Three years ago, we found we had outgrown our accounting system. When we first started, we managed all our accounting activity on an Excel spreadsheet. We then implemented Zoho Books, an entry-level accounting system, and had been working with it for four years. At the time of its implementation, it had been a major upgrade, and I consider it a great starter accounting software system. A few years later, however, we found we were ready yet again for more advanced functions.
Selecting a new system was not straightforward or easy. We are real estate developers, and our industry has quirks that don’t fit into standard business models. For instance, we do not only sell, but we also lease properties. Also, our manufacturing process varies from building to building, and sometimes from apartment type to apartment type.
Furthermore, we realized that we needed to manage all our company’s transactions using only one system moving forward. As a firm, we purchase materials that are combined to develop a building which is then sold or leased; this overarching process had to be tied together. At that point, we were managing our purchasing via Excel, our accounting via Zoho Books and our sales via Zoho CRM, a customer relationship management software designed to help sales teams.
It was clear to us that something had to change, and we recognized that it was going to impact everything. The new system would have to touch every department to connect the entire company as one cohesive unit.
1. The Exploratory Phase
I started searching for alternatives to our current makeshift process. If we wanted to join purchasing with accounting and sales using a streamlined system, we required Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. There were many options available, and there were some that even specialized in real estate development. What these systems could do was amazing: they provided automation, accuracy, personalization, and flexibility. Additionally, I also realized very quickly that ERPs are expensive.
I gathered all the information that I could, and I sadly put the project away for the future because we simply didn’t have the budget. After learning about all the capabilities that an ERP had to offer, it was difficult to return to our original system and process. The idea never left my mind, however, because we badly needed a change.
Finally, after about a year, we were able to justify the cost by allocating part of our annual budget to this system. Happily, the time came to find our favorite system and start to implement it.
2. Evaluate the Options
In the year that had passed while waiting for budget approval, not a lot had changed in the software marketplace, but we still researched all the alternatives again. I made a list of all the available and viable systems, which included Intacct and Financial Force. I also looked at ERPs that were designed specifically for real estate developers, but they were unfortunately beyond our budget. We ultimately decided to focus on ERPs designed for a wide variety of industries with the idea of modifying one to fit our needs.
As a real estate firm, we also needed to take into consideration how we were going to manage critical focus areas, such as property management, legal documentation, and sales. The list of options, thus, included the ERP system and possibilities for handling each of the additional areas.
We tried demos of the different options, but there were only two that could work both with our budget and our industry: NetSuite and Financial Force. We looked at the pros and cons of the two systems. Some of the points we analyzed were:
Each system’s main strengths and weaknesses
Native reporting and workflows
Possibilities for modifications and enhancements
Future outlook: who owns the company and how much they invest in future updates
System integrations with other applications
We made an even more detailed list of requirements to see how we would handle some of our main reports in each system. For example, we needed to understand how we would manage our construction budget and financial statements for more than one company.
3. Selection and Negotiation
We created a deadline to decide between the two software programs, and it was quickly approaching. After testing and pricing each of the options, we decided to move forward with NetSuite. It was the only option that did everything we needed it to do within the budget we had.
There is one thing, however, that I loved about Financial Force that NetSuite does not do as well: the integration within Salesforce’s AppExchange. In the AppExchange, there are apps for any business function you could imagine, which means that integrating different components into one main system is much easier.
AppExchange notwithstanding, we chose NetSuite, as it was the winner in almost every category we examined. We also found solutions for each of the critical areas we needed to solve. For example, we found we could develop an enhancement to our contract process that could take the client’s information and produce a PDF file directly from the system.
Once we were sure, we negotiated with our supplier. We gave them the number of users and our requirements, and we were able to obtain the system at the price we needed.
4. Next Steps
Selecting the system turned out to be the easy part; the real work was yet to come. We defined a working timeline with clear responsibilities and started implementation. It took some very intense work and attention, but NetSuite did not disappoint.
NetSuite has been a game-changer for us. We have been using it now for over a year, and we can do everything we initially needed and more. It is sophisticated enough to continue to grow with us into the future.