CFOs moving their finance function to a new cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) system are better off starting small and taking care of core functionality before trying to tackle more complex tasks, Jason Maynard, Oracle NetSuite’s senior vice president of global field operations, told CFO Dive.
Finance leaders can be tempted to convert a system all at once to something all-encompassing, especially if they have a unique process that requires customization to make work, but taking an iterative approach can help ensure you get a system that better meets your needs, said Maynard, a former Wall Street analyst.
“You’re going to want to move through the journey to get your wins and get value vs. just hoping two or three years later the system, when you finally get everything built, works perfectly,” he said. “Before trying to throw a bomb down the field, put a drive together and get four first downs first.”
Like other companies offering ERP systems that moved from on-premises software to the cloud a decade or so ago, NetSuite’s business model has evolved away from trying to optimize for all functionality at the start to an iterative approach, he said.
Maynard said he worked with a manufacturing company that wanted to link dozens of suppliers together and, because of where some of the suppliers were located, needed to customize some of the code in the ERP system. That’s the kind of thing finance leaders might want to tackle but it’s better to wait until you’ve optimized your core functions, he said.
“Having uniqueness in your process is something that’s worth customizing,” he said. “Our professional services folks spend 30 or 40 hours to help them write some customizations, so they can do exactly what they need to do.” But not necessarily right away.
The manufacturing company had multiple third-party logistics (3PLs) that it wanted to consolidate in its supply chain and also address outstanding warehouse management issues, but the better plan, he said, was to let these problems be for a while.
“Sometimes we’ll say, ‘Hey, let’s not tackle that,’” he said. “‘Leave a couple of those things where you have them for now. We’ll cooperate and integrate with those systems and then we’ll figure out how to automate that better. But let’s get the order of operations in place first so you get the biggest bang for the buck.’”
At the simplest level, you want to make sure you don’t have accounting staff spending time on tasks they don’t need to.
One mid-sized company Maynard worked with was still mailing out hard-copy invoices to collect on its receivables and cutting checks for its payables, two functions that are routinely automated today.
“Make your business easier,” he said. “That way, you’ve got digital records and if you use the pay-by-link functionality [in the NetSuite ERP], we send a link out and they pay and you collect it. Somebody doesn’t have to enter that transaction manually.”
Although ERP providers as a matter of practice work with customers to help design an appropriate system for their processes, NetSuite this year rolled out a formalized way to do that.
The company created a team to analyze thousands of past implementations of its ERP to devise a list of best practices, organized by solutions, into a kind of troubleshooting guide.
“We codified leading practices into easy-to-consume packages in which a CFO says, ‘I’ve got this business problem,’ and they can look at the packages and say, ‘Yeah, that’s my problem,’ and here are the six things you need to do to knock it out.”
The packages are the end-result of a trend in which finance leaders were asking the company about leading practices.
“We saw customers telling us, ‘Hey, show us the leading practice on how we should do certain basic functions’ vs. migrating them [to new applications],” he said. “A lot of what we call more forward-thinking CFOs were saying, ‘Look, we want to get a best practice. We want to have the leading practice. You’ve worked with thousands of software companies, thousands of manufacturers, what’s the best way to do it?’”
Only once you have those questions answered is it advisable to think about new or customized applications, he suggested.