Compared to the information retrieval tools available in most other ERPs, NetSuite’s Saved Searches feature offers a lot of power and flexibility. Saved Searches are fairly intuitive to use, can track down information quickly in most cases, and usually return precise results in real time. As a general rule, Saved Searches make finding anything within the ERP easy and accessible to all.
Like many other reporting mechanisms, however, NetSuite’s Saved Searches have their limitations. As you work to make sense of the large volumes of data stored in your enterprise software system, keep in mind that different tools are well suited to different tasks. As an increasingly competitive business environment compels you to focus more and more on data analytics and forecasting, it is important to understand how each reporting tool fits into an overall strategy to deliver the insights your business needs.
Saved Searches are very useful for straightforward data retrieval because they address a broad range of use cases with a single, flexible general-purpose tool. In specific instances, however, you should look at supplementing the capabilities of the Saved Searches feature with purpose-built, real-time reporting software.
Consider the differences between the kind of simple data query you can perform using a Saved Search vs. something far more complex – for example, a profit and loss (P&L) statement. The former consists of a request for all records in the database that need certain criteria, often sorted or summarized in some way. A P&L statement, on the other hand, consists of a complicated matrix of rows and columns presenting budget, actual, and prior-year numbers, alongside calculated variances. In an intercompany scenario, columns may be split out for different corporate entities or divisions, with additional columns for totals or eliminations.
Rows within the P&L statement also defy the straightforward simplicity of a simple database query. Finance and accounting teams often combine groups of general ledger accounts into a single row, sometimes filtered by a specific account segment or range, and occasionally with an odd single account thrown in. Teams often need to adjust those row definitions to accurately reflect specific reporting requirements.
The shortcomings of Saved Searches are not just apparent when creating financial statements, though. Powerful, flexible financial reporting that enables accounting teams (and others throughout the organization) to get the information they want in the right format requires a different set of tools. Accountants can generate reports using just NetSuite, but when you need more flexibility in how you present your data, complementing those capabilities with a dedicated financial reporting solution dramatically enhances the value and utility of the data inside your ERP system.
In this article, we’ll look at what Saved Searches are, as well as how to create and manage them. We will also address the strengths and weaknesses of Saved Searches, including when it is best to use alternative reporting tools.
Getting Started with Saved Searches
So what exactly is a Saved Search? Essentially, it is a request for information from the NetSuite ERP database. Let’s say, for example, that you want a list of sales orders placed during the current month that exceed $10,000.
To create that Saved Search, you would go to the Reports menu in NetSuite and select “New Search.” When prompted to select the type of search, you would choose Transactions. Next, you would specify the criteria for the search; in this case, you would set “Type” to “Sales Order,” and “Date” is “This Month.”
Here’s where things get a little bit tricky. In the above example, you would also need to set a third criterion: “Main Line” = True. That means that you only want the header information from each order. If you don’t set that flag properly, your Saved Search will return a list of sales orders and the individual line items from those sales orders.
This example illustrates one of the primary drawbacks of Saved Searches in NetSuite, namely, that they require some understanding of how the underlying database stores information. If you are designing a Saved Search without knowing those kinds of details, you might get the wrong information when you run the report.
It is also worth noting that Saved Searches enable the use of “AND/OR” expressions to define criteria in a more precise way. This makes the search somewhat more powerful, but it also increases the complexity of a Saved Search considerably, and it can result in much slower performance. To turn this feature on, select “Use Expressions” in the Criteria tab when you are defining your Saved Search.
Another advanced feature allows the use of formulas, for example, to combine information from two different fields in the output of the Saved Search, add calculated fields, or apply conditional formatting to the result set. These kinds of features tend to be too advanced for most business users and require some degree of IT expertise if you want to use them effectively.
Once you have established the criteria for your Saved Search, the next step is to specify the fields that should appear in the results. In our example, you might choose to include the transaction date, the customer name, the order number, and the total amount. You can save the search by giving it a unique name so that it will be available for you to reuse at any time.
Using and Managing Saved Searches
As the name implies, a Saved Search is available for use on an ongoing basis. In the above example, the date filter of “this month” ensures that the results returned by the Saved Search will always contain information from the current calendar month, without needing to update the report with specific beginning and ending dates.
To make the Saved Search available to other NetSuite users within the company, you can grant access to specific users or groups, which provides them with access to run the Saved Search and see the results. If you mark the “public” checkbox when you are creating the Saved Search, that will make it available and editable for those users within your organization to whom you gave access to the search. Because that permits others to change the Saved Search, though, most people prefer not to enable that feature.
Another way of sharing the Saved Search is through the email distribution feature. Within the Saved Search screen, select “email,” and choose the specific people who should receive an email containing the report under the Specific Recipients menu option. An alternative is to select the “Recipients from Results“ option and specify the recipients based on a specific field within the search. For example, if you were to add the salesperson to your Saved Search results from the example above, you could trigger an email to each salesperson listing their customer orders for the current month that exceed $10,000.
You can also trigger emails based on a variety of different criteria, scheduling them on a periodic basis, or whenever you create a record or update that affects the Saved Search.
This email notification feature makes Saved Searches very useful for creating alerts and distributing information to users throughout your organization. Let’s say, for example, that the customer service manager wants a reminder email sent to case managers whenever a customer support case remains open for more than three days. By creating a Saved Search to list open cases, filtering on date created, and emailing the results to the case managers using the “Recipients from Results“ option, it’s relatively easy to automate such an alert process in NetSuite with Saved Searches.
You can add Saved Searches to a NetSuite dashboard by enabling “Available as Dashboard View” for each applicable Saved Search, then edit the dashboard to include a “custom search.” As we will note later, however, it was never intended that the Saved Search feature be used to create real-time data dashboards, so you should use this checkbox with caution.
Finally, you can use Saved Searches to create reminders for NetSuite users. While NetSuite comes with a number of predefined reminders you can add to a user’s Reminders portlet, it is also possible to add custom reminders by checking the “Available for Reminders” box when creating a Saved Search.
Shortcomings of Saved Searches
Although Saved Searches are wonderfully flexible, they don’t always do so well as a general-purpose reporting tool. There are some significant challenges for users who lack a detailed understanding of NetSuite underlying data model. The “Main Line” flag on transactions is just one such example.
Let’s say, for instance, that you are creating a list of sales invoices with line items missing a value in the “Department” column. Your Saved Search returns a long list of invoices, but when you check those transactions, they all have complete data for every line item, including the department. In other words, you’re not getting the information you wanted.
What happened? Unbeknownst to you, sales taxes and cost of goods sold show up as distinct line items in the NetSuite database, so your Saved Search returns a much larger set of results than you expected. If you don’t understand the underlying NetSuite ERP data model, these kinds of problems can be frustrating and can consume considerable time spent troubleshooting inconsistencies. Worse yet, they may go unnoticed entirely, meaning that you are relying on erroneous reports to help you make business decisions.
Saved Searches can also get complicated when you need to report on information stored in different areas within NetSuite. If you are using the Advanced Projects Module, for example, you might want to run a report that shows the cost of specific time entries within a project. Unfortunately, that requires some advanced skills, because NetSuite doesn’t provide a Saved Search capability that automatically links Time Entries and Project Task Assignments. If this sounds a bit complicated, that’s because it is. If NetSuite doesn’t provide out-of-the-box visibility to the information you need, then you need advanced IT skills and a detailed understanding of the database to get the data you want.
Finally, Saved Searches tend to fall short of the mark when it comes to creating real-time data dashboards. Performance of Saved Searches can be an issue, often resulting in timeouts or datasets that are too large for the Saved Search function to handle properly. For this reason, users are advised to limit their datasets by filtering on a specific date range or other key criteria or to restrict the number of columns displayed in the results, so that the report does not load as slowly as it otherwise might.
Performance can also suffer when a Saved Search uses the “contains” function in the filter criteria. For example, a query of sales order line items in which the “Item Description contains ‘widget’” can take an exceedingly long time to execute. Users may need to schedule especially slow Saved Searches to run overnight. Unfortunately, these kinds of performance-based limitations force users to accept workarounds that restrict the amount of data they can query and the way they query them. Developing an early understanding of these kinds of shortcomings of NetSuite’s Saved Searches feature is especially important.
Adding Spreadsheet Server to your Toolbox
General-purpose tools rarely serve specific needs as well as specialized tools do. For finance and accounting teams that want truly flexible and robust reporting capabilities, it is important to have tools that are designed specifically for financial reporting.
While NetSuite’s Saved Searches feature delivers a great deal of value, it falls short on performance, flexibility, and user-friendliness. It is incapable of providing the kind of sophisticated formatting options required for custom financial statements, and it lacks the robustness required for most other financial reporting tasks. For companies operating multiple entities on NetSuite, Saved Searches are poorly suited to enterprise-wide reporting.
In most companies, finance teams strongly prefer to work in Microsoft Excel because it is powerful, flexible, and very familiar. Spreadsheet Server from insightsoftware provides an excellent complement to NetSuite’s built-in Saved Searches and reporting capabilities. Spreadsheet Server makes it easy to create reports that span multiple entities and answer users’ specific questions without relying on specialized technical expertise. Because Spreadsheet Server is a dedicated reporting tool, it makes the process more powerful, more flexible, and more user-friendly.
With Spreadsheet Server, finance users can design dashboards themselves, determining exactly what data they need and how they should be organized and displayed. Dashboards designed using Spreadsheet Server are automatically updated with real-time information directly from NetSuite. Users always have the most current data in front of them, without having to track them down and without having to wait for results.
Spreadsheet Server is seamlessly integrated with Microsoft Excel. While NetSuite’s Saved Searches feature was designed as a general-purpose tool for NetSuite ERP users, Spreadsheet Server was designed specifically for the accounting team, the CFO, or anyone else invested in financial and operational reporting. Because each feature is optimized for financial reporting, the process of creating and distributing reports is far more efficient and less prone to error.
By nature, reporting is a complex process that can drain resources if not conducted carefully. With a tool like Spreadsheet Server that’s built to optimize reporting, it’s no surprise that it ends up taking accountants less time to generate better reports overall.
Spreadsheet Server from insightsoftware integrates directly with NetSuite. It’s not meant to be a replacement for Saved Searches, but rather a way to enhance the financial reporting process specifically and the decision-making process enterprise-wide. To illustrate how, consider a few of the ways that Spreadsheet Server builds on what NetSuite already offers.
NetSuite strives to give users the broadest toolkit possible, which is part of why it’s so popular. But no single piece of software can do everything perfectly, and when it comes to high-level financial reporting, users may want to bolster their toolkit.
Spreadsheet Server is a popular addition, not only because it integrates so easily with NetSuite but also because it makes ad hoc reporting both more intuitive and more intelligent. It’s a powerful combination that leads to a powerful reporting process. Learn more about how these two solutions work together by downloading our free whitepaper, or contact us for a free demo.