NetSuite founder Evan Goldberg: SuiteCommerce is our second act

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 21, 2015
NetSuite's big bet on building up the ecommerce capabilities of its cloud ERP business suite was seminal for the company, says its founder. So what's next?

Evan Goldberg NetSuite CTO speaking at SuiteWorld 2015 with word disrupt behind
Five years ago, in 2011, NetSuite appointed Andy Lloyd as GM of its ecommerce products. A few months later, it quietly acquired the LX Group, which had developed an advanced storefront application built on the NetSuite platform.

These two steps had far-reaching effects. The resulting ecommerce platform, SuiteCommerce, became generally available in 2013 and formed the nucleus of a deep refactoring of NetSuite's architecture. That has formed the foundation for continued evolution of the omnichannel capabilities that are now central to the vendor's proposition, as founder and CTO Evan Goldberg told me during its SuiteWorld conference earlier this month:

We had very ambitious goals for SuiteCommerce Advanced. This is not a little add-on. This is our second act as a company.

The introduction of SuiteCommerce and the new UI that came in its wake has not been without pain. NetSuite had to choose between disrupting existing customers running on its old commerce platform and making the leap to a new architecture. The new platform has allowed it to add functions such as in-store order management, B2B commerce and procure-to-pay.

If you're going to make this your second act as a company you've got to do some dramatic things. We had to tell our customers — and it's not been easy, there's definitely some risk involved — we're going to build the new stuff from the ground up: it's not going to be directly compatible with what you've got.

We're going to help you make the transition if that's what you choose to do. We're going to support the old stuff for a long time, we may even enhance [it] to some degree. But let's be honest with you, our center of gravity is going to move to this new architecture.

Act One: dashboards

If omnichannel was the second act, then NetSuite's first was delivering a business management system that could give frontline executives visibility into what was happening in their business. This was Goldberg's original vision when founding the company in 1998, and soon after NetSuite become one of the first business software companies to deliver a browser-based dashboard of live business metrics.

NetSuite began as a system designed by CEOs for CEOs. We wanted the information.

Practically all of our sales and marketing for the first couple of years was about the dashboard because it was something every business owner could relate to.

Visibility remains a key thread in today's product, with the recent introduction of SuiteGL segmentation being the latest contribution. Although the name suggests the functionality is restricted to manipulating transactions in the general ledger (GL), Goldberg explained it has a broader scope.

It's called SuiteGL, but it's really bigger than that, it's an overarching framework for classifying your business information so that you then can develop valuable reports.

You can put it on records, not put it on transactions, and just use it for something completely different. But we've started with the fundamental use case of classifying your GL transactions.

It's all about unlocking the information and making it available.

What these business systems do, at least fifty percent of it is to give visibility into what's going on in your business and then fifty percent of it is to control what's going on in your business.

That fifty percent that's visibility is definitely all about reporting. Why put the data in if you're not going to be able to get the data out?

Coming next: machine intelligence

Evan Goldberg NetSuite founder and CTO
Evan Goldberg, NetSuite

And so if dashboards and omnichannel were the themes of NetSuite's first and second acts, what's coming next? Goldberg believes it may be machine intelligence. At the end of Goldberg's product keynote at SuiteWorld, he previewed a "cluster analysis" capability that NetSuite will add to its platform. Although the demo focused on a marketing use case, he told me the functionality again has a much broader scope.

We're going to take any search or any report or any analytics out of NetSuite and then be able to apply this additional analysis on top of it. Any search in NetSuite has a button that says, 'Do cluster analysis'.

We're going to put it out there into the wild. People are going to do great things, not in necessarily marketing intelligence but something completely different — [for example] analysing employee satisfaction.

We're building a data science department and they're going to have impact across the entire suite. We have a second act now, which is SuiteCommerce. Maybe our third act will be this intelligent assistance across the entire suite.

This is something he's been thinking about for some time, he told me. But there's always a tension between delivering what customers are asking for and developing functionality they don't yet know they need.

Sometimes you have to leapfrog your customers and show them what they might want. Sometimes you have to follow your customers and they actually know better what you should do than you do. I think it's a mix.

Keeping the right people engaged is a critical ingredient in achieving that balance, he told me.

Great companies fundamentally are created by great people. You need vision, and you need to manage the company effectively from a financial perspective, but then beyond that fundamentally what delivers your success is your people.

There's risks in the product, there's risks with our customers, but with the right people those things tend to work out. Not all of them do but the numbers work in your favor when you have the right people.

My take

It seems that no enterprise software company is complete these days without a data science strategy. It will be interesting to see how NetSuite's evolves.

Meanwhile, the company's bet on developing its ecommerce platform is now bearing fruit as that capability begins to deliver new functions in procurement and spend management. No other cloud ERP vendor has developed such a tight coupling of financial and ecommerce built on a single transactional core. It's a strong differentiation for the vendor that will continue to pay dividends in opening up new market opportunities.

Disclosure: NetSuite is a diginomica premier partner. NetSuite paid the author's travel expenses to attend SuiteWorld and is a recent consulting client.

Image credit: by NetSuite.


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