Last year, we implemented NetSuite, an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software at our firm. We were previously using two systems, Zoho CRM and Zoho Books, which we had outgrown. We needed something that we could personalize based on our processes, and NetSuite was the solution (please see my blog post NetSuite: How to Select the Best ERP for more on how we selected our ERP).
Implementing the new system was a company-wide effort which required a lot of hard work, and the first six months were particularly intense. In the end, however, we were able to produce a work of art. NetSuite was the system we needed and more.
1. Detailed Action Plan
Due to its complexity, NetSuite required us to work with consultants to implement the system. They were in charge of setting up the fundamental workflow and modules within the system in a way that made sense for our business. With the help of our implementation consultants, we developed a plan with timelines and detailed steps for how we were going to mold NetSuite to fit our needs. They made action plans and designed each of our main areas:
Purchase Orders and Billing
Customer Relationship Management
With their plans in hand, we started working alongside the consultants in each of the areas. Their roadmap helped us get the system ready to work at the fundamental level we needed.
2. Implementation at a Basic Level
This part is critical, and many companies may easily overlook the importance of cleaning and enhancing the system so that it is ready exactly the way your team needs it. The NetSuite consultants don’t live and breathe a company’s culture and process. Ideally, concurrent with the consulting team’s implementation, the company should be working to make the system as workable for the team as possible.
In our case, we tried to work with our consultants on this process part, but the deadline was too tight. I had to take over once they left because I was the only one on the team with experience in system implementation.
This became the most intensive part of the process. We were trying to learn the system and simultaneously become operational. We didn’t have the budget to continue working with hired consultants, so we ended up doing it ourselves.
Some of the things we worked on were:
Fields: The system collects information through fields. They must be accurately named and must also represent the exact information that has to be collected. We eliminated unnecessary fields, analyzed each remaining one to ensure it was accurate and made important fields mandatory.
Format: We had to make sure all the screens were the same throughout the system. If two screens had the same fields, we positioned them in the same spots.
Lists and catalogs: We also cleaned up the names and entries within all the different catalogs to ensure they all followed a logical order and format:
o Reports: We organized these by department and type. We placed the initial for each of the company’s departments first. Then, we further subdivided by area. For example, all Financial Statement reports are labeled as follows: F – FS – Report Name. F stands for the department (Finance) and FS for Financial Statements.
o Accounting catalog: The accounts were organized by the standard chart of accounts numbering, and we summarized the names. For example, Cash and Cash Equivalents became 1100-000.
o Entry forms: These are the screens we use to enter information. We cleaned up the number of forms and labeled them uniformly. The screen for entering client cases became “Case – Celaque,” for instance, to differentiate from the other forms in the system.
o Fields: We made the field names as short as possible.
Reporting: The consultants set up a basic reporting system, and we created all the additional reports we needed. We now have 84.
Accesses: We developed refined security accesses for each of the team’s members.
Company structure: We had to figure out what belonged where. NetSuite forced us to categorize every transaction by department, location, and company. Some aspects of this were easy, but for others, we had to analyze where and who was going to be responsible for what.
3. Transition from Old Systems
Once everything was ready for activation, our next step was transitioning off from our two previous systems: Zoho Books and Zoho CRM. Although NetSuite is a more comprehensive solution for our needs, it is still always hard to move away from the familiar to the unfamiliar. With that in mind, we gave ourselves two deadlines: by March, we would stop using the accounting system, and by June, we would leave our CRM.
Both transitions proved to be complex. Although our consultants helped us create opening balances in our accounting module, we still had to complete information that was missing. Our initial deadline was going to be March, and we were going to start to input transactions beginning that same month. Once we started, however, our accounting team decided to include the entire year’s transactions, so they also recreated January and February in the system.
The new schedule presented a lot more work but having all the information in the system from the beginning of the year allowed us to pull complete reports by the year’s end. As a result, our audit process at the end of the year was much simpler than it had ever been before. Taking that extra time paid off.
Moving from our CRM to NetSuite involved fewer steps. The major transition required moving our contacts from our old system to our new system. Once everything was ready, we devised a deadline for starting to use NetSuite and followed it. A week in, I realized that the team was using NetSuite as well as Zoho CRM as a backup. It was understandable, given the newness of the system, but we ultimately decided to move completely onto NetSuite and remove access to the old system.
This move worked well because NetSuite was functioning at that point. Any small pending details were resolved much quicker because we completely depended on the system now, and it forced us to learn how to work with it fully.
4. Refine and Enhance the System
During this next stage, we focused on refining everything we had programmed. One of our major crusades was eliminating all our Excel spreadsheets. Through years of working with Excel, I have found that spreadsheets are prone to recording and amplifying errors. The need to reconcile between documents to compensate for this problem is too time-consuming.
We gradually got rid of almost all our former spreadsheets, one by one. In our Properties department, we handled our portfolio primarily in Excel with three to four spreadsheets. In Finance, all our accounting support was also handled with Excel, which had dozens of worksheets. The Commercial department also managed all our availability in spreadsheets. The vast majority of the spreadsheets in all the departments were eliminated. All the hours we used to spend reconciling the various spreadsheets were significantly reduced.
We also spent a lot of time perfecting workflows for processes in each of the areas. For example, we purchase our inventory for construction using purchase orders. Previously, we had never worked with a system that included this mechanism. It took us a few months to get the workflow just right within the new system. There is one person who inputs the purchase order and another that approves it. We experimented with a couple of approval methods until we finally discovered that NetSuite had a native approval process that worked the best.
We continue to work on making NetSuite as tailored to our needs as possible. Most of our enhancements are ready, and we are reaping the rewards already. Our information is accurate and available on demand, which is something we never had before and is very much appreciated. I realize, though, that system enhancement is a never-ending process because our business will continue to evolve, and the system must change with it. The goal is to continue questioning our processes and improving our system as we grow.