Last week at SuiteWorld 2019, Oracle NetSuite announced the release of their updated SuiteAnalytics Workbook tool. It is designed to draw insights out of this vast dataset and float critical information without users having to go and search for it. Workbook surfaces the information that users need when they need it and filters out the noise.
The tool also highlighted the advantages of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system where all your data is interlinked in a single database.
You can combine financial, operational and marketing information into a single report and analyse the performance of a product, understand the behaviour of a customer or make operational decisions.
If you were using an ecosystem of apps, you would have to export data from several systems and combine it in Excel or in another tool. Even then you would still have to align data from different sources – and that is not always possible.
Consider for example the popular Shopify-Unleashed-Xero setup. Even if you pull data from all these apps into a database, the sales transaction in Xero does not link back to the product (it is just a textual description on the invoice line).
The Shopify transaction number is not on SOH/COGS movement in Xero, and payments don’t link back at all. With a Shopify-DEAR-Xero setup, SKUs do carry across all the way but not the internal product keys. So if an SKU changes, you will lose some of your reporting capabilities.
So you can see how it can get very tricky to really create an interlinked database.
ERP systems don’t have these problems because they manage all their data in a single, well-structured database. There is none of the data loss that occurs in the integration points in an app ecosystem scenario. NetSuite, as an ERP, has a central database so you can focus on analysing the data rather than spending time collecting and cleaning it.
Report-building functionality that is more than Excel
The new Workbook let you create lists, pivot tables and charts in a manner that is somewhat similar to Excel. It also reminds me of tools such as Microsoft Power BI and Zoho Analytics because of its interactivity and the database nature underneath it.
You can drag and drop fields from anywhere in your database: your customer records, sales orders, purchases, general ledger, staff, product database and more. Your entire database is available for reporting.
The chart types and functions include the usual pivots, pies and bars. It also has data science functions to identify trends and data clusters. You can really start using analytics as a tool to explore and study your data rather than just as an aggregation tool which is the traditional reporting approach.
The user interface seems relatively simple to work with: graphically building formulas and logical (and/or) conditions, dragging fields in or out of the report, and validating the report functionality on live data, all on the same screen.
Formulas created once can be used in multiple reports and charts. You can click on all figures, bars, and data items to view the transactional data underneath. All reports export to CSV.
Going wide across data
Since we have an integrated, interlinked set of data, we can report on one area and inspect data from related records. For example: if we are reporting on products, we can explore the industry distribution of the customers who buy them. If we are reporting on our top profitable products, we can investigate the size, location, and pricing models of the suppliers we source them from.
When reporting on KPIs for sales staff or service staff, we can bring in data from our payroll and HR areas. This will show correlations between staff performance and their remuneration structure, attendance, billable hours, KPIs, or duration of employment.
With access to business-wide data, we can find out not just our best-performing products, services, staff, customers or suppliers. We can also explore the factors driving this performance, what characterises them and how to generate more star performers like them.
Going deep into the data
When we create a report, we often have to first ‘prepare’ the data. That is, round certain figures, clear out irrelevant values, split or concatenate fields, and code data into meaningful values (e.g. code a number field into categories like low, medium and high).
The NetSuite Workbook lets us set up these data preparation functions inside the workbook, and the ‘prepared’ data is now available for charts, pivots and lists.
The data preparation rules operate on live data whenever we run the report.
This can be a huge time saver compared to manually repeating the preparation processes whenever we want to run the report on a fresh set of data.
Accessing the reports
All the Workbook and reports in NetSuite can be shared inside the organisation with individual users, user roles or placed on specific pages and forms.
Lists and charts can also be added to role-based dashboards so they are always visible to those who need to keep an eye on them.
Overall, my impression is that Workbook is a powerful tool, definitely beyond anything we are used to seeing in the small business apps world. The reporting limitations are very apparent when you use a combination of Xero/QBO and some of their add-ons.
Am I suggesting that you take on an ERP system for the sake of better reporting? Not at all.
ERPs have many advantages, but they also have their liabilities. In most cases, my approach is that the justification for an ERP system should come from the operational needs of the business first. Financial and analysis requirements come second.
Disclosure: Inbal Steinberg travelled to NetSuite SuiteWorld in Las Vegas as a guest of NetSuite.
Image credit: NetSuite