can prevent a lot of heartache and headache down the road.

Overall there are limitations in all systems, these are some of the ones I have seen come up frequently, but I am sure there are others I am forgetting. If there are any other common limitations you have run into that I have left off this list please leave a comment in the comment section so I can expand the article to contain those.

Hopefully this article provided a good overview of the various functional areas in NetSuite. Feel free to leave a comment below and let us know what you think. This article is just one part of the What is NetSuite series available on this website.

Cheers
–Sam