If you are a CFO or a Controller who uses, or is considering, NetSuite and you’re looking to retain control over the creation of your core financial reports, budgeting and planning (without being overly dependent on your tech support or NetSuite administrator), then you’re in the right place.
In this article, we extend the talking points from our previous blogs: NetSuite Reporting Explained and NetSuite Reporting with Microsoft Excel, to discuss reporting from the specific perspective of a CFO. We look at:
The Evolving Role of the CFO and the Need for Finance Teams to Own Reporting
The advance of technology, in particular the adoption of cloud-based financial management solutions (such as NetSuite), has seen the role of the CFO evolve over the last 15 years. In addition to the core financial management of a business, a CFO’s role now normally includes much more responsibility for the day-to-day technological strategy of their organisations.
In our experience, many CFOs now engage with CTOs on a daily basis and in a number of instances, particularly in scaling businesses, we have seen CFOs assume an almost hybrid role taking ownership of both business units. Whilst this is completely understandable, it has not detracted from the key responsibilities of a CFO: financial management; budgeting; reporting; and critical decision making.
In fact, if anything this technological evolution has piled more pressure on CFOs to produce, analyze, and use better information than they did previously, in a shorter timeframe.
So, where does that leave you?
Realistically, it probably means you have an incredibly interesting job where you get to see and think about loads of different things, but equally an incredibly stressful position where you spend a lot of your own time, out of hours, querying and manipulating data to produce reports alongside doing your day job of posting, approving, and closing your month, quarter, or year. This, as the section header suggests, is why finance teams need to own their own reporting.
As mentioned on our NetSuite Financial Reporting page, as standard, NetSuite provides an amazing array of financial reports, KPIs and dashboards. However, challenges can arise for CFOs on three fronts when it comes to producing and sharing critical information:
Dependency on a Technical/NetSuite Resource: To build custom reports to the kind of level the CFO of a growing business requires, you need someone who knows the technical side of NetSuite – the database, the table structure, the interface etc. Even if you as the CFO have this skillset, the time it takes to get stuck into the task, build the report, test, amend, and re-build is normally more time than you have due to all of the other tasks on your roster. So, you need to tag someone else in which can lead to delays, slight miscommunications, or in some instances – you get exactly what you’re looking for, but it just generates another question and you’re back to square one, requesting another report or an additional filter.
Flexibility to Produce Core Financial reports – Your Way: Ironically, phrasing what we’re trying to say here is probably reflective of the feeling you get when you just want to move a row, a column or a field on your P&L or Balance Sheet. Sometimes, it would just be easier to have a blank canvas where you could just place the information you need without needing to conform to the structure or interface of the fuller system.
Providing Access to NetSuite Reports: Looking at NetSuite reporting from the perspective of a CFO, having access to the reports is only half the battle. One of your main responsibilities as CFO is to advise your board on the financial performance of the business and subsequently advise and recommend a course(s) of action.
We do cover accessibility a little later in the article, however, if you want anyone to access dynamic and live NetSuite reports they either need to have a NetSuite license, or alternatively have you present the report to them using the NetSuite interface. The latter is an appealing option and we do recommend viewing live reports in board situations, but if team members don’t have access to the system, it means that they can only view it at that time and don’t have the ability to analyze or query reports in their own time. This means that the business could be losing out on valuable insights from senior people who know what they should be looking for. Other than that, NetSuite does offer nice functionality to export and share static reports, either by exporting to Excel, Word, PDF, or scheduling emails of report packs. Whilst this does ensure access to information, it relies on the reports being available in the right format within NetSuite – so – refer to points 1 and 2 above.
As a CFO, the ideal scenario would be one which tackles the three points above. A solution which you are comfortable and experienced in using, which does provide live NetSuite reports but doesn’t require you to be an expert in the data structure or interface, and finally which can be easily shared with others in your organisation.
(Spoiler, we’re referring to our Excel Reporting Tool for NetSuite – but don’t worry we’re not just here to sell our own solution. We’ll go into more detail on the kinds of reports CFOs require and where they can find them in NetSuite).
Most Common NetSuite Reports Used by CFOs and Real-world Requirements
As alluded to in the previous section, the discussion we are driving at when we are talking about NetSuite CFO reporting is actually about bridging the gap between the amazing database, interface and standard reports which NetSuite offers, and the practical requirements of a CFO in a fast-growing business.
In short – the need to create your own version of reports to answer all the variables you are dealing with.
Not only do you need the ability to create these reports, you also need to tweak them as your journey progresses and easily share reports with your team and other teams throughout your organisation.
Some of the most common examples we discuss with NetSuite CFOs are:
The ‘bread and butter’ of any CFO or finance team. These kinds of reports are possibly the most relevant example of the need to bridge the gap between the formal, static, management account type reports required for audits and submissions versus the dynamic reports you need to make quick decisions day-to-day:
Whilst, as you’d expect, NetSuite provides all the data and reports you would require to manage your month-end, our most common discussions with CFOs relate to either the need for more flexibility to include some unique factors in these reports, or a requirement to share dynamic reports with non-NetSuite users in their team (e.g., senior management or board members)
Commonly required in the Third Sector and other industries with a higher-than-normal need for transparency around financial allocations, receipts, and spending. For example:
10Q & 10K
As with month-end reports, outlined in the previous section, NetSuite is incredibly strong for these kinds of organisations due to the depth and flexibility of the database as standard. The industry-specific nature of these reports does reduce the ‘off-the-shelf’ ability of most solutions to provide the reports in their entirety. As such, the conversation becomes about the CFO being able to get the same information out of the system in a different format, and again, then share both the reports and supporting data easily and securely with non-NetSuite users.
Some of our favourite topics! Why? Because this is where we really get into the realms of a CFO’s strategic approach:
Actual vs Budget
Budget vs Forecast
Previous Period Comparisons
Forecast vs Revised Forecast vs Budget vs Actual by Period (including Prior Years)
The actuals are always the actuals, and they obviously need to be viewed, reviewed, and reacted to. But we believe that nothing can be, or should be, static in these kinds of discussions. There is always another question to be asked. If things are going well, could they be going better, or what happens if it stops going well? If things aren’t going well, why not, and what will it take to get back on track? Is that realistic? If not, what are the options with the actual numbers behind it all?
Differently to month-end or regulatory reporting requirements (which by their nature are required to follow specific formats), we are now turning our attention to some more organisation- or even CFO-specific reporting:
These kinds of reports are the ones which you’ve built up over years of experience of needing to know certain numbers, in a certain way, every day or week just to ensure that things are as they should be. As standard, NetSuite provides incredible insights via its dashboards, saved searches and reminder portlets, so in these instances, the conversations or solutions we provide are focused on taking all of the data available, often including various functions (which would be difficult to get on one report due to table structures and logic) and put them on one page, including calculations, filters and tables to replicate whatever is actually in the CFOs head, versus how a database has to be structured.
Now we’re really just going all-in on the exciting topics. This is like variance reporting but with added layers – it’s like ‘Inception’ but for Excel reporting for NetSuite, so, better!
In all seriousness, what we’re talking about is taking NetSuite’s already modern approach to financial structure (subsidiaries, codes, departments, classes, and custom segments) and supercharging it with an additional layer of flexibility.
Alternative GL Reporting (i.e., rearranging your GL without actually rearranging your GL)
By Class, Dept, Location
Where historically you would likely have had to create a nominal code, or cost-centre for every new kind of income stream, event, or location, NetSuite allows you to streamline your GL structure by using custom segments. Like in previous examples, the conversations we get involved in here are normally around flexibility in the reporting requirements of CFOs, or the fact that the business has evolved since the GL was set-up and now requires additional analysis. Whilst, as standard, NetSuite is still significantly better than legacy ERP solutions when it comes to capturing and displaying this data, the challenge still comes from a lack of knowledge in how to easily create the reports required within the standard NetSuite interface.
To be honest, particularly with the complexity of reports we’re discussing, that is not a fault or a limitation of NetSuite, it is more to do with CFOs looking for combinations of information which it would be unfair to expect NetSuite to produce as standard. As is covered in more detail in the next section, this is where an integrated Excel reporting tool for NetSuite can really be the most effective approach for CFOs to obtain the exact reporting they want with live NetSuite data.
NetSuite Excel Reporting – A CFO’s Best Friend
We cover this topic in previous articles and on the NetSuite Reporting for Excel webpage. When discussing reporting, Excel is not a tool to replace NetSuite reporting, instead it is an additional tool (which finance teams are normally specialists in using) in your kit.
By providing a direct link between NetSuite and Excel, ensuring data can be refreshed with a single click, you harness all of the immense power of NetSuite’s database and reporting engine and put it in the hands of a team who can build whatever reports you need using a simple point-and-click interface. You, or they, can then apply all of their additional Excel expertise and knowledge to include filters, calculations, formulae, and tables to give you insights you could only dream of before.
So, you don’t need to stop using NetSuite reporting, but you definitely don’t need to stop using Excel. You just need a set-up which allows you to get the best from both. The really good news is, you’re already on the correct website for the tool you’re looking for.
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.