SuiteWorld 2016 -- what to expect?

For more years than I care to remember I've been making the annual trek to NetSuite's user conference. What am I expecting to see this year?

SuiteWorld is always fun. Unlike Salesforce's DreamForce conference, SuiteWorld is still small enough that I get to spend some time with high level executives. Over the previous events I've had extended conversations with NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson to get the story, from the horse's mouth as it were, of where the company is going. While other vendors seem to be focused on attendee numbers as their only measure of success, NetSuite, in keeping with its specialist area, seems to have a more "curated" view of its event. (Disclosure: NetSuite covers my travel and expenses to attend the event.)

Of course the technology industry is a dynamic place, and things are changing within the competitive landscape for NetSuite. FinancialForce, an ERP vendor not only built on the Salesforce platform but also with a substantial investment from Salesforce, is growing quickly and more competitive in some traditional areas of focus for NetSuite, namely Professional Services Automation.

For its part, Intacct, the ERP vendor ironically headquartered just a couple of blocks from where SuiteWorld is taking place, is growing quickly and recently scored $40 million in funding -- fuel for the fire but, more importantly, a recognition of the company's success to date. Add to the mix Sage, which has a stated aim of improving their performance with new cloud products, and you have a busy space.

SuiteWorld will be interesting not only from the competitive perspective. The company has long trumpeted the number of high-growth technology companies that are using NetSuite as a core tool for growth. Given the calamity that has befallen the world of both publicly listed and still-private tech companies, it will be fascinating to hear fiscal perspectives at the event.

Still, the current downturn doesn't seem to be hurting NetSuite at all. In its most recent quarterly earnings report, NetSuite reported a first-quarter net loss of $29.7 million, up from $22.7 million year-on-year. That figure came from revenue of $216.6 million, up 31% year-on-year. (For those fascinated by the product versus services split, subscription and support revenue for the quarter was $173.33 million and services sales were $43.24 million.) In his results call, Nelson highlighted out Gartner's findings that NetSuite is the fastest growing financial management vendor, growing 40%, or triple the rate of the next-best competitor.

Nelson also interestingly messaged a viewpoint that NetSuite, rather than being just a general ledger-based financial system, is a complete business system. In language that wouldn't seem strange from Salesforce CEO, Marc Benioff, Nelson said:

"My view on the enterprise is I don’t think enterprises have a burning desire to switch out their financial system. I don’t think the problem in larger enterprises, if you go to talk to any of them, is what happening in their General Ledger (GL). When you talk to companies about replacing financial systems, I think they’re really talking about an old world approach to running a business. NetSuite certainly has a GL, we certainly are used by all of our customers to generate financials, but the GL is not the center of our system. The center of our system is really the core business record that drives every business -- what did the customer buy, what should we promise them in terms of services and then all of the financial aspects spin-off the business priority. So when we look at large enterprises, I don’t think any multi-billion dollar company is interested in replacing their GL. I think lots of multi-billion dollar companies are interested in figuring out how they automate their business operations, how they process orders more quickly, how they interact with customers more efficiently. They do that very urgently."

All interesting stuff and views that point directly at what many competitors suggest is NetSuite's weak point, the fact that it has grown, at least in part, by acquiring third party vendors that have sales processes, user interfaces and raw code that is, at times, not particularly well aligned with NetSuite's own approaches.

Indeed FinancialForce, perhaps the strongest "in the cloud" competitor to NetSuite, made a big show last year with its "Frankencloud" campaign, suggesting that the very hairball of disparate enterprise software that Zach Nelson pours scorn upon is precisely what NetSuite has created with its integration strategy.

Nelson actually reflected upon this integration challenge in relation to their acquisition of retail marketing vendor Bronto Software:

"I think it’s fairly well integrated into the company and our processes and our approaches. We certainly are still selling it on a standalone basis, but I think what was interesting in the quarter was the attach rate of Bronto systems to NetSuite systems in Q1. About 20% of deals Bronto sold were into the NetSuite customer base either way and that’s the highest level yet in the short history that we’ve been together, so that’s a great positive. On the product side of course we’re bringing the technologies closer together and trying to figure out where the intersection points are with the SuiteCommerce architecture, from a UI standpoint and a data integration standpoint. Of course we never really intend to have billions of emails sent out of the NetSuite core, so all of that great infrastructure that Bronto has built up over the decade to manage enormous mail volumes and customer interactions will stay as it is. But finding really tight integration points in the B2C world, primarily between SuiteCommerce and Bronto, is something we are still working on from a development standpoint."


Increasingly NetSuite will have to rely less on catchy, but essentially meaningless, marketing terms and more on telling the stories of real customers achieving success across the totality of the NetSuite product line. For this reason, I'm picking less discussion about new functionality per se at SuiteWorld, and far more reflection on two distinct areas: Firstly, I'm looking for more detail and cohesion around NetSuite's platform story. They've been talking a developer platform for years but the perception of many is that Salesforce is providing a far more compelling proposition across its AppExchange, and Heroku offerings. So I'd like to see Nelson, and NetSuite co-founder Evan Goldberg put some meat on the bones about their developer play.

Secondly, I'm keen to hear more about the integration -- both technological and from a process perspective -- of the various companies NetSuite has acquired. There's a relatively long list: TribeHR, LightCMS, Venda and Bronto among them. Let's hear a consistent go to market, support offering and technology approach.

Of course we'll hear some more about omni-channel commerce, NetSuite's perennial value proposition, but if NetSuite is serious about broadening its franchise, we need to hear a story that is commensurately broad.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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