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QuickBooks to NetSuite Migration: Minimize Disruption, Maximize Value

by Billy Leigh - June 2021 16 min read

Outgrowing QuickBooks is a classic good problem to have. Sure, just the fact you’re researching migrations to a big-league ERP system like NetSuite speaks volumes about your past success and rosy future. But like any problem, even of the good variety, it just takes a misstep or two for that good problem to bloom into a full-fledged crisis.

But that’s why Embark is here – to lend you the insights and best practices we’ve collected from the NetSuite migration trenches. As you’ll see, migrating from QuickBooks to a comprehensive ERP system like NetSuite provides plenty of opportunities to veer off into the digital badlands. But let’s stop that from happening, shall we?

Best Practices for Accounting System Implementations

First Things First: Have You Actually Outgrown QuickBooks?

We’re not the type of firm that recommends change just to add a little spice to your operations or keep IT on their toes. Although migrating from QuickBooks to NetSuite can certainly help launch your enterprise into the stratosphere, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your best move, at least for now.

So let’s begin by figuring out if a migration is in your best interest in the first place. And we’re going to do that by posing a few questions. 

  • Are you constantly having to MacGyver QuickBooks to accomplish tasks it wasn’t designed for?
  • Are you using other software to cover tasks and provide visibility that QuickBooks can’t offer?
  • Do your mountains of financial data cause QuickBooks to run like molasses?
  • Does the complexity or sheer length of your month-end close make you want to run and hide?
  • Are you approaching the user limit on Quickbooks?
  • Does your business already require significant inventory management, or will it soon?
  • Do you have more than one business entity to keep track of?
  • Do you find yourself spending a lot of time in Excel, ping-ponging spreadsheets across your accounting and finance teams, and on other manual processes and tasks?
  • Are you on the verge of significant growth? 

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, it’s probably time to get serious about migrating to an enterprise system like NetSuite. However, if you responded with no across the board, then you’re most likely fine sticking with basic accounting software suite like QuickBooks for the time being. But don’t let that dissuade you from planning for the future, though. In this case, there’s really no such thing as over-preparation. 

Other Considerations on Leaving QuickBooks

Before we move on to the particulars of NetSuite and the migration itself, we want to zoom in on that last question we posed – are you on the verge of significant growth? Because operational efficiencies are obviously critical to your success, but there are some broader considerations to keep in mind regarding your company’s future as well.

“Outgrowing” QuickBooks isn’t just about its inability to address increasingly complex areas like inventory management, international sales, or reporting. At some point, as good as QuickBooks is for smaller companies and many startups, it can become an actual barrier to your business breaking through to the next level.

More Revenue, More Problems 

A bigger employee headcount, new product or service lines, and expanding business model, new systems to address new business needs – they all come part and parcel with growth. And that’s just the start of it, with capital requirements, accounting standards, and ever-increasing competition also hitching a ride.

Unfortunately, even QuickBooks Enterprise lacks the scalability, transparency, robust accounting and reporting features, and the countless other benefits an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system provides as your business segues to that next level. 

In other words, there’ll be a point where QuickBooks isn’t just creating hassles and inefficiencies across your accounting function, but actually limiting your growth. And stakeholders don’t like that kind of thing.

 

Why Choose NetSuite? The Benefits of a Cloud-Based ERP System 

At this point, we assume you’ve seen the light and realize that QuickBooks isn’t the answer if you want your business to reach its potential. And while we’ve mentioned an ERP system as your best replacement option, we haven’t explained why, or even what makes NetSuite a preferred choice.

Cloud ERP vs. On-Premises 

You already know what an ERP system brings to the planning and management table, particularly: 

  • Automated business processes
  • A centralized database
  • Cross-departmental insights
  • Process improvements
  • Greater efficiency and productivity

Although we’re obviously simplifying the role an ERP system plays in an organization, perhaps the best way to look at ERP is as a highway system connecting the people, processes, and technology across your enterprise. 

Accounting, logistics, HR, marketing, and more – an ERP system unifies all of them through specific modules to provide maximum transparency and a truly holistic look at your enterprise. And up until a few years ago, the only way a company could harness those synergies and efficiencies was through on-premises systems.

But as SaaS models have taken the world by storm, on-prem solutions lose more ground by the day. In fact, roughly 63% of enterprises now choose a cloud-based ERP system over an on-prem one, mainly because on-premises systems are expensive, require significant internal resources and expertise, and seem to be in a constant state of maintenance and upgrades. 

That’s not the case with a cloud-based solution, though. Operating on remote servers, third-parties, not you, manage a cloud ERP system, taking a massive weight off your shoulders. And from a user’s perspective, your people can access a cloud ERP from a web browser, meaning they can work wherever there’s an internet connection.

But Why NetSuite? Pros and Cons

This is the part of the programming where we say Embark doesn’t have a horse in the race. There is no agreement between Embark and NetSuite, no secret handshake, and certainly no compensation for us singing the system’s praises.

We’ve focused on NetSuite rather than other cloud ERP providers due to its:

  • Integration capabilities: It’s hard to imagine finding something a company cannot integrate into the NetSuite ERP, from accounting to CRM and all points between.
  • Architecture: The back-end database is a bit on the unique side, presenting a learning curve at first, but ultimately makes data extraction and useability a definite strong point.
  • Performance: While no cloud ERP can keep pace with the fastest on-prem systems, workflow is smooth and pain-free with NetSuite.
  • Technical resources: NetSuite isn’t lacking in technical documentation, providing an immense knowledge base to pull from during implementation and all points thereafter.
  • Upgrades: Automated system upgrades mean you’ll always be using the latest and greatest version of the platform.

Further, you’ll have access to real-time data and reporting, intuitive data dashboards, and industry-specific, pre-configured options through the SuiteSuccess implementation methodology to make your business information as relevant as possible. And that’s along with the typical benefits you should expect from the better ERP systems, including advanced inventory management. 

NetSuite Drawbacks

That’s not to say, however, that NetSuite isn’t without its drawbacks. When we said NetSuite isn’t lacking in technical documentation, we meant it. But understanding that documentation is another story, especially during the implementation and migration phases.

Although we’ll dive deeper into migrating your data from QuickBooks just a moment, the high-level takeaway is this – there’s a level of expertise required that most companies, even larger ones, usually don’t have in-house.

So while your IT team might be willing to give it the ol’ college try, we recommend bringing in experienced specialists who know their way around a migration and implementation. There’s simply too much at stake to risk things going sideways on you.

Optimizing NetSuite for Accounting and Finance 

Even after implementing NetSuite, too many companies don’t scratch the surface of its capabilities, highlighting the need to optimize the system for your specific needs. When it comes to accounting, an optimized NetSuite ERP should be able to: 

  • Isolate, track, and report on key data points and metrics like cost drivers, regional revenue reporting, project profitability, and other nuanced financial data
  • Layering in controls and approvals for companies with a possible IPO in the future
  • Automate critical processes
  • Streamline your financial close
  • Automatically revalue foreign currency
  • Formalize entries for multiple entity structures

We could go on and on, but you get the idea. It’s not just about migrating your data from QuickBooks or even successfully implementing NetSuite. Ultimately, you’re going through this trouble to establish a footing that you can build from going forward.

Therefore, optimization and customization are just as critical to the process as migrating your data. If you’re not using NetSuite and its many modules in the most beneficial way for your organization – accounting and finance obviously included – then those barriers to growth we discussed are still going to be an issue.

 

Migrating QuickBooks Data to NetSuite

That brings us to the main event. And you may or may not like hearing there really aren’t too many ways to migrate your data from QuickBooks to NetSuite. As a matter of fact, it really comes down to two options – extract and load, or extract, transform, and load (ETL).

Extract and Load

This is a two-step process where you extract data from QuickBooks and load it directly into NetSuite. Extract and load requires a custom-built or a prebuilt connector to bridge between the two platforms, meaning there’s no point where you can validate the data to ensure things are going smoothly.

Extract, Transform, and Load 

ETL is a three-step process that involves either transforming the data in-stream or landing it somewhere between QuickBooks and NetSuite, usually a database, data warehouse, CSV, or Excel file to transform it.

Manually Extracting CSV or Excel Files

Focusing on the CSV or Excel route for a moment, that’s the most rigid of the choices, abandoning any ability to audit or change the data through transformation. It’s the most unforgiving, manual of the methods but is also the most common given the ubiquity of Excel.

Since you’re not going to have the opportunity to validate the data until you upload it into NetSuite, once it finds its new home, you’ll want to be extremely diligent in running reports in NetSuite in search of errors, gaps, and the like. 

From there, with the assistance of either NetSuite’s team or an outside NetSuite expert, you should continually test the functionality of the NetSuite data and native tools through the first few periods and your initial financial close.

In the meantime, it’s usually a good idea to maintain a QuickBooks Online account for a while after you go live, just in case something is either broken in NetSuite or breaks.

Automated Extraction

Alternatively, if you pull the data down into a warehouse, you can clean up or manipulate the data before loading it into NetSuite, all without affecting your source data.

The migration itself is moving information from one schema into another, in this case, QuickBooks to NetSuite. Since NetSuite’s schema is more complex than QuickBooks’ with additional labels, categories, and all the other ways NetSuite organizes information, mapping your move from system to system is essential for a smooth migration.

Yes, this approach might take a bit longer depending on the nature of your data, perhaps two to three weeks. However, it also helps ensure a smooth transition rather than attempting to transform the data in-stream. It also provides the opportunity to build out and customize your chart of accounts if QuickBooks didn’t allow the level of detail you would prefer.

Choosing the Best Route

We know what you’re thinking – all of these moving parts sound expensive. That’s just not the case, however, as the pricing for most of the tools needed for the three-step ETL process we described is quite cost-effective, even free in many cases.

Where companies run into trouble is with labor and opportunity costs. For example, asking someone in leadership to export reams of spreadsheets or CSV files from QuickBooks to prepare for the migration is nothing but a waste of time, effort, and innovation. What could that person accomplish for your enterprise with the untold hours they spend performing that manual, arduous task? 

Instead, it makes more sense to hire a consultant with expertise in the migration process, probably works at a far lower rate, and frees your people to innovate and grow your company. By using that third-party solution provider, you're saving money while ensuring a far more effective migration, all while allowing your employees to create value rather than become short-term data jockeys.

 

Migration Best Practices

Although we’ve peppered in quite a few tips and tricks up to this point, there are a few other best practices we want to discuss before we wrap up. 

Best Practices for Accounting System Implementations

Like any initiative, you want to prepare as much as possible before setting sail. If you’re already accustomed to the concept and processes behind a finance transformation, then you already know that there are a few critical boxes to check off before proceeding. 

  • Get buy-in from the organization, from stakeholders and leadership down to the people using the NetSuite system.
  • Establish a project management office, either someone in-house that has a solid grasp on the process and what’s involved, or an experienced third-party that can fill the role for you.
  • Define your desired future state, including everything you want to accomplish with the migration, the functionality you want to establish within the accounting system, and the procedures you will use once you migrate the data and are up and running with NetSuite.
  • Set a budget and stick to it, using it to dictate what migration approach would work best for your needs.
  • Use the migration as an opportunity to build out the reports that upper management wants to see from your financial data to drive better decision-making.
  • Establish KPIs that will help you gauge the success of the migration and NetSuite implementation, including different business insights, timeliness of your financial close, and others.
  • Go through the different NetSuite module add-ons available and decide which ones would benefit you, whether that’s FP&A software, multi-currency functionality, or any of its several financial management modules.

Lastly, as our final bit of advice, it’s essential that you rely on genuine expertise for each component of the migration. From the holistic planning side of things to the technical aspects of the migration, employee training to module rollouts, there are several areas where true specialists can make or break your move to NetSuite.

Here at Embark, we’re not only experienced in several of these different areas but, perhaps most importantly, know how to quarterback your QuickBooks data migration from beginning to end, no matter what audibles might come our way.

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