In this article we review the topic of NetSuite BI, or NetSuite Business Intelligence, to give it its Sunday name.
As discussed in a number of our previous blogs (most recently, NetSuite Reporting Explained), reports, and as a result BI, are at the heart of NetSuite’s reason for being. The question therefore is, what does Business Intelligence mean to your business and what is the best way to create the appropriate output from NetSuite?
We will look at:
What is BI? (Don’t worry, it’s a brief section)
Does NetSuite have a BI Tool?
How to work with NetSuite data externally
How to connect NetSuite to your existing BI tool(s)
What is BI?
Ok, if you’re reading this article, you probably already have a pretty strong handle on the core concepts of Business Intelligence (BI) and the purpose of BI solutions or tools. (To be honest, if you’re reading this article, we’d guess that you’re really looking for the information contained in the last two sections of the blog – but you’re here now, so you may as well enjoy the ride!)
In short, business intelligence is widely recognised as a combination of the tools and strategies used by organisations to view and analyze their data via reports, dashboards, drilldowns, and data mining. In the real world, the term also has connotations of live, graphical, and automatically refreshing reports, often available independently of the core systems which house the data.
In plain English, BI is a set of reports and dashboards which are facilitated by a tool(s) which makes critical data available to users in a format which allows them to drive decisions and activities based on the information presented.
Does NetSuite have a BI tool?
Based on the description above, yes, it absolutely does.
Off-the-shelf NetSuite comes with thousands of standard reports, KPIs, and dashboard templates which are all accompanied by the ability to create limitless reports and insights via ‘Saved Searches’ and ‘Custom KPIs’. Taking a slightly more ‘real-world’ angle on the question…NetSuite has not been developed as a ‘pure’ business intelligence tool. As a result, whilst it is streaks ahead of most of its competitors in terms of its native reporting capabilities and interface, there are some core ‘wants’ users tend to have with a BI solution which NetSuite may not necessarily have a complete solution or workaround for:
1. The flexibility to create any layout to suit your preference: NetSuite provides numerous options to view data natively in the system. But as you’re operating within their interface you need to build reports within the parameters of what it offers. The reporting interface is exceptional, and they are adding to it with options like SuiteAnalytics and Cash/Project360 in their latest releases, which all focus around a more ‘blank template’ and Excel inspired interface, but you don’t essentially have the ability to just drag and drop fields from various modules or functions into a report which includes lists, summaries and charts.
Common requests include the ability to present an alternative view on the General Ledger to view data and totals in a different order from the chart of accounts, or the need to include data from two tables in the database which are not linked. As they’re not linked, it’s not possible as standard within NetSuite to include that data to interact (totals, calculations etc.,) within one report.
2. Accessibility for non-NetSuite Users: A common requirement of business intelligence is to share information team-wide or business-wide. As standard you can export NetSuite reports and charts to Excel, PDF or Word, but that means that the data is only as up to date as when the document was exported. If you need non-NetSuite users to view live NetSuite data, you need to purchase NetSuite licenses or invest in a tool which can facilitate this.
3. Automatically refreshing reports: As with the previous point, if your business is looking to expand and improve business intelligence, you’re most likely looking for your team to view live data. Native NetSuite dashboards provide tremendous insights and a great interface, however if you were to put them on a big screen for your team they don’t update without someone refreshing the page or portlet regularly.
4. Reporting on data from other solutions: NetSuite’s standard reporting provides reports on NetSuite data. Makes sense, right?
Again, in our experience a requirement of a business investigating NetSuite Business Intelligence is the need to report on data beyond NetSuite data, e.g., operations data, CRM and sales, or customer support which may be managed in a disparate, industry specific solution. If you wish to report on multiple datasets you either have to get all the data into NetSuite, or look at a tool which will pool data from multiple sources and provide an interface to build reports.
None of this should be considered as a negative of NetSuite. It’s punching well above its weight in terms of what it does offer, and BI is not its primary focus. It would be like getting annoyed that your motorbike can’t safely transport your family of six…it’s not what it’s meant to do.
How to report with NetSuite data externally to NetSuite
This is easy, there are two options really:
1. Manually export the data you need out of NetSuite using the standard export tools. These can be found within reports, dashboards, searches etc., which you have access to, or within the menu structure under 'administration' providing you have the appropriate roles and permissions.
Export to Excel is often found in the section above reports and lists with a recognisable Excel icon (small spreadsheet with a green ‘E’). Alternatively, there is the export option in the bottom right of reporting screens which can send data to Excel, PDF, and Word, as well as providing the ability to schedule report distribution via email. If you need to use the data once it’s exported, conveniently NetSuite does also export all calculations and formulae to Excel which makes it instantly interactive, but then you’re on your own in terms of building your own reports with static data.
2. Automate the transfer of data to a reporting tool using NetSuite SuiteAnalytics Connect (ODBC). The SuiteAnalytics connect module essentially opens the backend of NetSuite for authorised solutions to access the database and push and pull data to and from the system, live. Our very own NetSuite Reporting Tool operates in this exact fashion. Using Solution 7, you can create any report you like in Excel through a simple point-and-click interface and all of your data is automatically populated from NetSuite with a click of ‘Refresh Data’. What’s more, as your reports are built within Excel you can easily include static data, manually entered data, or even data from third-party solutions connected to the report in a similar fashion.
How to connect NetSuite to your existing BI tool(s)
Firstly, this depends on which software solution your business currently uses, and you would need to discuss their requirements and interface with your provider. The two options really are to integrate using an API, although this is normally more aligned with integrating different functional software as opposed to extracting data (you can find information on NetSuite’s API here), or to use the NetSuite SuiteAnaltyics Connect (ODBC). If you’re already using a BI solution and are just looking for the best way to access the NetSuite database, you’re best to reach out to your NetSuite Account Manager or Solution Provider, but the SuiteAnalytics Connect module is their standard ODBC connector, and that’s probably what you’re after.
Learn more from Solution 7
Read the introductory blog to learn more about NetSuite Reporting in general:
Visit our product pages for a more detailed breakdown of our BI solution:
About Solution 7
Solution 7’s award-winning SuiteApp provides finance professionals with all the power and capability of NetSuite’s reporting within the familiar and flexible interface of Microsoft Excel. Recognised by NetSuite as ‘SuiteApp of the Year’ in 2018, Solution 7 is one of the most, and highest, rated apps on SuiteApp.com, with an average rating of 4.8/5 from almost 100 reviews.