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Guide to NetSuite Development Project Planning

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms are becoming more popular for businesses across every sector. But while 53% of businesses prioritize investing in their ERP systems, only 5% of businesses with ERPs are using them effectively to collect and analyze data. This indicates that many businesses are oriented in the right direction—using ERPs to centralize their data and operations—but there are major stumbling blocks along the way. 

Often, this stumbling block is an out-of-the-box implementation of NetSuite that doesn’t fully align with your business’s processes, causing downstream implications for employee buy-in, reliable insights into your business operations, and the overall effectiveness of the software.

You can resolve these challenges—or eliminate them from the very start—with a well-run NetSuite development project. Customizing the software so it accommodates your business’s unique operations and workflows results in much stronger outcomes than trying to bend your business around the platform’s default settings. But if your team is unfamiliar with NetSuite’s back-end processes or your company is moving to an ERP platform for the first time, orchestrating this project can seem overwhelming. This guide can help you get started.

First, we’ll explore the different levels of ‘customization’ that are available with NetSuite so you can choose the type and scale of customization that works best for your business. Then we’ll lay out a six-step overview of successful NetSuite development projects and some best practices that can lead to the best outcomes. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear vision of how your NetSuite development project should look throughout the process and at the end stages of development.

Take NetSuite to the Next Level With a Development Project

Virtually every business will need to customize its NetSuite ecosystem—short of starting with NetSuite and creating a new business around its standard processes, not everything will align. NetSuite knows this, and they’ve created a wide array of back doors, widgets, and options for tweaking the platform. Some of these resources include modifiable fields and drag-and-drop tools, different modules you can plug in based on your business’s needs, and a rich Suite Script based on JavaScript for in-depth modifications and customizations.

Related: The 8 Crucial Factors for a Successful NetSuite Implementation Guide

All of these tools represent different tiers of customization you can choose from. So before you really dig into a development project, take a closer look at which option works best for your organization.

(Pro Tip: Focus on your immediate needs, but also consider the long-term goals and forecast for your business. You don’t want to create a teetering system of workarounds based on legacy knowledge that will collapse as your business scales, but neither do you need a full custom workup if your business is still finding its feet.)

NetSuite + Ad Hoc Work-Arounds

This represents the most basic level of NetSuite tweaking. Here, NetSuite’s default settings work well enough for your business. You might use a miscellaneous ‘description’ field to input some details that there’s not a dedicated field for, or reports might need a little reformatting before they’re ready for presentation. But all of your data flows automatically from the online order form straight through your warehousing systems and invoicing tool, and your integrations work out of the box.

NetSuite Modules

When you need more in-depth functionality, ERP modules are a reliable answer. NetSuite has developed a large collection of modules that focus on particular areas of business, from customer relationships to financial management, so you can optimize your ecosystem based on what makes sense for your business. A multi-national business might benefit from the NetSuite OneWorld module (which localizes currencies across different branches and entities), while a custom furniture manufacturing business might choose the NetSuite CPQ module to streamline the configure, price, and quote process.

Custom In-House Developments with SuiteScript

But many times, modules just aren’t enough. Maybe you operate a roastery that needs extensive and complex automations to control your product flow, or maybe you manage a B2B accounting firm across multiple states and need robust tools to comply with local, state, and federal norms. When modules are still too out-of-the-carton, turn to experienced NetSuite developers who can crack open NetSuite and program changes into your platform. 

NetSuite uses SuiteScript, a JavaScript-based language that developers can use to create custom fields, modify report templates, or connect data streams through new protocols. Developers can customize existing tools or use platform development tools to create completely unique applications. This is the right level of customization when any of these circumstances apply:

  • Modules aren’t robust enough, you only need some of the functionalities in multiple modules, or you need so many modules that custom development makes more sense
  • Your business’s workflows are incredibly particular and cannot be altered
  • You want to build a very efficient foundation of automations before growing your business
  • You’ve tried premium but pre-packaged solutions with other ERPs or ecosystems before, and they just didn’t sit right

Full-Scale Development and Implementation Project

If you plan on adopting NetSuite in the near future and you know you’ll need customizations, the most efficient plan is a dual development + implementation project. Here, you and your development team can map out your work processes and current tech stack based on your business’s unique needs. Then they can develop a completely customized iteration of NetSuite that contains all of the complexity you need without needless complications. This version will be unrolled to your staff and be the destination for data migration.

Whenever possible, this is the ideal project for moving from one ERP to another or for moving from QuickBooks and spreadsheets to your company’s first ERP. The benefits include:

  • Less disruption: ERP implementation already takes between three and six months for many businesses. This includes data migrations, training, and getting everything back up to working speed. But if you had employee-facing customizations after that, the timeline can lag and cut into your peak seasons.
  • Better employee buy-in: Whether you release NetSuite all at once or in stages across your company, the employees’ first impressions have a big impact on their buy-in. If they can automatically see the benefits of the switch (powered by custom automations and reports that cut out the tedious, manual work they like least), employee morale will be much higher throughout and after the transition.
  • Fewer costs: NetSuite can represent a hefty portion of your budget, even if the ROI makes it worth it in the end. But the time costs of getting everyone up to speed on the platform, the actual costs of data migration services and consultants, the price of the software subscription, and other line items can add up, especially if you need to go in again and again to make changes. Incorporating everything into one project, and making sure the work gets done right, pays in the end.

How to Execute a NetSuite Development Project for Efficient Results

If you’re opting for customizations, a customization + implementation project, or want third-party experts to handle your module installations, you have a NetSuite development project on your hands. Manage that entire project, big or small, with these six steps:

1. Set the scope of the project.

Define the goal of the project, what problems you want solved, and—as concretely as possible—the outcomes you want to see at the end of development. This step will help you ensure the project is staying on-course over time and that there’s no costly scope creep. For example, you might:

  • Dissect standard report templates or record types and identify the types of changes you need
  • Find gaps between what applications and functionalities NetSuite has and what your operations demand
  • Identify data security liabilities
  • Highlight the limitation of standard integrations with your CRM or other business-critical tools

2. Hire the right development services.

When you can, hire your development services as early as possible in the project. Experienced developers don’t just create applications or engineer new fields after you’ve decided what you need. They can operate in an advisory role to make sure you’re getting the most out of NetSuite by:

  • Translating problems into the most efficient, codable solutions
  • Debugging your implementation 
  • Suggesting modifications based on their knowledge of SuiteScript and how NetSuite operates
  • Giving you insight into new NetSuite developments

The right NetSuite development service can translate business-side problems and inefficiencies into NetSuite-speak solutions and processes. The sooner they weigh in, the more you can define the scope of the project and get new developments in the sandbox for thorough testing. Ideally, find a Netsuite development company that is a NetSuite-certified partner and has over a decade of experience working with different industries.

3. Determine what assets and resources you need.

Once you and your development team have a rough sketch of the development project, map out the resources you’ll need to complete the project. This includes:

  • Licenses for integrating your tech stack with NetSuite
  • Time from your employees so they can test niche customizations
  • The amount of time or service you’ll need from your development team so you can budget accordingly and create a working timeline
  • The modules you might be purchasing and modifying
  • Any other tools and technologies needed for the project

If you’re combining customization and implementation, detail all the resources you need for both facets of the project.

4. Create changes within a test environment, and have representative team members run through the modifications.

Now, your development team will start integrating your platforms, as well as creating custom-built dashboards, functions, and scripts. As they meet milestones throughout the course of the project, you can have key employees test the customizations in the sandbox. This practice ensures your team is satisfied with all of the available functionalities. After all, your in-house IT director may be managing the project, but only inventory managers know what business-critical reporting fields they need or can point out when integrations aren’t matching up just right. 

Related: New NetSuite Admin Tips for 2023

At the same time, NetSuite developers can create a data integration architecture in the background so all of the data flows in an organized, reliable route throughout your ERP system. The stronger your data architecture is, the more it can grow with fewer failures and complications.

5. Roll out the changes on an incremental basis.

When your organization is larger than a handful of individuals, it’s best to roll out implementation in stages so everything can be monitored and corrected. The development team you’ve hired should be there every step of the way to ensure good performance by providing technical support and administration services from stage one. 

Shift more and more teams to NetSuite until everyone is transferred and business is operating more efficiently than ever before.

6. Assess, refine, and change.

After your business has grown accustomed to NetSuite or as your business changes throughout the following months, you may find new opportunities for automation or find patches that need a bit of tweaking. Customization projects can also continue after the fact, especially if your dev team created a rock-solid foundation for making those changes.

Best Practices for Better NetSuite Development Project Planning

Switching to NetSuite can be nerve-wracking, even when you know it’s the right choice. As you’re planning, incorporate these helpful best practices:

1. Incorporate the right custom developments into your initial NetSuite implementation.

Customizations can make NetSuite a better platform for all of your business operations. However, it’s even more important to incorporate the right customizations. Many NetSuite development services will encourage clients to pack in too many customizations that aren’t truly necessary—or that can even overcomplicate their workflow.

To avoid this, work with a consultant who truly understands your business, knows what customizations will help, and won’t try to upsell you on unnecessary modifications you don’t really want. This gives your company a running start on the right ‘version’ of NetSuite instead of hitting frustration points after implementation should be complete.

2. Know your timeline from the start.

Some implementation projects take 60 days; others take six months. Work with a professional development team that can estimate the timeline (and handle the work instead of in-house employees) so you don’t bump into the busy season.

3. Work with a consultant to decide between modules and true customization.

Sometimes, this decision can be a bit of a gray area. Consultants or third-party developers can assess your business needs and craft the right approach. This may involve advanced NetSuite modules, fully custom functionalities, or a combination of the two. The right company will recommend a path based on your business’s needs, not their bottom line.

4. Know the warning signs of development projects going off the rails.

Unfortunately, not every development service will get the job done. If you hired a service, but the timeline keeps getting longer, the customizations are wrong, or you’re losing confidence, pull the plug—on the developers, not NetSuite. Shift to a company that offers robust rescue and recovery services to get your project back on track.

Start Planning Out Your NetSuite Development Project

NetSuite customizations can take your ERP change from ‘hopefully good’ to ‘exactly right.’ At Limebox, we’ve spent 24 years creating those ‘exactly right’ customizations and implementation rollouts for warehousing, manufacturing, field services, and other businesses across the country. Whether you need a few quick customizations or a completely custom iteration of NetSuite, we provide comprehensive development, implementation, and support services that fit your needs. Reach out today to start seeing the benefits of a customized ERP.

At Limebox, we help organizations implement and optimize enterprise-ready NetSuite, and custom software solutions, for their entire ecosystem. We deliver bonafide results the first time. With an eye for simplification and a genius for problem solving.

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