October 2022

Playbook: Take the pain out of your next NetSuite migration

Any time a company moves from technology with basic functionality to something more advanced, there is going to be a learning curve.

Shane Schick

Jennifer McNamee and her team weren’t worried. They hadn’t heard the horror stories. There was a general “We’ve got this” vibe. It didn’t last long, though.

“We told ourselves, ‘We’ve implemented software platforms before, and we’ll do it again,’” McNamee, Float’s Senior Finance and Accounting Manager, recalled, harkening back to a project with a previous employer. “But then, halfway through, it was like, ‘Okay, actually, this is a huge beast.’

The beast, of course, was NetSuite, an integrated suite of applications that spans enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and e-commerce.

Founded in 1998 and owned by Oracle, the company has attracted customers in more than 28,000 organizations around the world, including Canadian firms like TD Bank. It has achieved the “Leader” position in Gartner’s most recent Market Quadrant in its category. It has strong reviews on sites like G2. Adopting it as a growing business, however, can have its challenges.

This is not necessarily a criticism of the product itself. It’s just that any time a company moves from technology with basic functionality to something more advanced, there is going to be a learning curve. Too often, people have to pursue that learning on their own.

With that in mind, Retained Learnings drew upon McNamee’s experience, prior to joining Float, to create a high level NetSuite upgrade playbook and help streamline this journey for fellow finance professionals.

Step 1: Review your business case for a NetSuite upgrade

It’s easy to understand why growing companies don’t start off with a platform like NetSuite. It would be like a single person buying a mansion as a first home: their life probably hasn’t got enough going on to fill all those rooms.

In a similar way, many companies typically set up their finance and accounting teams with tools that allow them to handle everyday transactions and keep costs down at the same time. QuickBooks is a great example of a product that’s suited for small businesses and early-stage startups. In the case of the company where McNamee worked previously, the finance team had been working with Xero.

Everything was going fine until the organization grew to the point where it had a U.S. subsidiary and consolidation was becoming more onerous.

“If you have multiple entities, you have to download both sets of financials, put them into a Google sheet and then do that consolidation manually,” she explained. “It just takes a lot and it’s pretty error prone.”

As a company takes on more subsidiaries, manual consolidation simply isn’t scalable. There are also multiple currencies to consider: McNamee’s company, for instance, was suddenly dealing not only with U.S. dollars but Euros.

If you’re still not sure if you’re ready to upgrade to NetSuite, think long-term. Jen recalls being in meetings about a possible exit strategy for her former employer and, whether you go public or private, NetSuite is a common thread among companies that move to the next level.

“It’s just a much more robust and trustworthy accounting tool. That’s something that investors in the market really like to see,” she said. “We had to step it up.”

Step 2: Budget for the time it takes to get NetSuite running

In addition to your company’s IT department, upgrading to NetSuite will need to draw upon the insights and experience of multiple stakeholders in your organization. This can create tension within some teams, where the time spent advising on a software deployment and participating in user testing means less time for the regular day-to-day tasks associated with managing finance.

As McNamee suggested earlier, however, sticking with manual consolidation can be an even bigger time suck. Depending on how often you’re closing the books – and many firms are moving to a continuous close – you might need finance and accounting team members working late, or even losing their weekends to get the job done.

Though the exact timeline for a NetSuite migration will vary from one organization to another, it’s probably better to err on the side of having the right stakeholders available for more hours than you initially expect.

“If I could redo it, I would not try and chip away at this project,” Jen said. “I would just say, ‘Okay, no – we’re working on this project full time for the next four or five months and then we’re done.’ Don’t try and just do it on the side of your desk. It will drive you crazy.”

Step 3: Bring on third-party experts who know how to customize

Consultants get a bad rap sometimes because they can be expensive. The reason those costs skyrocket in many cases, though, is because the consultants don’t fully understand the needs of their clients and aren’t prepared to ensure the technology is probably aligned with the nuances of a particular business.

McNamee has seen this challenge first-hand. When her former company moved to NetSuite, a team of consultants were initially brought on to guide the implementation. It became clear, however, that their approach was out-of-the-box and failed to meet the project’s goals.

On a daily basis, for example, the company would bring in all the batch transactions, including a deferred revenue component. That meant NetSuite had to be configured so that it could parse a daily batch of more than 1,000 transactions and automate the revenue recognition process.

Unfortunately, the initial migration led to ongoing errors in the reconciliations, which meant a lot of time going back and forth to the consulting team. Eventually she and her team found an independent contractor through word of mouth who was able to approach the NetSuite migration with the specific use cases in mind.

“We wasted all this money and time with those people, and we didn’t finish what we wanted to finish,” McNamee recalled. “(The independent contractor) cost lots of money, but she was really good. She developed a whole customized plan for us. And then we ended up finishing the project because of her.”

Step 4: Minimize business disruption – and remember the people

After four months with the initial consulting team, McNamee estimates working with the independent contractor took approximately another six months. There’s obviously no way to simply put consolidation and other finance/accounting tasks on hold, but switching over everything at once risked causing even greater disruption if anything went wrong.

That’s why, as with so many other projects, Jen’s firm decided to have Xero and NetSuite running in parallel. That way, as the ability to produce new reports using NetSuite went live, the team was able to evaluate whether they were getting the results they wanted and then continuing until NetSuite was fully operational.

“Don’t take on too much,” McNamee advised. “Take baby steps. Get a basic version going that you can live with.”

A project like this is never purely about technology, of course. It also represents change for all those who have been doing manual work or using tools with less functionality. Though they may appreciate moving to NeSuite, make sure you work with team members to understand their needs in transitioning to a new platform, including any ongoing support following initial training.

McNamee had been leading a team of two. One of those people had never used NetSuite, but she caught on fast. And the other one? “We actually specifically hired him because he had that NetSuite experience so we knew he would have no problems day to day,” she said.

If you’re a controller who’s considering or in the midst of moving to NetSuite, this may be a time to consider the skill sets you look for as you bring on more talent. 

Step 5: Think beyond the go-live

As one of the early entrants in cloud-based finance software, NetSuite is constantly getting updated with new features and capabilities. At the time this playbook was being produced, Oracle had just introduced tools to manage rebates and trade promotions, as well as  improvements to the way users can track estimated or proforma claims and disbursements.

Within your company, meanwhile, there may be an equal or even greater number of changes going on. Before she joined Float, McNamee said her former company had moved into a new business vertical. That led to taking another look at NetSuite to ensure the team knew how to track all the new data associated with the change. “As the business evolves, our use of NetSuite just became more and more sophisticated,” she said.

In some cases, you should even be prepared to walk through the entire planning, deploying, testing and go-live process to avoid any performance issues.  

It’s about the destination, so embrace the journey

The good news is that McNamee has only good things to say about life after a NetSuite migration. She found, for example, that the technology not only brought time savings and improved accuracy, but greater comfort over the numbers when the time came for audits to be conducted.

Best of all, McNamee said she would even consider doing it all over again. Beyond the business benefits, she said she learned a lot and has come to recognize the game-changing opportunities that modern technology can bring to finance and accounting.

“It’s almost like it’s like a strategy game, because you have all these different objects,” she said. “And it’s all about how you assemble them in the most efficient way to get to the end goal. I like that about NetSuite.”

Spoken like someone who not only played that strategy game, but came out a winner.

About The Author

Shane Schick is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing Magazine, IT World Canada and a former columnist for the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Finance. Shane has helped some of the world's biggest technology brands tell stories that influence their most valuable audiences.