As a NetSuite team leader at Fusion5, Dirk Vorster works with dozens of companies every year, helping them platform their business on an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that ensures they can use their data to do business better. Here, Dirk explains how businesses in the energy sector can gain the power of data using modern business systems. 

If I’ve got data on a system telling me X, and I’ve got people telling me Y, I will go with X. Y will always be someone’s gut feel. 

It’s the same in business. When you can trust your system, you trust the data and what it’s telling you. If you don’t, it’s just a thumb suck and the way the wind blows. With good data, you run a good business. Without good data you miss opportunities – or you chase the wrong ones. 

Every company is data intensive. Take those in the energy sector, specifically those businesses that supply products and equipment across the entire value chain. They rely on efficient manufacturing and distribution processes. This means lots and lots of data. 

The common perception with data is: it’s how you use it that counts, but I disagree. It’s not how you use it, it’s whether you are able to use it effectively that counts. Let me explain. 

If you move to an ERP or business system that integrates data from all your business areas into a single central data repository, which is coupled with smart reporting and analysis tools, then you can use your data. 

You don’t need to be a technical genius to do so, you just need a system that can manipulate data into effective real-time reporting, dashboards and recommended actions that power the right decisions. 

Take subjectivity away 

With the right system, you don’t need to go and compile data from different systems and waste your time doing basic reports with Excel. The system tells you what you should be acting on and if it’s configured correctly. For example, if inventory levels are low, it should tell you to order stock so you don’t have to rely anymore on manual stock checks or risk a stock-out. 

It will also allow inputs to and from your suppliers and partners, so your purchase orders can go direct to the right vendors. In return, their systems can update on the order progress, or what stage they are at in the manufacturing process. 

Your choice of ERP should be all about taking subjectivity away and unleashing the power of your data. Let’s look at some other signs that show you’re not using your data to power good business. 

  1. Rapid growth 

If you haven’t run a company, it doesn’t seem likely that you’d include ‘rapid growth’ as a challenge. In the business world however, it really is. Growing fast is what you want, but it also exposes all the weaknesses and risks in your current process. It’s hard to really capitalise on growth unless you can capture the opportunity and the right data in the moment. 

I’ve seen a lot of companies hit the point on their growth curve where they realise that spreadsheets and a mix of isolated small business systems just aren’t going to cut it. They’ve got too many data sources that don’t work together, and no way to effectively combine them to help with intelligent decision making. 

  1. Money matters 

On the finance side, can you do real-time consolidations? Does your month-end close take more than a couple of days? Can you run an (accurate) sales report by region quickly and easily? 

To achieve these things many finance teams have got to dump data into Excel, manipulate it, and produce what they need. They take static data from multiple sources and spend time working on it, to produce a report. This is slow, and by the time the report is ready, the information is already out of date and difficult to analyse. 

  1. Going global 

As you expand, can you support multi-book accounting with the click of a button? As you add entities, can you turn them on with 100 per cent confidence that they are localised to meet all the local regulations and standards? 

If you’re operating in the US, the USA subsidiary needs to be reported on using the GAAP standards for financial reporting and accounting, while in Australia we use IFRS. You need a system that can manage two accounting books for the USA subsidiary. The first accounting book is in IFRS because you want to consolidate in IFRS across the group, the second accounting book is a GAAP accounting book, which is used for tax and financial reporting purposes in the USA. 

Some countries in Africa and South America for example have some accounting quirks that you need to consider when expanding into these markets. 

These are data intensive exercises, so you need a system that covers the regulations in all the markets where you do business. 

  1. Supply chain visibility 

A lot of companies simply don’t have visibility into their supply chain, or they have to jump between multiple systems and dump data into spreadsheets to get a supply chain snapshot, or to look at their distribution planning for example. 

Other businesses I’ve seen have to wait for data integration as batches run through their ERP system. The world is moving too fast to wait for integrations to run or batches to be posted. 

At the minimum you’re going to need real-time data insights into stock levels from a central data record. For example, you have product X, you need to see on the same single record what sales happened on product X and what is the projected demand, so you can make decisions. This eliminates the need to jump between different systems to find information. 

  1. Integrate 

A lot of companies today use 3PL or 4PL providers to manage their logistics. This makes sense, but many suffer because their integrations with these providers aren’t in real time. For example, if your website transactions only synchronise once per day with your distribution centres, how can you meet customer service expectations? Not to mention poor inventory accuracy for your sales team and poor demand planning for your manufacturing team. 

Good integration middleware platforms are essential to move data back and forth between your business and your supply, manufacturing and distribution partners. For example, you should see and be able to report on the stock levels held at your 3PL provider’s warehouses within your system. 

  1. Demand planning 

When it comes to demand planning, again data is king. Can you use your previous 12 months sales to forecast demand for the next 12 months, and build your supply plan from that? Can your system forecast that projected demand is low in this warehouse and then transfer stock from there to a higher demand area? 

Slicing and dicing your data shouldn’t be hard. Modern ERP systems will consolidate your data into a single system. That’s where the fun really begins! With the right vision and the right partner to configure and implement NetSuite, all these data-driven decisions are possible. 

In addition, there are two things about NetSuite that really set this product apart from other ERPs in my humble opinion. 

  1. SuiteSuccess 

Unique to NetSuite is their SuiteSuccess deployment methodology. With SuiteSuccess licenses, you get a huge amount of valuable functionality straight out-of-the-box. How NetSuite does this is really smart, using the data they have collected from 40,000+ customers around the world to determine what is leading-practice for businesses in practically every industry. 

So if you’re in the energy sector and you choose SuiteSuccess, you get a complete set of leading-practice roles, KPIs, dashboards and process flows that have been proven to deliver value by other companies in the same industry from day one. 

  1. No ivory towers or walled gardens 

Things like integrations and building new reports and dashboards are simple to do. Many customers learn to do this themselves successfully, or simply use functional consultants to do this type of work. In fact almost all personalisation of NetSuite functionality can be completed by functional consultants. You don’t need a technical resource hiding behind technical jargon or creating a walled garden because there’s no development work, it’s simply drag and drop to create powerful customisations. 

The Fusion5 team has put together a great eBook that looks more closely at how energy sector companies can unleash the power of data with a modern business system – you can download it here.

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