In this article we extend the topic of NetSuite Dashboards, which we summarised in our recent blog: NetSuite Reporting Explained. After a brief introduction to NetSuite’s ability to produce dashboards, we look deeper into the best approaches to produce Native NetSuite Dashboards, NetSuite Dashboards in Excel, and NetSuite Dashboards in a third-party business intelligence (BI) tool.
Why dashboards and NetSuite go hand in hand
It’s all about the availability of information.
A good dashboard should be easy to understand at a glance, that’s the whole point. However, like almost everything in life, the things which appear simple are often the most complex to master.
There are two key themes which make NetSuite an ideal core platform for creating dashboards:
Its modern and interactive interface: since day one, NetSuite has been developed to be dynamic and interactive with a focus on providing users with visibility into both individual and business-wide metrics. So much so, the first thing you see when you log into NetSuite is…you guessed it, your very own customizable dashboard! You can hear more from NetSuite founder, Evan Goldberg, here – where he discusses his founding principles for NetSuite which were driven by his experience of trying to grow businesses without having easy access to essential information.
The strength of the core financial solution: Ok, we love NetSuite, almost as much as we love Excel (almost!). There’s a reason for that, and it’s probably the same reason that it has consistently been one of the market-leaders, and still fastest-growing, business management solutions on the go over the last 20+ years. NetSuite is built in the right order of priority for growing businesses…financials first, and everything out from there. The fact that NetSuite offers everything in the one system is amazing, but that is only as strong as the foundation of the financial platform. Whether you are a straightforward single company set-up, or a fast-growing, multi-subsidiary, international conglomerate, NetSuite provides the perfect blend of traditional accounting controls with the flexibility to enable you to easily on-board and adapt to new challenges or opportunities in today’s fast-paced world.
This combination ensures that everything in NetSuite is geared towards capturing the correct data and then storing, and managing, it on a modern platform to enable you to get the information you need out of the system in the most efficient and user-friendly fashion.
What kinds of dashboards can you produce from NetSuite?
Great question! The short answer is probably that there are three different kinds of dashboards, and each of those can be produced, or viewed, at either an individual or business level (so, there are technically six options if you’re a pedant or a mathematician!).
The three most common options we experience are:
1. Native NetSuite Dashboards
2. Refreshable NetSuite Dashboards in Excel
3. Automated NetSuite Dashboards via Business Intelligence Applications
Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.
Native NetSuite Dashboards
As alluded to in the first section of the article, Native NetSuite Dashboards are the cornerstone of NetSuite’s interface. A dashboard is the first thing a user sees when logging into NetSuite, and by navigating through the system the default first view of any key module or function (financials, inventory, projects) is most likely a dashboard. Even customers, suppliers and partners have pre-configured dashboards to provide users with a comprehensive and “queryable” overview at a glance.
The most common ways to enhance native dashboards are:
Include a combination of various portlet types – KPIs, reminders, task focused outputs (e.g. call lists), and saved searches which provide you everything you need to see on one screen.
Use both ‘Standard KPIs’ and ‘Custom KPIs’ – off-the-shelf NetSuite provides hundreds of standard views into almost every angle of its database. However, one of the biggest advantages to investing in a system like NetSuite is that you can start to make it work for you, as opposed to you fitting into standard functionality. Without too much technical know-how, users can easily create Custom KPIs based on saved searches which can be made up from fairly basic ‘and/or’ type queries.
Embrace the ‘Portlet Date Setting’ option – this is magical. With the click of a button, you can change your entire reporting view to compare performance from days, weeks, months and years within seconds. Even better, once the dashboard is refreshed you can drill-down to line level detail behind your updated data within a few clicks. Use it!
Refreshable NetSuite Dashboards in Excel
Oh, imagine! All the information, drilldowns and comparisons stored in NetSuite, available in pre-configured Excel dashboard templates. Templates you can make and amend yourself to include different layouts, custom fields, calculations, and pivot tables, which other users can then view live with a quick click of ‘Refresh Data’.
Well, we have news for you…this is exactly what our award-winning SuiteApp does. Whether you are looking to produce live NetSuite financial reports and dashboards for board members and colleagues, or improve how you view and manage budgets, plans and forecasts in NetSuite, our Excel plugin provides the perfect NetSuite reporting tool.
Advantages of building NetSuite Dashboards in Excel include:
Control and efficiency for your finance team: let’s not ignore the elephant in the room - finance professionals love Excel. They use it as it was intended, and they tend to be good with it. So, give them the keys to build their own NetSuite reports and dashboards, quickly and easily without needing to learn NetSuite’s data structure or burden your NetSuite Administrator or IT Manager.
Flexibility: Excel gives you a blank canvas to put information where you want to see it. Via our plugin, users simply point and click to insert any field from database into the appropriate cell in Excel and the data is then automatically updated via a NetSuite ODBC connection. Some powerful examples of this include the ability to produce reports based on an alternative GL structure without having to actually restructure your chart of accounts, or multiple versions of budgets, plans, and forecasts to include data from third-party solutions, or just simply manually editable ‘what-if’ type values.
Accessibility: having NetSuite reports in Excel, which can be refreshed at any point, ensures individuals (colleagues, board members, customers, partners) who do not have access to NetSuite can still view live NetSuite reports and dashboards. Also, most people are comfortable opening a spreadsheet and clicking around as opposed to learning a new software application, so users may get more from interacting with NetSuite in Excel.
Automatically Refreshing Dashboards External to NetSuite
As discussed in our previous blog, NetSuite Reporting Explained, automatically refreshing dashboards (i.e., ones which do not require any manual clicks to refresh or update data) normally require an external, dedicated business intelligence solution. The reason being that neither NetSuite, nor Excel, possess the capability to refresh automatically based on a trigger. Whilst dedicated NetSuite business intelligence solutions normally offer additional functionality, this tends to be the lynchpin for a dashboarding requirement.
In our experience, if you are in the market for automatically refreshing dashboards it is most likely to share headline information in a team, target-driven environment, such as sales, or a support desk. The actual technical process of creating the link is normally similar to the steps outlined above, you would connect to the database via NetSuite ODBC (SuiteAnalytics Connect) to pull data into a specified location, this can either be purely NetSuite data, or it could be a data warehouse combining data from multiple sources.
The power and functionality then reside in the dashboarding tool. From a NetSuite perspective, the question really comes down to how frequently you want the dashboards to refresh, and therefore how regularly you need to export data. Whilst every situation is unique, it is worth noting that large datasets, particularly if you pull from multiple data sources, can be extremely resource heavy as the tools require the full dataset to be pulled through automatically, and continually – so it just keeps going and the more regularly you do it, the more bandwidth you need to give it.
So, if you are in the market for one of these solutions, we recommend having that conversation with your potential supplier and ask them for reference sites of similar set-ups to ensure that the package you are considering will cope with your demand.
Summarising NetSuite Dashboards
Visibility. That’s it. Showing people the information they need to allow them to identify actions required, quickly. NetSuite’s entire infrastructure is geared towards providing dashboards, so the questions to ask are: who needs to see the information? What information do they need? And, what is the best way to get them that information? If the above cannot be achieved by native NetSuite dashboards, then you are realistically looking at an ODBC connection out of NetSuite to either Excel or a dedicated BI tool. Ultimately, the right tool depends on whether you need to have the dashboards refresh automatically, or whether users refreshing data is a more effective way of accessing critical reports.
Read the introductory blog to learn more about NetSuite Reporting in general:
Visit our product pages for a more detailed breakdown:
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.