What is NetSuite – Functional Areas

When it comes to NetSuite, there are numerous functional areas of the system, and an entire article could easily be written about each one, I will only cover each of them at a high level here. If you would like to learn more about any of these areas you can check out the Where to go from here article in this series.

Accounting: Since NetSuite started out as an accounting system it has strong and highly evolved support for accounting and inventory management. Almost anything you could want to do with accounting and inventory management is supported with NetSuite, though sometimes it may be supported in different ways than in legacy accounting systems. The more adaptable your business is to a modified business process, the easier it will be to use the NetSuite native way to perform accounting functions rather than what you may be used to. The most specific example I can think of is the chart of accounts. Rather than using a traditional numbering system (which you can still use if you really must), the recommendation is to segment accounts by department and class, and though many companies do still use account numbering, it is not a necessity. There are also functions that NetSuite can perform but only in the upper level editions or with add-on modules. A couple of examples of this are Multi-Book Accounting which is available only when you have the Advanced Accounting module, and the use of subsidiaries or multiple legal entities which is available only in OneWorld, NetSuite’s highest level product.

Reports, Saved Searches and Dashboards: The center point of having one integrated system, such as NetSuite, is being able to get meaningful information from the data you put into the system allowing you to make data driven business decisions. NetSuite provides several methods to access the data you have put in the system. Inside of NetSuite those methods are Reports, Saved Searches and Dashboards. Saved Searches and Reports are often confused in NetSuite, and perform similar functions; however Reports typically support a larger number of ways to edit the aesthetics of the way the data looks, whereas Saved Searches are generally better when dealing with data that you want to export. Though they both support the ability to export data and customize the view, there are different ways you do this in each. Reports and saved searches also differ in the data they expose, as there are times when fields are not available in one but are in the other. When you first login to NetSuite you will notice a dashboard that is made up of portlets, which are windows into various data views. These data views are created in a number of ways, including from reports, saved searched, key performance indicators, RSS/Atom data feeds, and even custom scripts among other methods; meaning that you can use your dashboard to get a good view of your business and your world if it is setup correctly. In fact in my experience the dashboard is one of the most commonly overlooked areas of NetSuite that could be very powerful but is never really implemented that way.

Procurement: NetSuite has full support for purchasing and procurement, and the full purchasing process including purchase orders and a built in or custom purchase order approval process. That being said, the built in purchase order approval process is limited, and setting up a custom approval process can be complex and time consuming depending on what you are looking to do, though this tends to be the case with a lot of the customization of NetSuite. In addition to managing procurement NetSuite can also manage vendors and those vendor relationships, including such things as the terms you get with the vendor and any other custom information you want it to by adding custom fields.

Customer Relationship Management: For many ERP systems, CRM or Customer Relationship Management has always been a sort of Achilles heel. Those systems can do almost, but not quite, everything, including the critical task of managing relationships with new or potential customers. Well the good news is that NetSuite does not have that problem. It actually has very robust CRM capabilities, and they flow through almost every area of the system. CRM in general though is not something where a one size fits all approach works, and while the out of the box NetSuite CRM is adequate, it is not really what I would call great and in some areas is barely what I would call good. For this reason you should count on customizing the CRM platform and this will take some time and planning, how much time and planning really depends on what you want to do, and how complex your business processes are. Sales and Service which are also a part of CRM are actually pretty good out of the box, generally however they will also need some customization. There is a lot you can customize with them, though this is typically a case where less is more and the less customization you can do and get the system working the way you want it the better off you will be. This is true for most but not all organizations though. Also the customization you need to do to make the sales and service portions of the system work will largely be covered when you perform your implementation with your implementation consultants.

Marketing: Marketing and marketing automation does exist in NetSuite, but it is probably a little more limited than what a marketing manager will be used to. You can customize the system to deliver a lot more in terms of marketing automation, but it will take time and effort. Still there are some unique things that can be done with an integrated system that would be much more difficult in a non-integrated one. Some examples include being able to see a true ROI (Return on Investment) for marketing campaigns that can be reported on in real time, and being able to correlate marketing email or drip marketing campaigns with website hits; though the second example assumes that you have put come customizations in and use a NetSuite powered website.

Project Management: In the last few years NetSuite as a company has made tremendous progress with the NetSuite platform to allow for better management of projects inside the system. Those projects can now be managed natively, and they look and feel similar to Microsoft Project. This is sufficient for many businesses; however for companies who are entirely project based there may be some functionality that is lacking. These companies however tend to use a separate system for project management alone and that system in many cases can be setup to integrate with NetSuite. There are also add-ons that can help with some project management functionality such as Open Air. Of course with this project management comes task management, and those tasks can be linked to projects, or can stand alone. Tasks can be, and generally are, linked to customers, or support requests or other records in NetSuite allowing management a better view of where their employees’ time is being spent.

Human Resources: NetSuite has support for Employee Records and data that would traditionally be kept in an HRIS (Human Resources Information System), though this area typically must be customized to function the way most companies want it to. The small customizations tend to be adding data fields, where the largest customizations have to do with security of the data. In NetSuite the Administrator role and whoever has this administrator role has the ability to access anything and everything. There is a lesser administrator role that can be used titled the System Administrator; however this role generally must be customized before it is used. There are ways that you can control access even with the Administrator role such as using two factor authentication though and this is generally enough since one person may have the role, but does not have a security token as that is held by someone else in the business. There are also third parties with software that can perform HRIS and integrate with NetSuite, including NetSuite’s own TribeHR. Even if you do not use NetSuite as your HRIS having all of your employees listed in NetSuite is a good idea since it is those employees who are then used to create user accounts, and since you can still do things such as create organizational charts with the SuiteOrg add on bundle.

Website and Ecommerce: If you are using NetSuite to manage your inventory, your price lists, your accounting and other pieces of your business it makes sense to use it as your web store as well; this way when customers browse your site they immediately see what is available and when they place an order your accounting and fulfillment teams immediately see it. NetSuite offers many capabilities to use the system as your web store, however it is typically more difficult to configure and somewhat more limited than other web store and shopping cart systems such as Magento or WordPress with the correct plug-ins. Much like everything else in NetSuite you will need to weigh the benefits and costs for yourself to determine if it’s worth it to use this part of the system. I can say from personal and professional experience that the website and web store are two of the pieces of NetSuite that are often not used due to a number of reasons ranging from a business that already has a web administrator who does not want to change or lose his or her job, to a business that just likes how things already work and do not want to make changes, to a business that has complexities in their website that cannot be duplicated using NetSuite, to many others. Making a decision not to use NetSuite to power your website and ecommerce is not necessarily a bad idea, but you should at least know the component is there.

File and Document Storage: NetSuite offers a file cabinet and document storage, but I can say right off the bat that this is one of the more limited areas of the system. The default amount of space that you are provided with for your entire company is typically only 10GB, so only slightly more than what you get from Dropbox, Google or OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) for free. Adding additional storage is expensive as well, and there are no benefits such as file versioning. Without resorting to third party applications or programming something yourself, the web interface and email are the only ways to upload files, though there is a free bundle you can install that allows for drag and drop uploads. The file system in the file cabinet operates pretty much the way you would expect it to, it is a nested tree structure similar to the Windows, Mac or Linux file systems. Documents can be associated to other records in the system and that can be pretty powerful if used correctly, and documents can be shared in the system. These last two are actually the only reason I can see to use the file cabinet in NetSuite at all, other than for storage of information NetSuite needs such as images for a NetSuite hosted website. The business reasons for storing documents in NetSuite tend to present themselves after implementation though, for example you may want to store customer contracts with customers. While the file cabinet is limited, it and NetSuite were never meant to store your companies’ general documents or replace other systems such as shared drives or Dropbox.

Custom Data: Almost every company in existence creates some type of custom information, and NetSuite’s extensibility is great at handling this. You can create custom fields to hold pieces of information in NetSuite, but you can also create entire custom records which are comprised of many custom fields which allow you to track all sorts of information that is either specific to your company or that the NetSuite designers never even thought of. You can also write scripts and workflows around these records to allow actions to happen deterministically for the records, thus automating business processes. One example I can think of that I have done in the past is creating records to allow tracking of contracts for a legal department in a business. Not only can you store a copy of the contract in NetSuite, but you can track key information such as who is affected by the contract and when the contract expires, and can take action based on that information such as sending email to the people affected several months before the contract expires. This example is actually not incredibly complex to setup though it does require some programming skill. Overall the ability to easily extend the system is one of the most powerful features of NetSuite.

Integrations: NetSuite also can integrate with a number of other systems as well, meaning that the NetSuite system is extensible. One key example is the ability to use a small Outlook add-on from NetSuite to connect email, contacts, tasks and calendaring from Microsoft Outlook to NetSuite. This add-on is not perfect though and is client based so there is some administration required, but it is at least given no charge. Another example is the ability to purchase and use the ODBC connector for NetSuite which allows a one way data export from NetSuite, where the data can be moved into other database systems or even Excel. Lastly there are a few standards based connections to move data into and out of NetSuite, those are SOAP and REST. Keep in mind to use the API’s you will need experience in system integration so this is not something a typical power user or even administrator can do, but it is good to know these areas exist.

Of course this list of areas in the system is not all inclusive, though it does cover the major pieces. NetSuite is also adding functionality on a regular basis which is currently twice a year based on their version release schedule. NetSuite also has enough market traction that a cottage industry has been built up around the system and there are add-ons for many types of business processes. These add-on modules either provide functionality that does not exist in NetSuite, replace functionality that is already in NetSuite with better functionality, or provide extended functionality for what NetSuite can already do. Some modules are simple to install, and take no more than a few hours, and some modules take weeks or months to install, configure, learn and begin to use correctly, but the fact that the system is so easily extensible should provide some level or assurance to businesses looking to use NetSuite.

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