Customization in NetSuite: The Right Approach

Chris Blaisure, CIO, SD Mayer & Associates, LLP
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Chris Blaisure, CIO, SD Mayer & Associates, LLP

Whether it happens early in the sales process, during implementation, or while supporting a user, I find myself repeating it on almost every Netsuite project: “The good thing about NetSuite is that it’s customizable and the bad thing about NetSuite is that it’s customizable.” I had heard it from others and always considered it something which would make sense to anyone who’s spent time with NetSuite. However, it wasn’t until recently that I was asked to explain it in detail. The reasoning behind this comment boils down to three key concepts, the understanding of which are vital in deciding whether acustomization of NetSuite will be successful in optimizing your business processes:

NetSuite is a “platform” to do business on and not an out of the box solution for transaction processing. While it has all the transactions you would expect, Sales Orders, Invoices, Vendor and Bills, it’s the flexibility of how you use those transactions in your own business process that makes NetSuite such a powerful product.

For example, a SaaS based company on NetSuite has a hardware component to their software as a service product. Any system can create an invoice for their monthly service. Using NetSuite as their business “platform” we were able to use a sales order to drive monthly billings (invoices), dictate depreciation on the hardware component through automated journal entries, and track all related SaaS Metrics (ACV, LTV, and CAC). This was only possible through customizing the NetSuite platform and would not have been available in any out of the box solution.

  ‚ÄčThe good thing about NetSuite is that it’s customizable and the bad thing about NetSuite is that it’s customizable  

Conceptualizing business processes and relating them to features in NetSuite can be difficult. If you ask any business process owner, they can probably tell you about their current process in detail. But, given unlimited flexibility to build a better process, can they conceptualize a scalable, repeatable process in enough detail to deliver a better solution?

I worked with a Heavy Machinery company who had a tremendous idea to create the ability to dictate loading positions on delivery trucks to maximize the number of units they could fit on a flatbed truck. To make this work, we would have needed to capture all of the unique variables of each unit, create loading rules for each truck, calculate optimal positioning, and create custom records/forms in NetSuite to facilitate the process. It was difficult for the process owners to conceptualize the variables and develop formal rules around loading each truck. This ambitious project is possible, but the uncertainties of the process details have put this project on hold.

Translating requirements into NetSuite functionality and implementing customizations can be costly. I often use simple percentages to explain NetSuite functionality as we go from native features to complete customizations. After a simple implementation (Chart of accounts, customers, and items), NetSuite will generally meet roughly 50 percent of a given customer’sstated requirements. A good implementation team which can configure feature settings, basic workflows, and scripts will get you to about 75 percent. Engaging in a customization project or implementing 3rd party applications will get you to85 percent–90 percent. Satisfying every requirement invariably becomes difficult and potentially cost prohibitive as custom development for the most detailed and unique business needs can be expensive and time consuming.

Taking a holistic view of these 3 concepts, NetSuite is a platform which has the power to enable your custom business processes when your project team (internal and external) can explain not just the process, but how to improve on that process in NetSuite, and your project manager can balance native functionality with the cost of customization when delivering on requirements. Keep this in mind if you are considering buying NetSuite, selecting an implementation partner, or deciding on any NetSuite customization project.

Every CIO has seen, heard of, or been part of a failed ERP system implementation. A lot of factors come into play and the best implementations I have been part of have similar set-ups. First, it starts with project sponsorship at the C-level group. Sponsorship at this level is a key to shaping requirements and realistic expectations. Second, key business process owners must be part of the discovery and implementation phases and designing the processes needed to do their jobs in NetSuite. Third, a partner or resource that understands the product in enough detail to translate user requirements to native functionality or platform customizations must be part of the project. When it comes to implementing NetSuite, navigating the ability to use standard features and understanding the platform customization tools is the difference between success and failure.

 I have seen companies try to avoid customizations and it leads to stunted functionality to the point that the net value NetSuite offers becomes negligible. Success with NetSuite requires a structured approach to designing your implementation that uses all the standard features of the tool while leveraging the platform to customize where appropriate. From custom fields, to user developed workflows, client side scripts, and custom Suitelets, your project manager or system administrator should be able to identify what customization makes the most sense given the situation. The ability to customize is one of NetSuite’s most powerful features and as long as it’s done effectively it will separate you from the competition.

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