Project Management & Planning Articles

NetSuite OpenAir Review – Professional Services Automation Made Simple

by Rakesh Sharma
Published on 31 July 2013

Professional Services Organizations (PSO) can become very complex very quickly. You need to manage a geographically distributed team of consultants across numerous projects. New projects come in every day, and you need to maximize your profitability and resource utilization while providing outstanding service to your customers. Luckily, PSO's have solutions to help them face these challenges.

This week, we will look at one such solution - NetSuite OpenAir. In this NetSuite OpenAir review, we will look at its interface, features, and see how it can be of use to you.

A Comprehensive Solution

NetSuite OpenAir was built with the sole purpose of enabling billable services organizations to be more successful. Providing project management capabilities isn't enough, and relying on third party billing software - or even spreadsheets - can cause data integrity issues and disparate silos of information.

Designing the application involved a mix of perspectives. Edward Marshall SVP, General Manager, Services Vertical at NetSuite says their brief was to design a unique product that combined project management, resource management and project accounting together in one platform. In addition, they required a cloud-based application that was enabled for a mobile workforce, and provided "one version of the truth" for professional services teams.

Working With OpenAir

Project Management in NetSuite OpenAir provides what you would expect in most project management tools - work breakdown structures, Gantt Charts, task dependencies, and dashboards to highlight project status. The solution takes this even further by exposing in real time data from timesheets - planned vs. actual hours, invoicing - hour worked vs. hours billed, and even data from expense reporting if you so choose. The system integrates nicely with Microsoft Project if you need it to, but most customers use the NetSuite OpenAir Project Management capabilities on their own says Marshall.

Resource Management takes place alongside Project Management in one integrated solution, but helps you answer some different tactical questions, such as:

  • Who do I have "on the bench"
  • What skills do I have in my organization
  • What is my billable utilization, both historical and forecasted

This is the area where you can find the biggest impact on your bottom line, increase billable utilization by up to 10%, and sometimes even more according to NetSuite. In many ways, Resource Management is what truly separates NetSuite OpenAir from other Project management tools - it recognizes that the basis for success in a PSO lies not only with project execution, but also with an understanding that the interaction between your consultants and your projects is the key to success.

Project Accounting in NetSuite OpenAir enables a PSO to take all of the Project management and resource management information embedded in the system, and convert that information into Billable Charges, Invoices, Revenue Recognition Transactions, Profitability Reports, and even integration into your ERP system. Whereas other products might take Project information and/or time tracking information and convert that to invoicing in a basic manner, NetSuite OpenAir understands that Project Accounting needs to be fully embedded in the Project and resource management to truly be effective. For example, your work breakdown structure must at times represent separate tasks for separate billing events - phase 1 of a project might be for a fixed fee, phase 2 might be billed on a time and materials basis, and phase might be free of charge. If your Project Accounting isn't in the same solution as your Project Management, this quickly becomes unwieldy.

Underlying the Netsuite OpenAir solution is a reporting and dashboarding platform that allows users to easily view data from the system in real-time and act upon it accordingly. With this you can see project profitability, burn rates (hours worked vs. hours budgeted), as well as leveraging the workflow notifications that exist in the system. The flexibility of the reporting allows customers to design their own reports and drill into the data that best helps them run their business, answering questions such as:

  • I know which projects are profitable, but which customers are most profitable?
  • Which lines of business, or offices, are most profitable?
  • Which types of projects see the highest cost overruns?

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OpenAir is scalable enough to work globally. Thus, it can be geared towards large multinational companies and works across time zones and statuses. Many configurations occur at the local level, so a consultant in the UK can work as they are accustomed to doing - with semi-monthly timesheets, daily billing rates, etc - while US based employees have weekly timesheets and hourly bill rates.

OpenAir provides role-based security access. Custom views are configured based on the role and permissions assigned to it. For example, the dashboard view differs between managers and their reports. The latter's dashboard is simpler and displays utilization rates and important details related to their work such as assignments, leave days, and vacation time.

Pros and Cons

To say that OpenAir is a comprehensive end-to-end solution would be to state the obvious. However, specific customizations within the solution makes it an interesting and innovative solution. For example, the solution integrates with iPhones and iPads. Thus, you can take snapshots of receipts or important documents and upload them directly into the system. Similarly, tasks and resource capabilities are color-coded; this ensures easy identification and quick substitution. Integration with multiple CRM and ERP systems at the front end and back end ensures extensibility and easier processing of routine tasks. Finally, because it figures a brand name such as NetSuite, it has great service.


Like most SaaS applications, NetSuite OpenAir has subscription-based pricing. It has a relatively simple pricing structure that can scale as your business grows.

The Bottom Line

NetSuite OpenAir is an excellent solution that combines a comprehensive approach with convenience. Thanks to its integration and customization capabilities, it also extends typical PSA solutions and makes it easy for PSA organizations to track their efforts and be more successful.

Ratings: ease of use 5/5, features 5/5, value 5/5 and ease of deployment 4/5


Apps mentioned in this article