At SuiteWorld 2017, iCharts had the chance to talk to NetSuite experts about the importance of preparing data for analytics. In our breakout session, “Preparing NetSuite Data and Processes for Reporting and Analytics,” we gathered a panel of NetSuite experts and asked them about their own experiences using their NetSuite data for analytics.

  • Gary Cifatte, CTO of Candy.com
  • Jonathan Holley, Marketing Analyst at Bailey International
  • Bryan Bishop, Director of Supply Chain & Export Control Officer at Akustica

Why You Should Structure Data for Both Day-to-Day and Analytics

When you structure your NetSuite data properly, you will save time in the long run. Unless you plan on keeping your data in NetSuite and NetSuite alone for the rest of time, an ounce of prevention will save you a pound of pain later on. Whether you use your data for analytics or any number of other data applications, chances are your data needs will change at some point, and poorly formatted data can paint you into a corner. The problem is that too many organizations don’t consider analytics when they structure their data. They build something that works great for their day-to-day operations, but isn’t set up for analytics. For example, for your day-to-day operations, you may not need a timestamp on a certain status change. However, from an analytics perspective, timestamps are crucial for building a timeline.

Another common issue is putting too much information in a single field. Then, when they decide to add analytics, they find the data they want to analyze buried among a few other data points. When you extrapolate the problem to all your data, suddenly you have a big problem. The earlier you establish good habits, the more headaches you’ll avoid down the line.

Starting On The Right Foot

The problem with setting up a NetSuite environment is that most people do it when they’re brand new to NetSuite. They don’t know all the details, so they figure they’ll start small. They get something working, and figure they’ll work out the kinks later. The problem with this approach is that by the time you get around to working out the kinks, it may be too late. Many organizations never reconsider their data structure until they need it to do something new and it’s not working.

A primary example of this is analytics. As Bryan put it, “I think a lot of times analytics is looked at as an afterthought, but if you’re not setting up from the get go with analytics in mind, you’re not structuring your data properly.” Fortunately, the opposite is also true. By structuring your data properly in the first place, you’re already most of the way there towards preparing for analytics. If it’s too late for that, do what you can to improve your data structures. One way to do this is with a program that can detect certain data types. So long as one entered their data consistently, it should be able to parse out individual data points.

Thinking About Analytics

Formatting your data properly will get you most of the way towards preparing for analytics, but the real question is how you’ll use it. With so many ways to analyze and visualize data, it’s a challenge to figure out what you need. Many NetSuite folks make the mistake of trying to anticipate people’s needs. While one’s best guess is often pretty good, without input from the intended audience, you may end up building someone no one needs. By then, you’ve already wasted time building something no one asked for. “We stopped telling people what they needed,” says Cifatte. By talking to your audience and asking what they need to do their jobs, you can save a lot of time. Not only can you avoid building a chart no one asked for, you can give people a useful tool. 

Bryan echoed this statement and stressed the importance of talking to a functional group and asking them what they want. “What do they need to do their jobs? That’s the best starting point,” says Bishop. By starting with what people want, you can be reasonably sure that whatever you build, someone is going to use it.

Once you have an idea of what people want, you may have to tell some people no. It’s your job to listen to people’s needs, but it’s also your job to deliver something useful. Often, people who aren’t used to using analytics describe something they think they need, but won’t actually use. As Gary puts it, the key to determining whether a chart is useful is simple: “can you use it to make a business decision?” If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance it’s just a pretty graph.

Finding a Balance

After you have a clear idea of what you need from analytics and you’ve properly structured your data, you need to decide how to prioritize. As important as analytics are, NetSuite is first and foremost an ERP tool. You need make sure it delivers its core functionality before you get worried about analytics. “From the beginning, I always recommend that people look at both options. You need to prepare for analytics, but you have to have your nuts and bolts in place too,” says Bishop. Indeed, there are a ton of benefits to figuring out your needs early.

All three of our panelists agreed that starting with a good plan can save tons of time down the road. “The good thing about NetSuite is you have tons of data. The bad thing about NetSuite is you have tons of data. So figuring out what the end goal is, and what you can actually make action on, is important,” says Holley. Gary Cifatte had a similar point, “it’s akin to building a house. You can build anything when you start, but if you build a foundation without forethought into what you’re looking for, you have a problem.” No matter your analytics needs, it’s clear that planning is important. It’s not impossible to fix problems down the road, but starting with good habits for your data can prevent big problems.

To learn how easy it can be to add analytics to your NetSuite environment, check out our NetSuite Analytics page.

Learn More about NetSuite Analytics