NetSuite Limitations : Understanding What It Is and What It’s Not

If you have found yourself on this site you probably have at least the vaguest idea of what NetSuite is. For those that have just washed up on this digital shore, lost and confused, before delving in to NetSuite limitations, I’ll get you up to speed with what we’re talking about.

NetSuite is a cloud based business management system. It can be used for Accounting and Finance, Inventory Management, Manufacturing Process Management, Project Management, E-Commerce, Human Resource Management… The list is endless.

NetSuite is used across countless industries in such varied ways and is designed, with it’s catalog of add-ons and it’s ease of customization, to fit it’s way into any organization.

Businesses can consolidate their systems use and business processes using NetSuite and, as it is a cloud-based tool, it supports multi-site, multi-national and remote organizations. You can learn more about how that cloud-based aspect benefits larger organizations here.

Equally as important as understanding what NetSuite is, is understanding what it is not. Understanding the NetSuite limitations. I think it is highly beneficial to understand these points to save the frustration of unrealistic expectations.

Some of these topics are not unique to NetSuite but transferrable to conversations about any new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system either at the point of implementation or in the first couple of years of finding your feet.

NetSuite Limitations : Implementation Guidance

NetSuite is not an out of the box solution.

So to clarify, a small business could potentially use NetSuite before any other system, adopt all the NetSuite processes and best practices and have a very quick and straight forward setup.

This is not the case for most businesses.

The majority of businesses have been operating for some time before they purchase a system like NetSuite so they will already have their own processes in place.

Do not underestimate the amount of work required to get NetSuite (or any other system) to slip seamlessly in to your day to day operations. Your implementation is either going to be a bit scrappy and require a year or two of cleanup, or it’s going to be incredibly expensive. That is the reality I have seen again and again. A scrappy implementation does not end the world though. You will go live, you will tweak things, improve pockets of the system, iron out creases, a process will change, NetSuite will need to change with it etc. The goalposts are constantly moving.

Business process architecture is complex. You’re unlikely to get everything right first time. Don’t worry about it.

Two tips to help the implementation –

Trust and embrace NetSuite. It is one of the most important things to have a decent level of buy in from across the business.

Utilize your test environment (Sandbox) and get the users involved. Allow them to try out their new system and new processes. This will aid buy in. If everyone is fighting the new system, it is going to take a very long time to get off the ground.

Embrace NetSuite and trust what it can and will do for your organization. If management don’t embrace it, then the rest of the company won’t even look in it’s direction. Needless to say, if management don’t embrace it then maybe think twice before spending the phenomenal amount of money you need to spend to get it off the ground.

Don’t try to ‘copy and paste’ your old system into NetSuite.

‘ We used to do it this way. Let’s customize NetSuite so we can continue to do it this way!’.

This is the biggest mistake you will make through the course of your implementation. NetSuite is tried and tested and the out of the box operations that it offers are good enough. Tens of thousands of companies use these processes and they are doing just great.

Lean into it. Think about how you can tweak your current processes to fit NetSuite better. Drop all your inefficiencies. Don’t bring them with you in to NetSuite. Start rethinking and let NetSuite lead that process and perhaps drive a new approach. A change of system can be a perfect opportunity to clean up workflows and data.

NetSuite is not a solution to everything.

I would love for this to not be true but you just have to accept it. It’s very important that during your implementation and the following years of using NetSuite you understand it’s limitations.

NetSuite has many great strengths, but some things are done better elsewhere. One of NetSuite’s strengths is its malleability and customization options but be careful. Some companies will over customize their system, writing hundreds of complex scripts to force NetSuite into something it is simply not designed to do.

A real life example that I see regularly is expense management. NetSuite has some great expense management features but if you are currently using all the functionality in Concur don’t try to move that all in to NetSuite. We are going to have to customize NetSuite heavily to match that level of functionality. Concur is a system that does one thing very well. You are better off letting it do that one thing.

A NetSuite expense report.

Understand the standard functionality limitations and when is and isn’t a good time to customize the system.

NetSuite is not able to force people to use it.

The data coming out is only as good as the data going in. If your teams aren’t inputting the relevant information, management will soon get frustrated that NetSuite is not delivering the metrics they expect.

This is not NetSuite’s fault.

As with point number 2 it’s important to understand NetSuite limitations and where the responsibilities of both the system and the team lie.

There is often a push from upper management to over utilize mandatory and disabled fields to force people to be populating the right fields and not the wrong ones. I think this approach can cause problems and make for a pretty unenjoyable user experience. It’s preferable to simply listen to the users to understand their needs, train them thoroughly on the use of the system and monitor closely for improper use.

NetSuite Limitations : System Functionality

Assuming you are now confident navigating the limitations of a NetSuite implementation you might now want to explore the boundaries of the system functionality.

NetSuite Reporting

NetSuite has really advanced querying functionality with it’s saved search feature. Extracting data has come a long way and if you are comfortable with SQL then there’s so much that can be done. You can even present the data in fairly creative ways with a a bit of html. You can learn more about this in my Ultimate Saved Search Guide.

The reporting feature however still needs work. There are some really solid aspects of NetSuite reports such as the unrivalled consolidated reporting and the column splits.

For all that positive though, there is far more on the negative side.

Many reports have restrictions on the root dataset for example only allowing account as the first column rather than a classification, entity or custom segment.

NetSuite limitations on the standard reporting feature.

We still can’t use SQL formulas in reports which is a massive limitation. So much of the time I will default to the less visually pleasing saved search because I simply can’t provide the required data in a report.

Sometimes fields just simply aren’t available in a report. There doesn’t seem to be any logic to this and since we can’t use formulas you aren’t able to just manually enter the id.

There are additional tools to help with these points now such as the NetSuite Analytics Warehouse. This is an additional product though with an additional cost and it really shouldn’t be used just as a replacement to the standard reporting. Hopefully NetSuite will spend some time on this feature in the next few years.

NetSuite’s User Interface

There is a lot to like about NetSuite’s user interface. You can create custom fields, change the layout of forms and customize the color scheme.

Some of the obscure labels for color changes in NetSuite

No matter what you do though, it will always look like NetSuite. The color changes you can make are fairly minimal and the only corporate branding you can add is a very small logo at the top right of the screen.

Many other ERP solutions provide more robust branding options and visual customizations and I think NetSuite could definitely do more in this area.

SuiteIdeas or SweetNothing?

SuiteIdeas is a system designed to help eliminate these limitations and ironically I am including it in my list of NetSuite limitations.

SuiteIdeas is a community forum for NetSuite users to post issues and limitations they have discovered. Other users can then vote and hopefully persuade NetSuite to do something about them.

The SuiteIdeas platform is sadly another of the NetSuite limitations since ideas are not being addressed in the volumes users would hope.

Unfortunately, however, even though there are two core updates a year and a number of smaller pushes, NetSuite aren’t great at ticking these developments off. I have voted on Ideas that have been open almost a decade and these are Ideas that already have hundreds of votes.

NetSuite needs to develop a better system to address these ideas as currently the lack of problem resolution is the real problem.

So there you go. A start down the NetSuite path. NetSuite is an amazing system that will blow you away but it won’t make you cups of tea or tie your laces. Understand it’s limitations and make sure it’s right for you before continuing down the rabbit hole.

If you do choose to delve further we are here for you.

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