My post-event thoughts from SuiteWorld are just too weighty for one post hence I’ll break up my analysis into two posts and give folks a chance to digest them over time. Here follows part one.

I attended NetSuite’s global conference this year (disclosure – NetSuite contributed to my T&E to attend) and it has been interesting to reflect on a company that is unabashedly growing up. Having been at all of the previous global NetSuite events, it was impressive to see attendance grow to some 5000 people, to hear the conversations ramp up a notch and to see the increasing professionalism with which the event was run. Having had a few days to digest the announcements, here follows an assessment of what we saw through this pundits lens.

Launch of NetSuite for Manufacturing

Some three years ago NetSuite launched a manufacturing solution off the back of a partnership with Rootstock – for whatever reason, be it technical or business-related, that deal never really bore fruit. Instead NetSuite went back to the drawing board and decided to build its own solution. This is actually a better approach for a manufacturing solution since building off one common architecture and data type increases both the flexibility and the ease of use than by kludging together different solutions to create some kind of Frankensteinien combination. CEO Zach Nelson was very quick to point out that in the same time as SAP saw core licensing business reduce, the past four quarters saw NetSuite manufacturing sector bookings grow 60% – of course given the relative sizes of their business this is less impressive than it sounds, but for a company focusing heavily on growth, it’s something to crow about.

After announcing the solutions, Nelson told the audience about the partnership between NetSuite and Autodesk to integrate Autodesk’s 3d design and product lifecycle management (PLM) tools alongside the NetSuite ERP. The demo showcased a fictitious BBQ manufacturer and retailer, and showed how design, product feedback, customer input and financial aspects of a combined manufacturing/sales organization can be run on the products. While the demo was relatively slick, there didn’t seem to me to be a huge amount of true integration. NetSuite describes the partnership as:

a bi-directional integration of cloud-based ERP with cloud-based PLM, giving manufacturers a single, closed-loop solution to accelerate product design and development, reduce risk of errors and delays, streamline supply network collaboration, and gain critical real-time visibility into pricing, scheduling, capacity and profitability

There’s certainly some truth in that – but I suspect the number of customers who actually consider the design part of manufacturing as needing to be deeply integrated into their ERP solution is limited. There is also obviously some tension with regards existing product breadth from the two partners – as an example the functionality around requests for quotes, and important area for outsourced manufacturing businesses, exists in both Autodesk and NetSuite. Alongside the partnership with Autodesk, NetSuite rolled out some extended functionality that will appeal to manufacturing customers including availability to promise (ATP), standard cost, work-in-process (WIP), and routings.

Manufacturing is a massive area of opportunity and the complexities involved in a manufacturing business lend themselves well to the sort of broad, flexible and robust solution that NetSuite has created – the increasing velocity of the creation of new nimble manufacturing businesses (for example GoPro, the Pebble Watch and Jawbone) who aren’t constrained by existing thoughts around what a MRP system should look like plays very well into this new strategy for NetSuite

Omni-Channel Wins

One of the other areas Nelson focused on in his keynote was retail. Unsurprising since it was at this event last year that the company rolled out SuiteCommerce, a solution set designed to manage the complexities of omni-channel retail. NetSuite rolled out the CIO of Williams-Sonoma who has only just finished rolling out NetSuite to run four individual brands retail an e-commerce operations. The move to NetSuite was prompted by Williams-Sonoma’s first foray outside of the US, in this case building out an Australian business. The company wanted a solution that would scale geographically across markets and would let them roll out the stores as quickly as possible. The roll out took only three months, something Nelson is justifiably proud of given the massive timescale more generally seen with these sorts of projects.

The breadth of use of NetSuite by Williams-Sonoma was somewhat glossed over at the event – currently it’s in place for the Australian operations only. Having said that, in follow up sessions with the NetSuite executives in charge of retail, I did get the distinct impression that this is a relationship that is likely to grow stronger – Williams-Sonoma was very impressed by the speed at which the implementation of NetSuite occurred, perhaps especially so given their experience with existing large ERP solutions.

In a deep-dive analyst session around retail I stated my impression that, while the retail solution looks really powerful, it doesn’t really leverage the cutting edge approaches that we’re seeing in the marketplace – I mentioned such things as location based shopping and special offers as two areas where there is a massive amount of innovation. NetSuite doesn’t seem to be weaving this narrative into its approach towards retails. My impression is that there is a couple of reasons for this. Firstly the company has only just started down the retail route and is running fast to try and innovate quickly. Secondly however and more importantly, NetSuite is delivering a solution that its customers, generally larger retail operations, are asking for. These companies seem not to be aware of the impending tide of disruption that the social/local/mobile trend will have upon their business. NetSuite needs to start telling this more aspirational story or else it risks losing relevance in the future.

Look for part two of this review next week.

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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