My excitement for new software release announcements has waned considerably over the years. It’s especially poor for vendors that take something mundane (e.g., general ledger allocations) and add a small incremental improvement (e.g., “Now, introducing an eighth way to allocate an accounting balance!!!!). I need to see breakthrough thinking, radically reimagined process flows, etc. to grab my attention.
Recently, I did a call with the Oracle NetSuite folks to find out what’s in their new Release 22.2 and what might I see at the upcoming Oracle SuiteWorld event. The call focused on two new announcements:
- Analytics warehouse functionality
- Inventory management
What caught my eye about these announcements was that some of the new functionality is tapping into a few of Oracle’s more advanced technologies – technologies that can dramatically alter the value a customer receives from an application. That’s particularly important as far too many software use cases for advanced technologies often assume only large, enterprise-class customers will be permitted to use them. Great mid-market functionality using these advanced technologies is almost as rare as hen’s teeth.
This quote from an Oracle press release summarizes the new Analytics Warehouse capabilities and included advanced technologies:
Built on Oracle Analytics Cloud and Oracle Autonomous Database for analytics and data warehousing (ADW), NetSuite Analytics Warehouse helps customers spot patterns and quickly surface insights from NetSuite and third-party data. The new updates make it easier for customers to blend standard NetSuite transactional data with custom data, legacy data, and an expansive collection of third-party sources. Additionally, enhancements to pre-built visualization capabilities enable customers to quickly see key performance indicators and identify trends and new data relationships.
Let’s unpack that paragraph. NetSuite customers will be able to probe externally sourced or internally generated datasets for all kinds of insights, many of which will be displayed via graphical means. This is important as mid-sized firms I’ve visited often possess mountains of ‘dark’ data: the data that they or their machines generate but no person or system looks at this information. The insights within this data are ignored as mid-sized firms often lack the tools, skills, computing power, integrations, visualization tools or ML tools to make sense of this.
I see this ‘dark’ data all of the time. If you walk the shop floor of a manufacturer, you’ll find all kinds of capital equipment that have on-board computers, sensors, etc. that are generating lots of data, recording all kinds of events, etc. But, no one bothers to do anything with it as this data has no place to go. In time, it just gets over-written and the insights are lost.
Some firms also collect tons of data about website visitors, customer survey responses, shipping documentation, etc. But, like the capital machine-based data, it remains in a dark data state.
Oracle NetSuite is now tapping into several Oracle advanced technologies to make this both available and easy to use for mid-market firms. In effect, Oracle NetSuite will shine a bright light on dark data.
One difference in this new capability from that of competitors is that the tool will access custom/bespoke data, data from third-parties and other data that isn’t just a dump of application transaction data. Currently, there are a number of mid-market solution vendors selling an analytics solution that can only mine insights within the transaction database. That’s like rooting around in your pocket change and expecting to find a million-dollar coin to be there. It won’t be.
Oracle’s Paul Farrell described this new capability for NetSuite customers as a capability that’s ‘punching above their weight’. I’d agree.
I suspect we’ll see NetSuite customers quickly use this big data capability to do things that their competitors can’t (or that Oracle even anticipated). For example, I could see manufacturers getting access to social media data (e.g., tweets) and analyze the contents of it to see if they or their competitors are having product quality or supply chain issues being socialized publicly. A smart manufacturer could spot a potential issue with a product early and take preventative actions. They might be able to avoid an expensive recall or minimize adverse publicity. Likewise, if their competitor is having issues delivering their product, the manufacturer could quickly pivot and create special marketing programs to capture new business and garner new accounts.
What this new capability offers is a way to democratize Big Data for SMBs. It lets mid-sized firms be on the same competitive plane as larger firms. The ERP software will not discriminate against mid-sized firms.
Specifically, that same Oracle press release announced these enhancements:
- “Custom Attribute Mapping Editor: Customers can now select the custom data to flow from NetSuite into the data warehouse on the next scheduled refresh, and its placement in a subject area data snapshot – such as finance, purchasing, inventory, sales and more – in just a few clicks and with no coding required.
- Content Bundle Feature: Customers can now export content from one NetSuite Analytics Warehouse instance to another, providing efficiency and flexibility. For example, a customer can create a Workbook and dashboard in a sandbox account and then use Bundles to export it into a production account.
- Expanded Collection of Pre-built Subject Matter Data Snapshots: Customers can now access an expanded list of pre-built subject matter data snapshots and key metrics for role-specific business insights. The following enhancements are now available as part of the standard daily refresh:
- Financials Snapshot: Revenue Commitment, Revenue Commitment Reversal, Revenue Arrangement
- Sales Snapshot: Opportunity and Commission
- Inventory Snapshot: Inventory Cost Revaluation, Bin Transfer, and Bin Put Away Worksheet.
- Retail Industry Snapshot: Gross Margins, Spend, and Financials
- Enhanced Vertical Functionality: Services customers can now access a new subscription-centric project management module to optimize revenue management.”
In an ever more omni-channel world, it’s gotten quite difficult for firms to know what products it has for sale and where exactly those products are. Businesses need to have visibility into sales across all channels (e.g., physical stores, on-line marketplaces, warehouses, partner websites, etc.) and all the places this inventory might be held (e.g., distribution centers, third-party logistics warehouses, in-transit shipments, retail stores, etc.).
A company that can’t say for sure if it has a product for sale, is a company that’s likely to lose a lot of sales to competitors, damage its reputation (by selling something it can’t deliver), or create very frustrated employees, customers and partners up and down the supply/value chain. That happened to me on a couple of occasions this summer.
What makes this counting so tough are several factors:
- Current supply chain difficulties mean many firms have little to no inventory to satisfy demand. This means some items have been out-of-stock for some time.
- Some firms have received only sporadic supplies of key inventory items but no safety stock exists for this inventory. An absence of safety stock makes the need for accurate inventory levels more important than ever. For example, even if inventory counts were off by a few items, that wouldn’t usually be an issue if the firm maintained a safety stock of a dozen extra items.
- But the biggest reason that inventory counts are tough to do is that companies can’t just stop everything to get a definite count. There are just too many ways orders can come into the company (e.g., mail, phone, email, online, etc.) and too many places the inventory may be held. In fact, in the time it takes someone to verify the inventory of a given item, several online orders may have already occurred.
Now, NetSuite thinks it has built a better mousetrap to solve this issue (i.e., NetSuite Smart Count). This solution is well-suited for fast moving items. This application has two interesting components: smart approvals and smart count functionality.
The new functionality includes an alert system that notifies inventory counters that new events (e.g., an online purchase) are occurring on the product currently being counted. The software has administrative rules that guide counters on what to do in these situations. There’s also intelligence to alter the counting frequency for specific products based on a number of factors (e.g., item value). One example of that is the triggering of a count whenever a product’s stocking level drops below a specific reorder or target point.
The SuiteWorld show
I hope NetSuite has more use cases of advanced technologies (e.g., AI/machine learning, chatbots, embedded smart analytics, ML-powered recommendation engines, etc.) being incorporated into their products at the upcoming SuiteWorld show. If these capabilities are easy-to-implement, easy-to-use and tune, then the NetSuite impact in mid-market customers should be significant and positive.
Directionally, this is where the application software market has to evolve. Let’s face it, the automated entry and processing of accounting and other transactions has been done. And, re-automating these with a prettier UX alone will not create a lot of value for software buyers. Vendors have to offer up new avenues of value creation if they wish to remain competitively relevant and grow their businesses.
I look for these kinds of innovations at user conferences. It validates for me whether this vendor has a future (or not).
I’ll have a full conference write-up next month re: SuiteWorld.