NetSuite held it’s annual Connect conference in London this week, where all delegates could talk about was the potential takeover by Oracle. However, given executives at the cloud company can’t say too much - particularly given that the deal has hit a bit of a roadblock in recent days - the morning keynote was largely a customer driven affair.
Which is always welcome, regardless of the driving factors. CEO Zach Nelson did take to the stage to address the audience, but largely gave the same messages we heard at SuiteWorld in San Jose earlier this year. The only reference to Oracle was in relation to the company’s founding days. He said:
We’ve been at this a long time, arguably NetSuite was the first cloud company. These two guys started the company in 1998, Larry Ellison and Evan Goldberg - the founders. We have some interesting things going on with Larry Ellison right now that some of you might be aware of.
Quite. But that was all we were getting from Nelson as it relates to the takeover. He went on to reiterate how NetSuite was one of the first companies to recognise the importance of cloud applications in the enterprise, and said that the cloud is now the delivery method of choice for most businesses. Nelson said:
When the company was started it was founded on a different set of ideas. The big idea wasn’t the cloud for NetSuite. The big idea was building a different kind of business application. The big idea was for the first time to build an application not designed to run a department, but to run a business. That’s the core idea behind NetSuite. Not just to run finances, but to run business operations.
The second idea was to deliver the application over the internet, it was obvious to these guys. The third element, which has become very important, making sure it had a web store on it. That architecture was the key fundamentals underpinning the platform.
Nobody said it would happen. Today, if you look all around you the cloud has not only won for us, but the cloud has won everywhere.
NetSuite also took the event as an opportunity to announce the latest Professional Services Automation (PSA) enhancements to NetSuite OpenAir, featuring new flexible international functionality to help global professional services organisations expand into new regions; as well as product enhancements to NetSuite OneWorld that deliver global financial capabilities designed for Europe-headquartered businesses and multinational companies across the continent.
But aside from these, it can’t be denied that the highlights from the morning session related to the keynote. Mostly because they were use cases from companies that we don’t usually see at these sorts of events. First up was AbilityNet - a UK charity that helps older people and disabled people of all ages use computers and the internet to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education.
Robin Christopherson, head of digital inclusion at the charity, took to the stage to explain how the organisation has IBM and Microsoft on its board of trustees, and it as well as working on accessibility on all of Microsoft’s products, it also works closely with most of the FTSE 250 companies across the UK.
AbilityNet started using NetSuite 12 years ago when it migrated away from Sage, and is continuing to expand its use across the organisation. Christopherson said:
We had a real miscellany of solutions - Sage, lots of Excel spreadsheets, various other packages, Sharepoint - we were just growing with all these different locations and it just wasn’t working. It was this massive conglomeration, like this big hairball of different spreadsheets and inboxes and databases. Lots of siloed information.
We thought, there must be an online solution. This was before cloud was a thing. There’s got to be an online solution that would serve all these purposes, that would be able to help us with all these locations around the UK. NetSuite was pretty much the only option at the time. Luckily it was a very good option, as it turns out.
Christopherson said that NetSuite out of the box helped with the functional requirements of the organisation and it was able to replace all of the other current working methods. He said:
Then we started to customise it a bit, to kind of streamline and better reflect the unique workflows we had. So we started to edit some of the fields and forms, before long we were using Suite Scripting and various automations to make it really tailored to our organisation.
Now, for example, we are using the web services APIs to integrate with other cloud-based solutions like ClearTalents, which is a diversity workplace reasonable adjustment and recruitment solution. Clients using that particular system would be able to seamlessly be able to talk to the AbilityNet systems to book workplace assessment, or consultancy, without actually have to leave the ClearTalents systems. So it’s been really valuable to integrate with other systems we’ve got, because it’s a very customisable platform.
And AbilityNet is continuing to expand its use of NetSuite, having decided to not only invest in the product, but also internal staff to help support it throughout the charity. Christopherson said:
Last Thursday we turned on the Service Resource Planning module, which is just the latest chapter in what we are doing to really customise it and make it work harder for us. We now actually have a dedicated team that are just permanently developing in NetSuite.
We’ve chosen to dedicate resources there, because of the return we get in streamlining, making things more efficient for us. The SRP is going to help us really deliver a streamlined process from sales right through delivery, invoicing, revenue recognition. All of that.
As a charity, we are nothing like we were 12 years ago.
The second customer to take the stage was Simply Health, where Matthew Main, managing director of retail, was speaking about how he was brought on board to relaunch the insurance company’s retail division - The Unlimited Company - which sells premium daily living aids and mobility products. He said:
They had a retail business, that wasn't a retail business. It was a retail business managed by a financial services business, with an accountant leading it. It was an accumulation of lots of different stores that had been acquired over lots of different years. It wasn’t working, so I was given the task of coming in and being asked how we could make this business fit for the future.
One of the things I’d discovered was that our products and services were what would typically be called mobility products. I discovered a huge amount of white plastic. I discovered a huge amount of products that were functional. But I discovered a group of customers that wanted aspirational products, ones that they’d be proud of and want to put in their home.
The store environments were very grey and very beige. The whole sector wasn’t really customer centric. So we introduced a new store format, with inspirational products that were designed to help make the most of life. We now operate from 11 stores around the UK.
Main spoke about how the face of retail has changed over the past 25 years - how it has moved from solely a bricks and mortar based business, to one that incorporates online and mobile in an omni-channel world. He said that the new aim was to not just deliver the products in-store, but a new customer experience. Main said:
A lot of our customers, who can both be people who have parents, that want to buy a product for their parents to return their independence, or the people who use the product. They’ll need to be able to interact with us however they want to. We needed to find a solution that we could use in store, online, and where customers could interact with us seamlessly. We needed to interact with a company that understood that.
The Independent Company selected NetSuite and it has allowed the division to run a retail business fully out of the box. Main said:
It helped us build a technology business. It helped us build one version of the truth, one set of data. We can analyse the data very quickly and make the right decisions for our customers.
It is a real challenge to be a retailer in a financial services business. Simply Health has redesigned itself and reengineered itself, coming away from the insurance business. We don’t want to fix things, we don’t want to just provide a solution in a box, we want people to make the most of lives.
Finally, CEO and co-founder, Roland Lamb, took to the stage to tell delegates about the growth of his music business Roli. For those that don’t yet know Roli, it was founded by Lamb after he realised that technology could allow for musicians that were a specialist in one instrument to take advantage of other instrument sounds - but there wasn’t a solution available.
Lamb is a jazz musician and a keyboard player and Roli’s core product is a musical instrument that looks like a keyboard but takes advantage of different gestures and touches to pull in a variety of sounds. He said:
For me it started, as a musician, wanting to have access to all these different pallets of sounds. I was a student and about six years ago and I thought, what if I could access all these different pallets of sound from one instrument? There’s this real inefficiency in music, which is there is so many different instruments and pallets, but you have to spend years learning each one. Over the last few years we have delivered this new instrument to do that.
Seaboard is based on a piano keyboard, so you can play it just like a piano, but what we realised we wanted to do was create all different types of gestures that people can do. So instead of just striking the keys, you can slide along them, you can press into them, you can glide.
To do that we had to develop the materials, the sensor technology, the firmware, the software and the hardware, to deliver that. Then all the systems to manufacture it and get it out to market.
However, what’s interesting about the Roli story is that it isn’t just a hardware company that has made a
new musical instrument. Lamb has recognised that it has the potential to become a software business and has been making moves to turn Roli into a platform. He said:
We have acquired three software companies now. First we bought a company that’s a C++ framework for music software and about 400 companies use it. We wanted to push the envelope in terms of musical expression, but all of the technologies for sound generation were based on protocols from 30 years ago. We were going to have to bring the industry with us, so we bought the framework that the industry uses to develop. And then we built all of our innovations into the framework.
Then we recently bought two other companies. One is a web platform for musicians to share their work, so that’s helping us to build a community, to deliver our software. Then we have also bought a sound content domain. So we are using the hardware to leverage a platform opportunity. And as we have been doing that, our business model has become more complex, because we aren’t just selling to our keyboard customers - all those 400 other businesses that create music are our customers, all those other musicians are our customers. So it’s added a lot of complexity.
We also have been thinking in terms of building a whole platform of products around data. So we have instrumentation that allows us to pick out what sounds people are using, how they are playing, how they are sharing on our different platforms. Capturing that data and understanding the journey of each customer is really important for product improvement over time.
And obviously Roli is also using NetSuite to help run its business. Lamb realised that when he scaled the company he didn’t have a tool that was able to provide the same insight into operations as when he was running the company himself and had full control. He explained:
I built a very good prototype on my own. But then I raised money and hired 12 engineers. Then I thought, okay we are going to 12 times as fast. But instead we went 12 times as slow - because we had all these experts in different areas that weren’t speaking to each other.
Then a couple of years ago I found the same thing had happened to the business. I had hired 10 different people to run the different areas of the business, and it was because everyone had selected different systems, so I had lost that point of integration.
When I was building Seaboard myself I could see how all the technologies came together into a unified whole. What’s exciting about the NetSuite application, it’s making the business a whole and more than the sum of its parts.