Every so often in the life of a CIO, the opportunity arises to take your company to a new level of performance by transforming legacy technology systems into a present-day ERP technology. In 2011, I was afforded that opportunity by Lionel, the 116-year old iconic maker of trains and NASCAR die-cast replicas. All of the traditional challenges were part of this transformation. Change, a six-letter word, takes on the status of a four-letter word when it comes to moving a seasoned staff from a comfortable, well-known, well-worn, state of operations to a new technology in which no one knows how to do the job they have been doing for years. The directive was to find an affordable, effective, user-friendly ERP that had all the pillars of operations we sought—CRM, SCM, Finance/Accounting, and E-commerce. Being a mid-sized company, our acceptable spend didn’t allow us to pursue the big dollar ERPs.
One of the best-of-breeds ERP for a mid-size company is NetSuite. We had exposure to the E-commerce platform in NetSuite as it was the vehicle we used to sell NASCAR die-cast replicas on the web. Having a working knowledge of NetSuite put it in the lead position of consideration. However, to keep all things balanced, we also compared its operational capability and cost with MS Dynamics, Aprise, and VAI. In the end, all four ERPs compared favorably, and the winning point for our selection of NetSuite was our familiarity with its operations.
Lesson Learned: Don’t underestimate having knowledge of and connections inside the ERP provider to assist with the conversion of people, processes, and systems.
Another favorable element of NetSuite is that it’s cloud-based. With NetSuite in the cloud, the cost of servers hosting the ERP, the backup, the bandwidth, the PCI compliance, the security around the facility and data are part of the licensing fee. While you don’t own the source code to NetSuite, you do have the capability to amend its functionality through scripting and workflows. This provides the method to somewhat ‘customize’ NetSuite to fit your business model. NetSuite offers great out-of-the box functionality, but our needs required us to modify NetSuite’s SOP to conform to our operating model.
Lesson Learned: Having NetSuite as the responsible party for the infrastructure backbone of the ERP allows more time for CIOs to focus on leveraging technology as a leader in the organization.
NetSuite has a robust search and report feature to easily extract business data and turn it into analytical information to drive the business in the right direction.
We also discovered the NetSuite support community, both internal and external, is extensive. NetSuite does a fantastic job of providing vertical experts when you are seeking best practices in the use of their product. Due to the variety and vastness of those using NetSuite, it is very likely someone else is doing something similar to what you are seeking and NetSuite can aid you in defining the best solution for your needs. Combine this with the number of companies that have created bolt-on products that extend the core functionality of NetSuite, and you have a vast array of tools to continue raising the operating performance of your company.
Lesson Learned: It doesn’t have to be invented here. Seek and find what you need inside NetSuite and/or with the community of NetSuite Partners.
As part of our transformation, one of the end results of the new generation of technology was an ERP that “empowers” the user community to not require a stop at IT when reports, searches, and analytics are needed. We moved away from IT being a bottleneck of information into IT facilitating the user community to serve their own needs.
NetSuite has a robust search and report feature to easily extract business data and turn it into analytical information to drive the business in the right direction. NetSuite’s seamless integration with MS Excel allows the data to be imported into Excel for further analysis. However, we found that having a variety of people capable of creating data analytics presented another challenge. Different people use different filters for analytics. As an example, someone may create a sales report for Q3 for a year that has different numbers than someone else. One person may include tax and freight revenue in his reporting, while someone else does not. Reports with the same title, but different numbers, lead to confusion and inaccuracy.
Lesson Learned: Have a ‘Single Version of the Truth’ when it comes to key data analytics. All output should require the source elements and filters to avoid confusion by those reading the output.
With NetSuite having the operating components we sought - CRM, SCM, Finance/Accounting, and E-commerce - all of the data by which we make key business decisions exists in the same platform. This is an essential piece of keeping technology support effective and efficient in that we do not spend time synchronizing data from multiple sources. This provides a single source of information for anyone wishing to create reports and analytics. We did at one time try to incorporate a different platform’s data into NetSuite. The data synchronization between the two systems was extremely challenging and costly. After a two-year adventure, we stopped using another platform and NetSuite became our single platform.
Lesson Learned: Data synchronization is much harder than you expect. Much time is spent on the synchronization process, especially when it fails.
All of the “Lessons Learned” mentioned above are some of the major points we learned as we went through the implementation of NetSuite. There were many more, and we continue to learn on a daily basis.
A key point in our technology operations is continuous improvement. Fortunately, there are plenty of NetSuite friendly and Netsuite knowledgeable resources available to help us. In the end, NetSuite was and is the right decision for Lionel.