NetSuite ERP review

Pros

  • Compliant with global accounting rules
  • State-of-the-art user interface
  • Understandable languages and processes
  • Stable of integrated add-on apps

Cons

  • No built-in payroll
  • Can't purchase individual modules

I first reviewed NetSuite about 10 years ago, when it was a very young product. At that point, it was an integrated suite of solutions that consisted of Oracle Small Business Suite, NetCRM and Advanced Accounting. Even in those early years, it was taking on functionality that would eventually make it competitive with the low end of the midrange market. I gave it full marks. Since then, NetSuite has advanced rapidly and intelligently – but so has the competition.

Today's NetSuite family consists of several different integrated, cloud-based products, each with a different emphasis. NetSuite ERP focuses on financial management but is much more sophisticated and flexible than what you find in entry-level accounting software; we evaluated this element of the solution. Its core solution (which is priced from $129 – £85 – per user per month on average) includes General Ledger, Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable, Inventory, and Fixed Assets, with many other less all-encompassing features.

NetSuite ERP is at its core a customer relationship management (CRM) system, though it also supports sales force and marketing automation, as well as customer support and order management. NetSuite Ecommerce offers a rich set of tools for your online sales presence. Both are easily integrated with the core financial solution.

Dashboard

NetSuite's flexibility and thoroughness are evident from the first thing most users will look at: The dashboard. Like its competitors, NetSuite offers several pre-configured but customisable screen layouts designed for specific company roles. Employees can customise their dashboards if they're allowed to do so by the administrator.

These are real-time dashboards that report and analyse the data in the system, helping company managers monitor, for example, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs do more than tell you how many outstanding invoices or bills exist and what your account balances are. Simply put, they provide ways to assess the company's performance in terms of its organisational goals. Dashboards also deal with the more mundane details of the day with reminders of meetings, calls, deadlines, and so forth.

The competition offers similar capabilities, but only Intacct rivals NetSuite in this area. Both do fine jobs of presenting pre-configured data and allowing customisation – and presenting this information with a polished, state-of-the-art look and feel.

ERP is one louder

When you start talking about the type of financial management that midrange solutions such as NetSuite offer, the phrase "accounting software" is replaced by Enterprise Resource Planning systems (ERP). NetSuite is a good example of an ERP system. It automates and integrates critical back-office processes in ways that go beyond what QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions and Sage 50 Quantum Accounting do, both in terms of depth and breadth.

ERP – as exemplified in NetSuite – starts with the basic financial management tasks that QuickBooks Enterprise Solutions and Sage Quantum 50 Accounting do – only it accommodates more of them. The basic configuration provides the record formats and transaction forms that accounting staff uses for tasks related to their areas – and they're more in-depth than Intacct's or Microsoft Dynamics GP's. This is a key differentiator.

This means that you can create invoices, pay bills, and submit purchase orders. You can supply customers with products in a timely, accurate fashion because you know how many widgets you have in stock and can orchestrate the shipping process. You can manage documents and track time and expenses, not to mention create reports and keep precise records on your interaction with contacts. Payroll is not a built-in function, as it is in Microsoft Dynamics GP.

But NetSuite goes well beyond those bookkeeping tasks. For example, it's more than multi-currency; it knows how to comply with many international accounting regulations. It doesn't just keep a catalogue of your fixed assets; it manages the whole fixed asset lifecycle. Rather than just keeping track of income and expenses, it facilitates sophisticated revenue recognition management. NetSuite doesn't just track inventory; it manages the entire supply chain. Wherever possible, repetitive, rules-based processes can be automated.

NetSuite's foundation is far more flexible than Sage 50 Quantum Accounting's and QuickBooks Enterprise Solution's. Its database capabilities are unlimited, and it doesn't just manage the details of jobs and projects – it does full-blown project accounting. Where low-end accounting counts integration with Excel as a plus, one of NetSuite's strengths lies in its ability to go beyond spreadsheets and let businesses do custom, system-wide inquiries based on any criteria imaginable (Intacct offers similar functionality). Real-time access to virtually any data in the system – via customisable templates and custom reports – combined with the ability to create unlimited what-if scenarios makes NetSuite an exceptionally powerful financial planning tool.

Exceptional interface

NetSuite and Intacct do a good job of dressing up the working environment enough so that you don't feel like you're staring at a tax return all day. NetSuite divides the site into easy-to-understand sections (Setup, Transactions, Reports, etc.) that you access through a horizontal toolbar at the top of the page. When you hover over one of these, a drop-down menu displays the activities and data that are available there (like Reports Overview/Saved Reports/Purchasing/Time & Billables). Three other links on this toolbar display lists of recent records and shortcuts, and return you to the Home/Dashboard/Preferences pages.

On many screens, there's a row of additional links below the toolbar in a horizontal bar. Throughout much of the site, this bar contains numerous icons, links to commonly-used tasks (Create New Event/Customer/Invoice/Project). Under other tabs, this bar displays context-sensitive tools, like Documents/Search.

The working screens themselves are exceptionally well-designed. Because of the site's complexity, they must house many command links, fields, drop-down lists, radio buttons, and so on. NetSuite developers have managed to accomplish this without making you feel claustrophobic, as is the case with some screens in Microsoft Dynamics GP.

Even when you're engaged in very data-intensive tasks, like the creation of a new Opportunity, the forms are laid out exceptionally well, with primary information in the top half and tabbed data boxes below for related information like Items, Activities, and Contacts/Partners. And overall, NetSuite makes better use of screen space than Intacct or Dynamics GP, which improves comprehension and usability.

Verdict

It's not just the interface and navigational scheme that makes NetSuite palatable for non-accountants. It's easy-to-understand, friendly, and familiar, using minimal jargon-laden terms and phrases. With a few exceptions, Intacct does an admirable job in this respect, too. Great Plains Dynamics is the least comprehensible of the three.

Though easy to use, accounting at the midrange level is an intensively complex process that’s usually carried out by teams of employees. NetSuite supports those individuals with a tremendous amount of online and offline guidance. Thorough online documentation, a detailed setup menu, and a searchable Knowledge Base help users help themselves. When more assistance is needed, the network of NetSuite Solutions Providers is available to guide setup and implementation, and/or extend the site's existing capabilities.

I would recommend NetSuite to any company that wants sophisticated financial management from the start, and who might plan to eventually integrate with CRM and e-commerce. Its base package contains more accounting functionality than Intacct, including revenue recognition management, global consolidation and fixed assets, and the starting price is lower. It’s an extremely robust offering, and due to its extraordinarily understandable user interface and navigational tools, NetSuite ERP earns itself one of our Best Buy awards.