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RSM rapidly implements NetSuite for growing life sciences company

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“We had a very short timeframe to complete the ERP implementation and ensure SOX compliance. Being in the middle of a quarter end and our initial SOX implementation, RSM was responsive to our needs to keep the project on track. Both the Apellis and RSM teams worked diligently throughout the project for a successful outcome, and SOX compliance was achieved.”             
 -   Nicole Perry, Vice President of Finance, Apellis

Overview

Apellis Pharmaceuticals is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, developing therapeutic compounds to treat autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. The company, established in 2009, currently has locations in Crestwood, Kentucky, Boston, San Francisco, Switzerland and Australia. Apellis went public in November 2017 and is currently undergoing significant domestic and international growth.

Background

As a newly minted public company, Apellis needed to transition from a QuickBooks business management platform to gain more functionality and align with Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance demands. With continued business expansion in sight, the company sought to transition to a platform that could accommodate future growth. In addition, the company had a very complex approval workflow outside the general ledger system for purchases and could benefit from streamlining processes in a more comprehensive enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform.

Apellis made a forward-looking decision to implement NetSuite OneWorld as a logical migration from QuickBooks. However, by becoming a large accelerated filer the first full year after going public, the company had a very short timeline to implement NetSuite and become SOX compliant before the end of 2018.

“Knowing where we are going with our growth, we will need to convert from NetSuite in the next couple of years,” said Nicole Perry, Apelllis’ vice president of finance. We wanted a platform that we could implement by the end of the year in order to be SOX compliant that would provide the company with a transition path to a more robust ERP system.”

Project

Apellis chose RSM for the NetSuite implementation based on the team’s depth of life sciences industry knowledge and experience with the NetSuite platform.

“We received quotes from three different firms for implementation,” said Perry. “Going through the proposals, we felt like RSM was the most qualified and the feedback we received about the RSM team was positive.”

In the interest of time, RSM adjusted its implementation process so that key tasks could be completed remotely. For example, the RSM team initially gathered key information remotely through a requirements questionnaire, a joint review and a detailed business document that also detailed the system design. Each of these processes is typically handled in person, but was managed remotely in this case to increase efficiency.

Ultimately, after collecting necessary information, understanding Apellis’ unique needs and designing the solution, RSM had NetSuite OneWorld configured and running in two weeks. Once the platform was established, RSM layered on Apellis’ customizations and improvements to workflows.

With NetSuite operational, the RSM team performed two end-to-end process walkthroughs to ensure the configuration was sound. After configuration sign-off from Apellis, the company performed user acceptance testing to ensure its key employees were well-trained and prepared to go live. Even amid the demands of closing the quarterly books and documenting SOX requirements, Apellis employees were very engaged, understood the gravity of switching onto the system and took to the system quickly.

To enhance financial insight and projections, Apellis wanted detailed general ledger balances from the previous two years transitioned from QuickBooks to NetSuite, but the company did not have the internal bandwidth to commit to the project. RSM was able to bring in several consultants to assist in the full extract, transformation and load process, bringing the necessary data into the new system.

The NetSuite platform also enabled Apellis to gain more efficiency and visibility into the accounting for its Australian subsidiary. In the past, the subsidiary’s accounting records were maintained in U.S. dollars, and resulted in time-consuming manual conversions and consolidation.

When implementing NetSuite, RSM created an Australian subsidiary and set up Australian transactions to be recorded in Australian dollars. Now, by utilizing NetSuite’s daily exchange rate updates, transactions are accurately represented in native currencies, and also automatically brought together to create one cohesive financial picture for the business.

“Having only one general ledger system as opposed to two and having NetSuite automatically convert the Australian subsidiary transactions has been a significant reduction in effort on our part,” said Katherine Kuntz, Apellis controller. “We are in the process of growing internationally, so we will expect to integrate other subsidiaries and currencies. That is a functionality that our previous platform didn’t have.”

RSM also helped Apellis streamline its expense report process by utilizing the ACH funds transfer capabilities within NetSuite. The new functionality was introduced to employees in 2019, and the company plans to extend the ACH feature to increase efficiency within vendor billing operations. The benefits gained through this integration are already apparent in multiple key areas.

“Our VP of finance is happy because she does not have to sign as many checks, and employees are happy because they don’t have to wait for a check to come through the mail. Reimbursements are deposited directly to their bank accounts within two days of processing,” said Kuntz. “The process is going great, and everybody really likes the savings involved with the ACH process.”

Further planned functionality

After successfully implementing NetSuite, while meeting the business demands related to going public and becoming a large accelerated filer, Apellis is now focusing on other potential process enhancements available in the platform. For example, the company is expecting significant improvements from NetSuite’s invoice workflow approval process. Currently, Apellis has an invoice workflow contained in a separate system, with employees creating an invoice in that system and then transitioning it into NetSuite once it is approved.

“Right now, we’re manually entering invoices into two different systems, one for approvals and one for processing,” commented Perry. “Once we’re able to implement invoice processing and approvals through NetSuite, it will reduce the data entry time in half.”

Additionally, Apellis has plans to leverage NetSuite to create purchase orders for each contract. That functionality will reduce questions about how to code invoices and increase efficiency within the invoice approval process. Through initial testing in a sandbox environment during the RSM implementation, Apellis understood the productivity gains available to the company.

“Having the invoice and the purchase order connected in the same system with the workflow approval will be a significant savings in my opinion,” Kuntz commented. “Knowing the amount of effort we expend with parallel systems, having it all in one place will be a very big improvement for us.”

Outcomes

RSM’s NetSuite experience and industry knowledge helped Apellis implement a comprehensive NetSuite solution in a short timeline, with further improvements planned for the future. The new system can comfortably accommodate the company’s expected growth, with the visibility and internal controls necessary for a public company. NetSuite has brought many of the company’s processes together to create several key efficiencies, enabling employees to focus on disease treatment.

Key benefits of RSM’s service for Apellis included:

  • Quickly implementing a NetSuite ERP solution that better aligns with the company’s domestic and international growth plans
  • Enabling comprehensive, consolidated reports in one system, eliminating the need to manually manipulate multiple spreadsheets
  • Transitioning historical data into NetSuite to support more effective financial reporting
  • Creating more accurate and efficient accounting for international offices, and establishing a framework for future expansion
  • Streamlining expense reporting processes

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