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Netsuite 10.6

Monday 27th March, 2006

NetSuite is one of a new breed of business-management products. You don’t buy the software; you subscribe to an application service. You don’t have your own server to manage (so no worrying about backups, patching, and upgrades); you simply fire up your web browser, log in to their remote server, and get on with your work. And here’s the Mac angle - since it works in a web browser it’s platform-agnostic, so no splashing out on a PC just to do the accounts or run the payroll.

The system has been operating in the US for some time now - it’s owned by Larry Ellison, and yes it runs on Oracle servers - and it’s being introduced to the UK via a number of approved systems integrators, each targeting a specific vertical market. As Mac users we get one all to ourselves - Celsius Software. The system is offered in one of four customisable packages: CRM, CRM+, NetSuite Small Business, and NetSuite.

As you’d expect, the two CRM offerings are very much sales and service oriented products. The CRM basic package covers basic calendaring, sales force automation (including territory tracking and assignment, opportunity management, standard & advanced forecasting, and an offline sales client), marketing automation (including online lead form, targeted customer segmentation, referral, lead source & promotion code tracking, email marketing, and campaign tracking & analysis), customer service automation tools (including case assignment, management & escalation, online customer self-service, and support, service and time tracking), and document management. The CRM+ package adds upsell tools (for targeting current customers as well as dealing with hot prospects), time tracking, and project management.

The two business versions, however, take you well beyond these features, adding enough firepower to cover most businesses' enterprise resource planning (ERP) requirements. The Small Business package adds handles payroll, expenses, purchasing, inventory management, and order fulfilment, while the full NetSuite adds shipping (via UPS and FedEx, with DHL being promised soon), and an integrated e-commerce solution - you can in effect build your own online store, that integrates with your stock, shipping, and purchasing departments.

It’s clear, therefore, that NetSuite isn’t just a CRM tool or an accounting tool, so in order to try to organise the functions, the business process is grouped by role: Administrator, Controller, eCommerce Site Manager, Marketing Manager, Receivables Clerk, Sales Manager, Warehouse Manager, and so on. When a user logs in, they choose a role (provided they have the correct privileges), and the home screen that they’re shown displays a variety of different pieces tailored to the role. So a sales rep might see the calendar, an events list, a task list, a call list, customisable searches, and some key performance indicators (KPI) definable across a variety of criteria. Functions are grouped under various menus at the top, with each menu providing a dynamic HTML pop-up so that you can navigate to where you want to go in a couple of clicks.

Each screen is customisable by the user - you can drag and drop elements into an arrangement that suits you, and each element can be customised in a number of different ways, so that you can, for example, show sales for this quarter versus last quarter. Elements also work together: a quick date selector lets you override the individual elements' date settings, so you can have all your KPIs displaying their results for this week versus last week. NetSuite offers at-a-glance indicators and some excellent reporting tools - as well as printed and on-screen, you can export results (and all your data) as CSV, Word, and Excel files.

As well as the numerous interface tweaks that all users can perform, NetSuite Small Business, the system’s business logic is also customisable. Full NetSuite administrators have access to the database tables and the APIs themselves, and can add custom code (JavaScript) to fields on the screen, and add additional fields to the tables if necessary. And any such customisation is seamlessly carried forward whenever the product is upgraded.

The real key to NetSuite is its integration. By providing a different interface for each potential user, everyone benefits from the clean flow of information. Purchasing ties into warehousing (for goods coming in), which ties into marketing (for identifying slow-selling lines to push), which ties into sales (for identifying possible upsell customers) and the e-commerce site (for delivering appropriate special offers), and management can see at a glance how it’s all going via the graphs on their Dashboards.

Sadly, the subscription doesn’t cover everything. Despite an extremely intuitive interface, and clear online contextual help, the sheer scope of functionality means that training is a necessity. Celsius maintains that most companies pay for an administrator’s training (three-day course - £1,250), who then returns to the company where additional training is done in-house. Since this is an internet-based product, both on-site and remote-access training are also offered. Other costs include additional charges for storage (£360 per GB/year) for heavy users of the document management system, charges for marketing departments that send more than 5,000 bulk mails per month, and charges for large inventory e-commerce sites with over 500 line items (and unlimited line item option costs £1,200 per year).

A subscription model may not be to everyone’s taste, and the thought of keeping your company’s data off-site may make you baulk. However, there may be cost savings in terms of IT requirements (no servers to manage, just an internet connection and standard Mac clients). Backup, maintenance, and upgrades are included in the subscription and, let’s face it, most managers would like the opportunity to work from home once in a while.

Buying Advice

NetSuite is a good one-stop solution that’s well worth investigating if you want to consolidate your business systems. Keep an eye on those additional costs though.

Get Further Info
Manufacturer NetSuite
Pros Simple to maintain; comprehensive business functionality; platform agnostic.
Cons Fixed asset management requires a custom coding.
Price CRM: yearly £660/user; CRM+: yearly £900/user; NetSuite Small Business: yearly £720 base price plus £360/user; NetSuite: yearly £4,200 base price plus £720/user. Excluding VAT.
Originally Published MacWorld, Mon, 27th Mar 2006