Showcasing functionality always runs the risk of falling on deaf ears but NetSuite managed to turn it into a combination of education, information and entertainment. On this occasion there were three distinctive themes:
- Core enhancements designed to show a pathway to the future that will be attractive to large companies
- Partner applications that fill in white spaces and some larger elements of functionality
- User interface refresh
The big enhancement from my standpoint is multi-books for accounting. This is a core requirement for companies that operate across different countries and need to both transact and report in different currencies. It is tough to get right. CTO Evan Goldberg showed a flawless realtime order example that made me go 'wow.' As this was unfolding, colleague Frank Scavo and I had a back and forth on Twitter about whether this type of functionality is only for large businesses.
Neil Raden chimed in saying:
— Neil Raden (@NeilRaden) May 15, 2013
Frank and I agree this is something that all companies will eventually need but as Frank argues, there is a need for affordable solutions at all levels of business. More on this later.
Seeing partner applications is always helpful and a sign of confidence. This time around there were two types on display:
- Those related to HR and expense management
- Vertical market - wine
Both TribeHR (HR) and [email protected] (expense management) gave polished performances with Deem showing that you really can enforce expense policies while providing choice to employees AND make receipt collection easy. It's the kind of functionality craved by those who spend time on the road.
The wine distribution case gave NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson an opportunity to ham it up as a UPS delivery guy to Evan Goldberg's buyer. Fun aside, the app, which demonstrated online ordering and fulfilment, telephone ordering and order amendment - all tied to personal profiles, offer discounts and the like - was well executed.
The user interface enhancements showed how NetSuite is developing for different roles and needs. This is going to be a long haul exercise because changing UIs is a significant undertaking and, as one of my colleagues said: "It is looking long in the tooth." The different dashboard versions we saw (see below for a performance report report) will not be available until 2014 and, according to Jim McGeever, COO NetSuite, UI refresh remains a multi-year exercise.
There is much to admire coming from NetSuite. This is a vendor that is maturing rapidly and is being rewarded in the market. As NetSuite scales up, it is good to see the company investing more heavily in R&D - an extra one percent of revenue according to Nelson, which at today's run rate means approximately an extra $4 million. It is also good to hear the company talk about setting up a European data center some time in the next 12 months and invest proportionately more in that region.
The move into manufacturing is sensible when understood in the context of the market NetSuite wishes to serve. Frank Scavo will talk more on this in an upcoming video. The more structured approach to partnering is absolutely the right thing for customers wishing to 'pick and mix' among partner solutions. And of course any developments in UI are always welcome. But (and there always is)
NetSuite seems to be playing to a market that it thinks is innovative but in some ways is not. When asked whether the company would acquire an HR solution as this is missing functionality, Nelson said that he didn't see a need for it when NetSuite's focus is upon business processes that touch 'things.' He is missing a trick.
Professional services organizations are increasingly productizing their wares but the main assets are people based. some of the mosat innovative manufacturing solutions I'veen fall into what I term 'manufacturing as a service.' These have far larger people components than you'd otherwise expect. It on the other hand is hoping to benefit from manufacturing onshoring.
My sense is that if NetSuite wants to truly differentiate then sure - go after the manufacturing industry and a couple of discrete flavors. But...it has to start thinking beyond what customers are saying. If anything, it needs to pick winning ideas that can act as force multipliers in markets ripe for change.
NetSuite will say that 'cloud' is enough and that getting industry segment expertise on board is a good start. Maybe so, but then I still see plenty of 'blocked drains' where the value proposition of cloud ERP is deemed unclear. Differentiating in the manner I am suggesting while evangelizing the message AND showing great customer success will take it further. And that is in everyone's interests.
Disclosure: NetSuite paid most of my travel costs