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NetSuite financials helps tech company leave Oracle behind

NetSuite financials has improved data visibility at SeaChange International, but revenue-recognition capabilities leave something to be desired.

Needless to say, technology is quite different now than it was in the '90s. Tech companies that have stayed afloat through the last 20 years have had to radically rethink their business models and adapt to emerging trends. SeaChange International, a multiscreen video software company based in Acton, Mass., is one such organization that has managed to keep pace with change since its founding in 1993.

John Waterhouse, SeaChange's vice president of finance, has been with the company since 1998, and witnessed firsthand the shifts from all-in-one systems to separate hardware and software, then to primarily software and now to a technology-services business model. But even as the company was actively moving forward, there was one thing that was dragging behind -- its Oracle financials system.

Because the company was on an older version of the Oracle system, "every two years the clock was ticking, and they were reminding us that they were going to de-support us," Waterhouse said. And when that knock finally came, the company was forced to upgrade, which was painful. For this and other reasons, the 800-employee global company recently replaced Oracle with a new NetSuite financials system.

Although it hasn't been a fairy-tale transition -- Waterhouse notably named revenue recognition as an area for improvement for the cloud-based vendor -- NetSuite financials has increased visibility of global financial data and helped the company leave some of its Oracle baggage behind.

Price and support benefits of NetSuite financials

SeaChange has invested significantly in NetSuite, adopting not only its financials system, but also the customer relationship management (CRM) and manufacturing modules. It has additionally signed on with NetSuite partners for financial planning and analysis and tax compliance functions, Waterhouse said.

The deciding team, composed of Waterhouse, SeaChange's CEO, chief financial officer, chief accounting officer and board of directors, considered three vendors to replace Oracle financials. But because most of the participants already had NetSuite financials in mind, the vetting process was short.

One reason SeaChange chose NetSuite is the company was already using OpenAir, a professional services automation system that NetSuite had acquired, Waterhouse said. It was also looking for a better price than Oracle could offer.

"We wanted to move on from the whole structure of buying the licenses," Waterhouse said. "[Oracle] probably had a cloud solution as well, but we didn't venture into that. Everything with Oracle is very expensive."

Although Waterhouse said there was some hesitance about moving to a cloud-based financials system, in his opinion it wasn't much different from the arrangement already in place, since the company was relying on third-party database administration services with Oracle. "Our IT organization here had nothing to do with Oracle, so we were used to third-party management," Waterhouse said.

The company was also used to lackluster support from Oracle. "Their support organization was very depersonalized, and we some issues with the escalation process. We had to scream bloody murder to have someone focus their attention on us," Waterhouse explained.

Support has improved with NetSuite, Waterhouse said. "We were a small company in relation to [Oracle], whereas with NetSuite we get a little more attention."

NetSuite financials revenue-recognition capabilities just adequate

But that's not to say NetSuite is without flaws. "It's not a perfect solution by any means," Waterhouse said. "We're [currently] identifying and addressing deficiencies in the applications."

One weak spot is the revenue recognition capabilities. Waterhouse explained that SeaChange has complex revenue recognition needs, and NetSuite so far has not been able to fully address them. "The NetSuite solution is OK, but it definitely needs to improve" in that aspect, Waterhouse said, adding that enhancements are scheduled in upcoming releases.

The default way NetSuite financials handles contracts and invoicing has also proved a challenge, Waterhouse said, as some of SeaChange's customers expect to be billed in a specific way. "We worked with the consultants to arrive at the best solution. It's not how it was designed to work, but it works," he said.

The implementation precipitated some of these challenges, mostly because it was so fast.

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"We signed the agreement August 31 of last year and began our business-mapping sessions in September … and did configurations in November and December. We had a go-live date of February 1, which was pretty aggressive [for an] international company," Waterhouse explained.

Also, because the company had a shared professional services agreement with NetSuite for the implementation, consultants were only present on a "handholding" basis, rather than consistently on-site, Waterhouse said. This meant SeaChange employees performed a considerable amount of the work, which Waterhouse acknowledged was positive, in a way, since it helped the company build internal expertise about the system. But he probably wouldn't have chosen that path again.

"Knowing what we know now and with that aggressive schedule, I maybe would have asked for more direct support and a person from NetSuite who was allocated to us during this implementation on a permanent basis," Waterhouse said. "Implementing a global [system], you sometimes run into issues you aren't really knowledgeable about."

In the end, the company was able to meet the go-live date, and after one quarter of parallel testing with Oracle, it now relies exclusively on NetSuite financials. The next step is focusing on the CRM implementation, which Waterhouse said had been delayed to focus on financials.

Now that the dust has settled somewhat, the company is able to enjoy the benefits. Whereas before SeaChange's global offices operated their own financial systems, they're now all running NetSuite OneWorld, which Waterhouse said has increased visibility into financial performance across the organization.

Ease of use is another advantage. "It's easier than Oracle," Waterhouse said. "Overall, it's a pretty intuitive tool."

Emma Snider is the associate editor for Follow her on Twitter @emmajs24 and the site @SearchFinApps.

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