Leveraging Automated Workflow to Streamline Processes

Michael Johnson, Principal, Bridgepoint Consulting
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Michael Johnson, Principal, Bridgepoint Consulting

Over the past few decades, technologists have promised paperless offices to improve efficiencies, optimize business processes, and reduce costs. From using video screens to access data instead of reports in the 60’s, to the introduction of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in the 90’s, and the Electronic Signatures Act eliminating the legal barrier requiring physical signatures in 2000, the fulfillment of the paperless office has continued to allude us.

"Simply configuring NetSuite—setting it up and getting it to work—won’t allow you to extract the most value from your investment"

So here we are in 2016. And although the paperless office may seem like a pie in the sky dream, it’s not a myth. Today’s generation of best-in-class ERP systems combine sophisticated automated workflow with Customer Relationship Management capabilities, enabling companies to focus resources on reaching their peak potential, instead of IT overhead, to finally deliver on the promise of a truly paperless office.

As a leading provider of cloud-based business management software, NetSuite is packed with value and provides the system capabilities that all companies need to manage their financial, operational and sales activities. Its open architecture and use of next generation technology allows companies to gain efficiencies and automation like never before, with little or no technical support.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, it can be if you’re not diligent in your approach. Although NetSuite can be configured and deployed at a fraction of the cost and time of legacy applications, the mistakes companies make can have major implications.  

Simply configuring NetSuite—setting it up and getting it to work—won’t allow you to extract the most value from your investment. To get the most from NetSuite and incorporate key process automation, follow these three important steps:

1. Don’t Skimp on Requirements Gathering

In order to set the stage for a successful automation strategy, nail down all business requirements up front. Without this thorough understanding, the solution and strategy chosen may not be ideal, and will likely result in expensive rework. Remember, by shortchanging or rushing through this step, you’ll end up with a less than desirable result.

Tip: It is nearly impossible to efficiently automate every process and edge case. Instead, place an emphasis on addressing core business needs before exploring edge cases.

2. Choose the Right Approach

With NetSuite’s versatile architecture, many options can be utilized to provide key business automation. And believe it or not, most of this can be achieved by non-technical resources. Here are a few examples:

Native Process Configuration

NetSuite is pre-configured with best-practice automated process flows for fundamental CRM and ERP procedures, such as Salesforce automation, Order-to-Cash and Procure-to-Pay. In many cases, these out-of-the-box process flows can be tailored to your business simply by changing configuration settings or features. Make sure you (or your implementation partner) are educated on these preferences, and understand how automation can be natively incorporated into your account before pursuing expensive alternatives.

SuiteFlow

NetSuite leverages a UI-friendly tool called SuiteFlow, which is a point-and-click, multi-step workflow engine that utilizes various States (steps), Actions (activities to perform at each step) and Triggers (how/when to move to the next step) in a variable routing procedure. Automation that can be gained using SuiteFlow include email notifications, advanced approval routing, and pop-up messages when saving a record. Best of all, no technical resources are required to leverage this functionality.

Here is an example of a workflow for a multi-level quote approval process:

SuiteScript

Beyond configuration and SuiteFlow, SuiteScript can be used to extend the platform exponentially. SuiteScript is a JavaScript-based API that gives developers the capabilities to drive sophisticated process flows, run batch processes, facilitate systems integration, and modify a user’s experience. Entire processes can be automated from one entry point. Unlike SuiteFlow, a technical resource is needed to develop these capabilities within the NetSuite account.

An example of using SuiteScript is for a company that employs a 3rd party website for online sales, which are then integrated to NetSuite. Due to the company’s unique accounting requirements, the standard General Ledger impact from these transactions in NetSuite need to be adjusted. Rather than manually creating new adjustment records for each transaction, a SuiteScript solution was utilized to automatically trigger the creation and execution of this process, add scalability, and eliminate manual intervention.

Tip: When choosing between SuiteFlow or SuiteScript, consider how that solution will be maintained over time. While SuiteFlow leverages point-and-click setup capabilities, if the process is complicated or involves a significant number of steps, maintaining that workflow may become a major effort. Conversely, if you do not have JavaScript expertise in-house, you will need to invest in and leverage the expertise of a services firm to make modifications to SuiteScript solutions.

SuiteApps

NetSuite also has an extensive community of partners that have built complementary applications on the NetSuite SuiteCloud platform that integrate seamlessly and add greater functionality to specific business processes. When identifying a desired automation, you should first understand what Apps are already available that provide your desired functionality.  

Common SuiteApps, include:

3. Test, Test and Test Again

Everyone has heard (or worse, experienced) horror stories of failed implementations. In many cases, this was due to undertaking too much, too quickly. When development gets delayed but the Go Live date is not adjusted accordingly, time spent on non-core development activities, such as testing, gets squeezed. However, if you don’t fully test, you will go live with business process automation that likely has significant gaps and fails routinely. Catching these defects up-front, rather than after employees are using the application, can save significant time, money and embarrassment.

Don’t make this mistake—fully test your application and ensure your employees get the upgraded experience they’ve been waiting for all these years.

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