First Line Technology Chooses NetSuite’s Out-of-the-Box Capabilities for Faster, Easier Implementation vs. Microsoft

Mike Stiles, NetSuite Contributor

November 3, 2022


  • First Line Technology(opens in new tab) makes and sells products that help first responders and keep them safe.
  • Multiple, disconnected systems were causing chaos and lost opportunities.
  • The company loved that NetSuite advised on business process best practices and required less customization than Microsoft.
  • First Line’s use of the system has led to higher gross sales, higher dollar value sales, and time-savings in sales capture and fulfillment. Internal order cycle time has been reduced from 32 to less than four minutes. 
  • Now with unified data, First Line is more strategic in planning and optimizing resources.

About First Line

First Line serves federal government customers like Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, as well as any organization serving in a first responder role. President Amit Kapoor(opens in new tab) describes first responders as the people who run toward instead of away from an emergency. First Line manufactures, sells, and trains customers on its four products and solutions which help them perform better and stay safe:

One solution is a cooling technology that’s incorporated into vests and systems which protect wearers from heat stress. Whether a soldier in theater or firefighters in training, users are kept cooler for more endurance and effective work.

Another product line is First Line’s AmbuBus. During emergencies like Hurricane Katrina, there are often not nearly enough ambulances available for evacuation. First Line designed and manufactured a product that allows emergency response leaders to convert a school bus, metro bus, or any "vehicle of opportunity” into a mass evacuation vehicle. When installed, the structural steel conversion kit gives vehicles an evacuee capacity of 12 or 18 instead of one or two like conventional ambulances. This makes a critical difference when hundreds or thousands of injured people need to be moved out of an area or transported to medical or evacuation facilities.

The company’s third product cleans up chemical and biological threats. First Line creates the chemistry used to disinfect and clean environments with both wet and dry solutions.

Finally, the First Line Utilization Academy conducts training for the use of all the company’s products. Trainees come away with the knowledge they need to activate each solution when needed.

Get an overview of the First Line story on the NetSuite Podcast:

‘A Giant Mess’

That’s how Kapoor described the various and disjointed platforms First Line previously used to run its business.

In its 18 years of operation prior to adopting NetSuite, First Line went through several systems and integrations. Most recently, QuickBooks served as its financial backbone, handling its general ledger and invoicing. Microsoft Dynamics handled customer relationship management (CRM), along with layers of plugins and other software such as ClickDimensions. For the manufacturing or material requirements planning (MRP) side, the company was using a system called MISys. That’s three major but separate tools, plus all the plugins to implement and maintain. 

Enough Is Enough

Kapoor remembers the breaking point quite vividly. He and Operations Director Laura Schwartzkopf(opens in new tab) were in her office doing some whiteboarding, searching out opportunities for increased efficiencies, when it became crystal clear they had a problematic data syncing issue.

First Line’s multitude of systems, hodgepodge of plugins, and third-party data sync-ups only sort of connected data and processes together. Inventory numbers should have been syncing across locations, especially when an order was put into the CRM, but that didn’t always happen. Then that data had to get pushed to QuickBooks, and then QuickBooks had to sync to MISys and vice versa. Systems just weren’t talking to each other the way they needed to. It was like throwing a mixer where everyone attending spoke a different language.

Kapoor started contemplating all the ways under these circumstances that data could get “messed up.” If First Line had an issue that relied on humans for resolution, it couldn’t make corrections once and in one clean system. It was no way to go into the future.

first line technology
First Line Technology's offerings include training on the use of its solutions.

Finding the Right System 

Kapoor said the team was essentially a Microsoft shop already, so they went through an evaluation of Microsoft Business Central. In fact, they went so far as to get a quote from an implementation specialist.

But then they saw a demonstration from NetSuite.

They learned that the implementation process could be much simpler and less disruptive because NetSuite had expertise on what truly needed to be customized and what didn’t.

“Sometimes when we look at systems, we over-customize them ourselves and create our own chaos. When the NetSuite implementation process was given to us and we were told, ‘You don't have to implement through customizations’ – that to an extent you could use this off the shelf – that was very interesting to us.” –Amit Kapoor

Off the Shelf? Really?

With Microsoft Dynamics, the thought was, “Wow, we can customize this to our business processes.” But the NetSuite conversation was more about, “There are these business processes and systems built-in that lead to these results. Do you happen to follow these same processes?”

Overall, First Line did. Where it didn’t, the company adapted its process to align with how that process was already set up in NetSuite. Kapoor felt these were smart adaptations to make, as NetSuite’s best practices are the result of working for decades with over 32,000 businesses.

During the evaluation process, First Line realized that heavy customizations to an ERP system aren’t necessarily a good thing; they can cause confusion and invite errors. Kapoor and team concluded that they could avoid tricky and time-consuming customizations with NetSuite, instead customizing just a few processes to solve for their unique needs.

Maximizing a Suite of Solutions

NetSuite ERP(opens in new tab): First Line is using NetSuite ERP for financials, CRM and inventory management. It handles the customer life cycle entirely in the system, from lead capture all the way through order fulfillment. When an order comes in and is marked as pending fulfillment, the warehouse is notified. As soon as the warehouse ships, finance is notified to bill the customer. The process is seamless, with automatic updating that keeps all the data in real time and in one system. The sales team has access to inventory levels at all times and knows what is and isn’t available. First Line consolidated all data in a single system, eliminating worries about conflicting data between systems.

“We can drill into orders that shipped six months ago and figure out how they were assembled, who assembled them, etc. Just the visibility into everything helps us support our customers. They're using our products on their worst days, so we need everything to work all the time.” –Laura Schwartzkopf

NetSuite Advanced Customer Support (ACS)(opens in new tab): First Line works with the NetSuite ACS team to fine-tune its use of the system, which mostly involves finding ways to streamline operations without customization. Maybe ineffective training is causing a given issue with the system. Or maybe it’s a need to alter a process. First Line’s leaders said there have been times when they asked for a specific process or functionality from ACS and the reply was, “We'd be happy to do that for you, but it's just not a great business practice to allow this in your system.” First Line regards this expertise and those candid recommendations as some of the most important value NetSuite provides.

"I could not find a better customer support team across all the products we work with IT-wise. ACS has been able to bring in experts to fix issues quickly and use the time we’ve paid for in the most valuable way." –Amit Kapoor

NetSuite Learning Cloud Support (LCS)(opens in new tab): First Line’s leadership has used LCS training to refresh its knowledge of the larger concepts within NetSuite so they can holistically understand the system better and get maximum value from it. Other times, they use it to brush up on initial training for the kind of locked-in understanding needed to move forward faster with the product. Leadership aims for these platform-knowledge advantages to trickle down and spread out across the company, especially as they continue digging into the resource.

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First Line Technology has used NetSuite to create dozens of back-office efficiencies.

Visible Results

Before NetSuite, First Line was running at a 37-40% gross profit margin. It now has a gross profit margin of 55-60% and rising.

Kapoor is seeing the dollar value of sales increase because the sales team can make bigger sales thanks to its real-time visibility into inventory levels. First Line customers often call with immediate needs due to the emergency nature of their work. With insight into products in stock or on the way, the team can book, process, and ship orders faster. Kapoor estimates time-savings of at least 10% – often much more – on processes related to sales captures and fulfillment, and some tasks have been completely automated. Those efficiencies are only compounding as the First Line team gets better trained and more experienced on the system.

Lastly, there’s the value of time. Internal order cycle time, or how long it takes to fulfill an order once it’s in the system, is a key KPI(opens in new tab) for First Line.

"The way our old systems were set up, it took 32 minutes to open an order, fulfill it, ship it and all those things. In NetSuite, it's less than four minutes. That's been a huge metric for us." –Laura Schwartzkopf

Furthering Company and Customer Missions

First Line’s business is built around solving complex problems for its end users. Any internal complexity from systems that don't work or can’t work together creates a barrier between the company, its mission, and the customers it serves. And those customers’ work can literally be a matter of life or death to the public at large.

Kapoor believes that having unified sales, finance and fulfillment with NetSuite, his company has greater clarity and is operating infinitely closer to peak efficiency. The decision has impacted multiple parts of the business, from employee satisfaction to product quality to sales performance to profit margins. He and other leaders can take the pulse of the company in real time daily, even several times a day. And they’ve improved communication with each other by putting data at everyone’s fingertips(opens in new tab).

Taking it to the Next Level

First Line will use NetSuite to advance to the next level of strategic planning. That might look like more informed and viable three-, five-, or 10-year plans or more meaningful, data-driven KPI and goal setting.

First Line is implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System, a framework that helps businesses define and execute on their goals. In doing so, leadership is looking at the data to get a true feel for what's happening at every level of the business, which simply wasn’t possible before. Sure, they could’ve set goals and processes with their old business systems – but if they weren’t informed by unified data, the exercise would’ve been a guessing game and the results almost impossible to implement without causing internal stresses. Now, First Line has the insight and intelligence needed to focus strategic planning on the smarter, more profitable opportunities.

NetSuite has packaged the experience gained from tens of thousands of worldwide deployments over two decades into a set of leading practices that pave a clear path to success and are proven to deliver rapid business value. With NetSuite, you go live in a predictable timeframe — smart, stepped implementations begin with sales and span the entire customer lifecycle, so there's continuity from sales to services to support.