Cloud technology and the increasing pace of globalisation allow small and mid-size businesses to scale faster than ever, but also puts them in a bind. How do they take advantage of opportunities to grow when they have limited resources?
At its annual SuiteWorld event, in Las Vegas this week, NetSuite is offering some answers.
The SaaS ERP company is, among other things, bringing on software partners with expertise in global tax regimes, offering a planning and budgeting service, adding analytics tools for its product family, enhancing its line of SuiteSuccess preconfigured, vertical-market cloud applications, and coming out with new APIs.
In the wake of its 2016, $9.3 billion acquisition by Oracle, NetSuite has refined its focus on targeting fast-growing, vertical-market SMBs, which it defines as companies with between $1 million and $200 million in revenue.
NetSuite faces growth-related challenges of its own as, fuelled by Oracle’s resources, it has grown by about 30 percent since the acquisition, now serving approximately 16,000 customers.
The company has to figure out which parts of Oracle's vast software portfolio make sense to adopt for its own customers, how to expand its own product line and offer rapidly expanding customers what they need without forcing them to change how they buy and use business applications.
There are also growing expectations for NetSuite to expand its software partner ecosystem.
"While Oracle has helped NetSuite grow incredibly fast, I don't think they have as robust a third-party marketplace that some of the other vendors have," said Brent Leary, co-founder of consultancy CRM Essentials.
Salesforce.com is a prime example of a SaaS vendor with a robust third-party ecosystem, but Leary notes that the scope of NetSuite's product line and its mid-market focus put the company in competition with a variety of vendors, from smaller mid-market ecommerce providers like Magento and Shopify to large ERP players like SAP and Microsoft.
NetSuite zeroes in on mid-market
While growth has brought new challenges, the Oracle acquisition has helped NetSuite more narrowly target its core customer base, says company founder Evan Goldberg, now executive vice president of the Oracle NetSuite global business unit.
"We were going after a lot of different targets, trying to attack the enterprise, trying to continue to do well down-market and that's a real challenge," Goldberg said in an interview ahead of SuiteWorld.
"Now Oracle has us really directed at these fast-growing mid-size companies and the vast chasm between packaged software solutions or really low-end services like QuickBooks and big enterprise ERP systems."
The opportunities for mid-size companies come with problems, Goldberg pointed out. "Companies are going global faster than ever before and have gotten more complex than before so it's this kind of double whammy for them — they have to do it all sooner, when they have fewer resources, and it's more complicated than ever," Goldberg said.
To help customers grapple with tax regimes around the world, NetSuite has developed SuiteTax API and this week announced seven new tax-software partners, including Thomson Reuters. It's just one way the company is trying to make NetSuite extensible.
"We’re adding an entire REST [Representational State Transfer] interface for NetSuite that's gonna help from a technical perspective get more partners to build deeper integrations," Goldberg said.
The biggest addition to the core NetSuite family is SuiteAnalytics, also unveiled at SuiteWorld. "We've been working for about five to six years, from the ground up redoing how you query, analyse and visualise data," Goldberg said.
Though NetSuite has always offered a variety of analysis tools, users who want to do more complicated analysis and visualisation often take data out of the software and dump it into Excel to do, for example, pivot tables. Now, NetSuite itself offers that capability.
Meanwhile, one of the first big projects leveraging Oracle software for NetSuite has resulted in a version of Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud Service (PBCS) for NetSuite's SuiteSuccess.
The entire set of Oracle PBCS features, rolling out to are now available within NetSuite, with the addition of templates to help midsize companies get up and running on the software.
Templates are available for NetSuite's core verticals, including warehouse distribution, manufacturing, marketing and advertising agency, software, retail, services and nonprofit.
NetSuite is designed to be an integrated suite covering most of the business processes of the midsize companies it targets, but customers still need extensions to cover specific needs.
NetSuite's SuiteTalk is designed for customers and developers to integrate the software with a variety of applications, but different customers take different approaches.
NetSuite integration in action
"I believe in best in breed: NetSuite is the core of how we manage our entire company but when I need a specific solution, if there's a third-party application we can plug in, we'll do that," said Tony Drockton, CEO of Hammitt, a luxury handbag company.
Hammitt’s software stack is entirely cloud-based and it has only one tech person on staff, out of a 30-person workforce. Up to now Hammitt has relied on application integrators like FarApp and Celigo to build third-party integrations into NetSuite.
But after growing revenue at a 40 per cent clip for the past few years, and experiencing a 50 percent growth rate this year, Hammitt plans to change its approach.
"Netsuite in the last year has really built up its in-house support so we're in the middle of finalising a commitment to pull integration work into the NetSuite team, because now that we can afford it, it's important — we want to go faster and it makes more sense to work with people that are in house," Drockton said.
Kiva, a 200-person financial-services nonprofit dedicated to offering micro-loans to people in developing geographies, has a 40-person engineering team, and up to recently has taken a different approach to extending NetSuite, using a combination of in-house talent and integration work that has been prebuilt by NetSuite partners like budget and forecasting company Adaptive and expense management vendor Concur.
"We have a lot of great engineers on our staff and NetSuite integration is probably pretty easy for some of these very highly skilled engineers," said Kiva CFO Pamela Connealy.
"But we’re also leveraging many of the prebuilt integrations like Concur and Adaptive so it's less problematic than if we were integrating with some obscure manufacturing application — while we have the skillset needed in Kiva we try to keep it as simple as possible."
Connealy now wants to keep her in-house developers focused on building Kiva applications. "I've been recommending that we move out of the software development business for financials and that we really rely heavily on NetSuite and their team to be able to do feature integrations for us," Connealy said.
Benchmarking and AI come to NetSuite
In addition to beefing up its own integration services, NetSuite this week launched Brainyard, a business and benchmarking service providing research, benchmark data and performance analysis and advice.
In the future, NetSuite would like to include anonymised, opt-in data from its own customers, so that they can learn from each other, and combine that data with machine learning capabilities derived from Oracle to offer automated insights.
The first appearance of AI features in NetSuite is expected to happen this year, with a Supply Chain Control Tower feature, designed to predict which orders are going to be late, identify workarounds and flag affected orders.
The new initiatives NetSuite is rolling out are designed to allow the company to keep up with the growing needs of its user base. "Businesses are pretty complex even when they're a hundred million dollars and we intend to keep them on NetSuite well past a billion," Goldberg said.
"There’s a different philosophy than when I got into the software business, which was, let's make something great and then go one and make something else great or something great for someone else," Goldberg said. "It's not like that today — we're not offering a product, we're offering a service so we have to win the customer every day."