Trade Me: Was it the biggest QuickBooks user ever?

A Netsuite rollout at New Zealand-listed trading website Trade Me saw the end of what could have been the world's largest QuickBooks implementation.

There can be few publicly listed companies of any complexity using Intuit's QuickBooks as their financial management platform.

QuickBooks is for small businesses, not one like New Zealand-based Trade Me, with revenue of NZ$180 million, a market capitalisation of peaking at over NZ$2 billion, multiple business units, and nearly 400 staff members.

Trade Me's financial controller, Colin Rohloff, told a breakfast briefing this week that when he arrived at the company, shortly after a decision to ditch QuickBooks in favour of NetSuite, that the Intuit software was still on Trade Me's financial statements being depreciated over three years from an acquisition cost of just NZ$1000.

Trade Me needed to make two journal entries to account for its debt. QuickBooks had an upper limit of $99.9 million for such an entry, but Trade Me needed more.

"Unofficially, we thought we were the biggest company in the world using QuickBooks," he said.

The system, combined with ad hoc invoicing processes, just didn't work any more. Crashes were frequent.

Invoice processing was a particular nightmare, Rohloff said. Runs would hang and have to be restarted. Each business unit had its own way of invoicing.

Separate bespoke systems were being used to generate those invoices, involving a mail merge, printing, and manual enveloping. Account consolidation for Trade Me's separate business units was another pain point.

It took hours to run a debtors' report and reports for the board had to be compiled manually. Integrity issues, and paper, were everywhere.

But Trade Me had seen NetSuite running at Fronde, the IT firm that would become its implementation partner, and liked what it saw.

Fronde had suffered "builder's house syndrome" itself, chief executive Ian Clarke told the briefing. The house was permanently unfinished because the "builder" was too busy focusing on clients.

A six-week NetSuite implementation had fixed Fronde's accounting systems and boosted its reporting capabilities, as well as enabling global collaboration and rapid scaling up or down as business activity changed.

In December 2012, Fronde won a pitch to replace Trade Me's QuickBooks systems with NetSuite, and the first half of 2013 was spent in planning the transition.

After the two systems ran side by side for a month, Trade Me went live with NetSuite in July 2013, Rohloff said.

The benefits included access from anywhere online. Where QuickBooks ran off a desktop, NetSuite was in the cloud.

Reporting was far more robust, and the system was customisable and fully integrated with Trade Me's data warehouse.

Internal control was vastly improved, because NetSuite included audit trails for any changes. Invoices, the old bugbear, were easily retrieved, because they were attached to transactions electronically.

Trade Me now has a rolling 12-month forecast each quarter and greater use of self-service reporting. Credit card receipts were recently enabled, allowing customers to claim loyalty points.

Direct debit payments will be launched in the next month, Rohloff said.

Setting up business units in NetSuite has also been easy, Rohloff said. Given Trade Me's taste for acquisitions, that has also been a boon.

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