Last week at NetSuite’s SuiteWorld conference I spent quite a bit of time talking with a variety of NetSuite ecosystem partners and having demos of different solutions. I also took part in a private briefing with the team that runs the developer network and has the responsibility for determining the strategy when it comes to network partners.

Two distinct things struck me, firstly the immense value to be gained from specialist partners building complex vertical specific offering on top of the NetSuite platform and second the risk for partners build solutions that can be seen as encroaching on the core functionality of an ERP.

Powerful Verticals and Proofs-of-concept

When it comes to the first point – demos of two very different products highlighted the value. First up was eBIZnet (a shocking name it has to be said) who demod a warehouse distribution system as part of the day two keynote. The eBIZnet offering was truly sublime, a warehouse worker with little or no technology skills (in the case of this demo, played somewhat ironically by NetSuite founder and CTO Evan Goldberg) using commodity hardware can interface with the core NetSuite application giving management up to the second oversight of the status and location of inventory across multiple sites. Truly the embodiment of cloud computing being an enabler of technology benefits across an organization.

The second demo that struck me was that of Celigo’s Gmail interface. I was in the room a year ago when Celigo announced their Gmail integration and posted at my disappointment of what they had come up with. That post resulted in significant displeasure from people at NetSuite but at the time my criticism was justified. Roll on a year later and I take my hat off to Celigo – their offering is truly sublime. The depth of the NetSuite generated information they’re exposing directly within Gmail is amazing. I bumped into Google enterprise lead Scott McMullan in San Francisco and discussed Celigo’s offering with him. he concurred with my view that what Celigo are doing is absolutely at the cutting edge of direct, in-UI integrations with Gmail. One can argue whether in fact NetSuite customers are big users of Gmail and hence how much traction Celigo will get but, if nothing else than a proof-of-concept, the Celigo work is outstanding.

When edge becomes core

At the other end of the partner ecosystem is a product from Australian developer ForecastSuite. ForecastSuite has built a sorely needed cashflow forecasting tool for NetSuite. Whereas other tools are complex and provide a myriad of options (and cost plenty to boot), ForecastSuite has instead created a relatively simple tool that, at minimal cost gives users an overview of vitally important forward cashflow. And this is where I’m anxious for ForecastSuite. With so many people saying that forecasting (at least to a rudimentary level) should be core functionality within NetSuite, I wonder if there isn’t a risk of NetSuite answering this demand themselves.

I put this to the partner team from NetSuite who explained that when entering into discussions with partners they are very honest – always telling partners if they consider a third party product to be something core to the app – that’s not to say they’d ever stop a partner from building an app, but it does mean that they articulate the risks of building something so close to the core. They’re also proactive and share product roadmaps with partners 12 or 18 months in advance to at least give them a heads up about product directions.

The advice I gave to ForecastSuite, is that forecasting is absolutely a core function for NetSuite and their strategy should focus around building out functionality, proving the product in-market and positioning them for a sale directly to NetSuite – in cases like this it is often cheaper to simply buy a piece of functionality from a vendor than to build it themselves.

Whatever happens with all three of these products – it is well worth other partners looking at the different situations and thinking long and hard about the products they build and their business strategy around their dealings with NetSuite.

Disclosures – NetSuite comp’d my travel and expenses to attend SuiteWorld while the founder of ForecastSuite is an old friend of my wifes. If I’m right and NetSuite ends up buying his product, he owes me a beer!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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