The big product news at this year’s SuiteWorld is the launch of SuitePeople, a brand new HR product that’s so deeply embedded into NetSuite’s cloud ERP system that, as NetSuite chief Jim McGeever revealed in Tuesday’s keynote, it can’t be bought standalone:
You cannot buy SuitePeople without buying the rest of NetSuite. That’s how unified it is. We took all those workflows and integrated them tightly into those roles people have.
The new product is the brainchild of Joseph Fung, the founder of small business HR startup TribeHR, which NetSuite acquired in 2013. Now VP of HCM Products at NetSuite, Fung spoke exclusively to diginomica about the new release. While the company will continue to support TribeHR, he says SuitePeople is a new take on the original TribeHR vision, reimagined for the NetSuite environment:
Immediately after the acquisition we started building out a team to really think about and reimagine what does HR mean in the NetSuite world?
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how do we build the most employee-friendly ERP in the world. A lot of that touches on UI elements that are HR oriented, but also other areas in the suite.
So often, day-to-day HR insights are hidden away in some type of reporting engine or separate system. Wouldn’t it be magnificent if you could, in the moment a manager is trying to take action and do something, give them that key insight? That could be when they’re assigning somebody to a project, when they’re restructuring their team, or when they’re closing a sale and want to recognize someone. We really try to take HR elements and weave them into the everyday tasks that happen in the ERP system.
While TribeHR targeted smaller businesses, SuitePeople, which will be generally available from June 1st, is designed to serve the full range of NetSuite’s customer base. It provides a more complete set of core HR functions, including organization design, job and position management, detailed workflows and built-in analytics. The product includes configurable compliance functions and role-based security, and introduces effective-dated employee master data to NetSuite for the first time.
A redesigned employee center brings together self-service access to HR data with other tasks such as expense management, time entry and time sheets. There are role-based dashboards for individual employees, managers and HR professionals, each able to limit the data presented according to the scope of the individual’s permissions, for example, whether an HR administrator works with one jurisdiction or several.
HR processes in context
Perhaps the most unique aspect of the SuitePeople system is the way that it’s deeply integrated into the core NetSuite application. This means that HR processes can be set in the context of related activities, such as planning time off in the context of project scheduling, as Fung explains:
Classically booking time off would be the realm of HR — I’ll use my HR system to book time off. Whereas scheduling somebody for a project, a professional services engagement, would be part of an ERP system — not even necessarily a part of a financial system.
But the reality is, those two workflows are intimately related to each other. Unless you have a single data set, even some type of integration with reporting just doesn’t really cut it. I think a lot of businesses — not just our customers, but the industry, competitors, partners — are realizing that a single data store is of such a strategic advantage that that’s how you achieve operational efficiencies.
You get interesting splits, where a time entry is a vacation request, it’s a project assignment, it’s a billable item, it’s a payroll item. Unless you have a single entity for those separate processes, you end up having very different views of it, and it’s so easy for those groups to fall out of sync.
This is implemented in NetSuite so that when an employee goes to book time off, for example, it flags whether other people in their team are off at the same time. Or in a project schedule, time off days are shown alongside other commitments. The workflow makes it easy to switch between the time off view and the project scheduling view. This functionality has been very well received in people industries, says Fung, such as software, services, advertising and media publishing. “They say, ‘Not only is this super easy and gorgeous, but it feels like it was designed for us”.
KPIs and change management
Performance monitoring can also be embedded much more seamlessly into work routines. SuitePeople embeds ‘Kudos’ buttons in relevant contexts so that it’s easy for managers or colleagues to recognize good performance on the fly. Performance metrics can include KPIs that are relevant to people’s jobs. Fung gives the example of an inventory manager:
The KPIs that they are accountable for include things like throughput, or fulfilment rates, or total capacity. And those are a much better, more applicable measure of performance, than an arbitrary five-point rating scale.
So for us, we’re going to continue to really double-down on making sure that every role has very relevant dashboards, where we can help our customers with very meaningful KPIs for those roles. And then work with our partners to expose that data back and forth.
Although SuitePeople is designed to be easy and intuitive for users, Fung is conscious of the need to make sure customers implement proper change management processes when rolling it out, as with any cloud HR solution.
The reality for so many of them, you know, they’ll have HR administrators that are overworked and they don’t have a chance to put together a process. Or maybe it’s a younger company so their HR team has only ever implemented maybe one HR system before. So they don’t necessarily know what a best practise is. And so we find that we’re coaching them a lot.
Similarly there’s a change management process for onboarding the HR department. Whereas in a company that’s already using financials and project management, those IT, finance teams are very familiar with NetSuite, the HR department often isn’t. So even for existing customers, it’s very much like bringing on a brand new customer.
Those HR professionals also get the opportunity to move away from basic admin to more rewarding activities.
The reality is they don’t want to spend a day reconciling a time-off spreadsheet with a payroll year-end spreadsheet. That’s not why they got into HR. They got into HR to make a difference. And now we’re empowering HR to help their managers be better managers. And that’s very rewarding for us, and for them.
This surprise announcement is a very strong HR product from NetSuite and is part of a trend emerging among ERP vendors to offer integrated HR functionality. But SuitePeople takes that integration much further, delivering truly embedded processes that allow employees to complete HR tasks without having to switch into a separate HR system. For NetSuite’s midmarket customer base, where HR departments are often small and underresourced, it’s an interesting proposition.
Image credit - by the author
Disclosure - NetSuite is a diginomica premier partner and funded the author's travel to attend its SuiteWorld event.