The most interesting announcements at NetSuite's annual SuiteWorld conference last week were not about technology. They’ve been about how people adapt to technology — and how with offerings like Brainyard and SuiteSuccess, NetSuite has been supplementing its core Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings with a range of services that are designed to help maximize their value.
Of course there were a raft of product announcements too, ranging from the introduction of lease accounting in financials, updates to project budgeting and improved support for foreign currency expense reports, through to new extensions to the e-commerce platform and updates to the Bronto digital marketing tool.
It was notable though that equal prominence was given to various updates to SuiteSuccess, the vendor's industry-specific, preconfigured implementation packages. These aim to get customers up and running with a working system in as little as 30 days, or later on help them to add extra functionality. Special prominence here was given to packages for the recently introduced Planning and Budgeting Cloud Services (PBCS), which use Oracle analytics tools to model and monitor financial planning. The launch of SuiteLife, a program that steps up NetSuite's investment in its partner ecosystem, was also highlighted.
Brainyard opens up the knowledge
What intrigued me most of all though was the introduction of Brainyard, an exercise in opening up NetSuite's internal bank of knowledge about how to make the most of its products. There is no better example of how different the SaaS model is from traditional software business models. Instead of hoarding this knowledge and restricting access by putting an extortionate price tag on it, NetSuite has realized that making it freely available to customers and prospects will accelerate adoption of its core products.
It also recognizes the challenges businesses currently face in digesting all of the technology change being thrown at them, often with little explanation of what to do with it. As Jason Maynard, NetSuite's Senior Vice President of Global Field Operations, said in his day two keynote:
This is where tech vendors fall short if we don't understand that you have real day-to-day business problems. You don't have buzzword problems. You have competitors, you have margins to worry about. You have to hire great people. You have to worry about all sorts of things. Tax laws, complex accounting, these are the real world problems. It's not the buzzword bingo, it's not 'digitally transforming.'
Maynard elaborated on this line of thinking when I sat down with him later in the day to record a podcast interview, which you can find embedded below. He told me:
Since I've been on the operating side of the business the last four years, I've spent more time helping our customers solve problems. No customer ever has walked up to me and said, 'Hey, I've really got an AI chatbot problem.'
Focus on business outcomes
So NetSuite has been investing in helping customers solve those real-world problems, rather than simply aiming to sell them yet more technology. Of course, technology is the enabler that helps solve those problems. But the emphasis is on the business outcomes:
I think we knew that just moving to the cloud wasn't good enough and that this was that next layer where we had to go. Ultimately all business applications I would say evolve into having to be relevant to the industry or the domain. It's all about solving a business problem, it's not just about the technology.
The introduction of SuiteSuccess four years ago has turned out to have been a real turning point for NetSuite, propelling its net promoter score — a measure of customer satisfaction — by 30-40%, he says. A big part of it has been focusing on reducing professional services overheads to accelerate time to value:
We say we like to engineer professional services hours out of every implementation. Our goal is, why would we want to tax our customers with unnecessary implementation costs, impede their ability to get to time to value?
Brainyard is the next step, taking research and knowledge that NetSuite has built up over the years and making it more easily accessible to customers. Announced alongside a new on-demand learning resource and a high-level strategic support offering, Brainyard delivers a combination of business research developed by its industry specialists, benchmark data based on tracking its own customers along with third-party business performance data, and various how-to resources, best-practice briefings and KPI analysis to help improve business performance.
This focus on business outcomes stays faithful to NetSuite's founding mission, says Maynard:
We're not just trying to sell you software. Ultimately when Evan [Goldberg] started this company, his mission was, 'I've got to help entrepreneurs succeed. It's so hard to run a business.'
You fast-forward twenty years, we're looking at a business, and they're like, 'Hey the software's great, but I've got a margin problem, how do I improve my gross margin?' We want to help you do that. That's where the gold is ... It's all about how do you prioritize your scarce time and resources and make sure you're getting the most value out of NetSuite that you possibly can.
I've always maintained that the SaaS model is not just about delivering software from a different location. Putting software in the cloud fundamentally changes its nature, because it makes it connected. SaaS pioneers like NetSuite were the first to discover the consequence of this fundamental change, which I've called The XaaS Effect.
XaaS stands for Everything-as-a-Service, because this effect comes to all digitally connected products, not just software. At the heart of the XaaS model is a virtuous cycle in which continuous connection enables providers to stay engaged with their customers, monitor their usage and iteratively improve the product.
What's interesting about SuiteSuccess and Brainyard is that, rather than simply adding functionality to the product itself, they are designed to improve how customers make use of the product. They are informed by the learning that NetSuite has collected from its experience across thousands of customers, and are themselves delivered as connected services.
This emphasis on helping people learn new behaviors that will improve their experience of a connected product is an emerging trend that I believe will become more prevalent as technology change becomes more pervasive. It's especially pertinent for customers of NetSuite and similar products, because their challenge is not merely a case of digesting business software in a new way. They are also themselves having to learn to do business in a more connected, XaaS style with their own customers. That's a lot of new learning to take on board. Vendors who invest in helping their customers find success is this new business environment will, I believe, have a competitive advantage over those who leave them to find their own way.