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Davis has been working in the Information Technology industry for over 25 years and has a proven track record in market research, business intelligence and marketing.

Vendor Showcase – NetSuite in the Sweet Spot

In what we saw as an awesome display of moving the bar higher, Evan Goldberg, NetSuite’s CTO, demonstrated in his Keynote Thursday that NetSuite continues to deliver industrial-strength innovations and solutions using tools that are increasingly easy to use, intuitive and particularly well suited to fast-growing Mid-Market companies with global aspirations.

Picking up from a summary paragraph from a 2009 blog post I wrote on NetSuite in a previous life:

“After looking at this demo it will be a little clearer why IMHO this is what the future looks like – all applications will have built in BI and reporting capabilities much stronger than has previously (been available) – without third party BI and lots of integration services – a big differentiator for SaaS vendors that provide this type of visibility as a standard component of their value proposition.”
- Collaborative Innovation Blog post, April 4, 2009

Among others, there are two things that seem like very good strategic moves for NetSuite: Fishing where the Fish Are, and being in a unique position to leverage the new Enterprise Applications Platform for companies that are ready to expand into global markets.

Fishing where the Fish Are
NetSuite positioned itself from the beginning as an Enterprise Software company, starting with ERP and then building other complex, traditionally on-premises software applications into the platform as successive SaaS waves hit the market and customer acceptance increased; Customer Relationship Management, Supply Chain Integration, Customer Service, Professional Services Automation – all tightly coupled with Billing and Fulfillment for a truly integrated workflow that almost covers the gamut of the Traditional Multi-user Systems requirements (Integrated Front and Back Office). Now adding deeper focus to e-Commerce, Global Financial Reconciliation and Industry Vertical implementations, NetSuite can enable Mid-Market firms to be truly competitive in a global market; leveraging speed and agility to outperform larger slower companies.

We have seen a very steady increase in the willingness (and need) for SMBs to embrace Cloud Computing and SaaS Models that move them out of the annual cycles and cost-center mentality that used to define IS Departments. A good indicator of this is how eager the SMB Channel is to offer a wide range of products and services and here we have seen amazing growth; even from last year to now surveys show the laggards are rapidly jumping on board, as seen in this table:

SMB Channel Offering CloudOf the 615 US-based SMB Channel partners interviewed, 86% were now offering or planning to offer Cloud-Based Services, those Not Planning to Offer Cloud dropping from 38% to 14% of the channels. This data represents aggregate results for VARs, SIs, MSPs, SPs and ISVs. In addition to Cloud Services fast growing areas for the SMB Channel include Mobility Solutions, Managed Services and a wide variety of applications in all three of these categories.

SMBs are Hungry for Enterprise-Level Capabilities
Based on early success in SaaS and basic Cloud Services such as Email, Storage, Back Up and Recovery, and CRM/SFA, Small and Medium Businesses have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Security, availability and usability objections have been overcome and the cost to implement with lower complexity and higher focus on the core business have resulted a very compelling value proposition in widespread adoption worldwide.

SMB Business PrioritiesTo survive in an increasingly globalized and optimized business environment, SMBs need to be growing faster than the market and their competitors, reflected by their Priorities:  #1 Increasing Revenue (56%), #3 – Increasing Productivity (34%), #4 – Penetrating New Markets and Customers (32%), and #6 – Speed to Market / Keeping Pace with Competition (28%). On the other hand, rapid growth without an increase in efficiency is unsustainable, so the rest of the priorities revolve around scaling the business efficiently; including #2 – Reducing OPEX (45%), #7 – Collaborating Efficiently (29%), and Reducing Cost of IT (27%).

 

Because Cloud Computing has been able to deliver these benefits much more effectively than the previous generation of Client/Server architecture did, SMB customers report between 75-80% satisfaction levels of “Satisfied” or “Very Satisfied” with their Cloud-based implementations.

All of this bodes well for NetSuite as the market matures and moves further into the cloud looking for Enterprise-Level capabilities. And timing is also very good as we can see from the additional results of the 2013 SMB Channel Partner Survey:

SMB Channel Solutions For Channel Partners Offering or Planning to Offer Cloud Services (85%), the left column shows the top 12 applications cited by Partners based on currently offered Cloud Applications, the middle column represents Cloud Applications that Partners plan to offer this year, while as the title suggests, the “No Plans” column shows the share who say they have no plans to offer the Application. It is pretty clear that the areas of focus and strength for NetSuite are lining up with the opportunity, or put in another way, the Mid-Market needs are maturing to a level that can benefit from NetSuite’s focus. And while there are many companies in the market who can provide these as point solutions, there are very few who can provide them in a unified suite of applications, with an integrated group of cross-department KPIs that can be used to get at a single version of the truth.

In terms of product coverage and timing, we feel the rapid adoption in the Mid-Market towards Cloud Infrastructure, successes in overcoming basic Security, Functionality and Availability concerns and the need for Mid-Market customers to grow rapidly and efficiently, all support NetSuite’s strategy and roadmap as presented at the conference, providing a lot of runway for the next few years.

Leveraging A New Enterprise Applications Platform
The second major point is that by building their platform from the very early days of the Internet as a transaction platform NetSuite has been able to been able to take advantage of both technology and market advances. In 1997, the critical weakness of the Internet was that while it was very good for moving brochureware around the world quickly, more mature applications that required a lot of integrity and accuracy – such as OLTP in Financial Reconciliation and Supply Chain Integration – were not reliable enough; the Databases, Middleware and Network Management needed to improve and there was a serious shortage in programmers who could do this kind of heavy lifting.

Fast forward five years and the dotcom bust had made commercial broadband access ubiquitous and the tools and skills had (almost) caught up to the hype. CRM, the Killer App was being brought online to the SMB community through SalesForce.com and the benefits of a SaaS model were becoming very clear, albeit with some remaining hiccups and most enterprises waiting on the sidelines for critical applications.

NetSuite started with one of the most difficult challenges back in 1998; ERP Applications with all the Enterprise-level OLTP and Database Management challenges that came with them. By doing this, the ability to grow an integrated set of applications using a single foundation, has paid off in terms of functional leadership. Others in the market, most notably SAP for Back Office and Oracle for Front Office, have taken an “Acquire and Integrate” approach, which is complicated and time consuming in comparison. The fact that NetSuite has survived and thrived in this environment is testament to vision, determination and execution.

Without getting too abstract, we see long term patterns in the software market that seem to ring true over time – the first is to win a narrow space, shore up the position, look left and right and take the adjacent space that is most lucrative and easy to assimilate (by hook or crook). Repeat. The second is that network effects rise in proportion to the number of users: Market Share is King. The third is to focus on the Scalable model and ensure to develop an ecosystem of partners who can add value profitably. Finally, at a very abstract level, the history of IT has been a steady, long march to Data Integration for Process Automation and Optimization. Whether you call Big Data, Distributed Database Management, Supply Chain Integration, Enterprise Performance Management or Google Search, it boils down to integrating disparate data and making it useful for decision making, with a relentless concentration on efficiency. As seen in the Business Intelligence segment, those who started with an Internet-based implementation approach rather than one of everything to every mapping, have ended up with an easier road to implementation; consider Siebel vs. SFDC, SAP vs. NetSuite, BoA Merchant Banking vs. PayPal, or Cognos vs. Domo. New, better tools and focus on specific data integration points rather than mapping every possible permutation of interaction between systems has resulted in faster time to value, less complexity for the channel and much less risk for customers. Breakthroughs such as scalability with Multi-Tenant Architecture have also resulted from solving the problem from a clean slate.

SMB Integrated PlatformIn our 2012 SMB 2020 Technology Report, we described our perspective of the IT Environment of the future, Client, Server and Network. This graphic shows a functional view of the Multi-user System, traditionally called the “Server” within a Client/Server Architecture. This view has CRM as the Hub component, surrounded by an increasingly integrated suite of Applications areas that eventually cover the complete information requirements of the Front and Back Office to run the business using a highly customized group of integrated KPIs. This type of integrated Nirvana has been an objective for a long time; however, it seems to be closer, clearer and much less complicated than it used to be when looking at the NetSuite Roadmap, i.e., we are not counting the dozens of modules that need to be installed, configured and integrated (and who is responsible to manage it). NetSuite’s rapid increase in large customers and decision by the traditional big Systems Integrators to jump on board seem to indicate that timing is good and the functionality is there.

Channel Implications
As the functionality and capabilities of the platform have changed with Cloud Computing, so have the dynamics of the Channel, especially in the Small and Medium Business space. Access to capabilities that were previously far out of the reach of SMBs has fueled the adoption of increasingly complex applications. Ironically, the benefits of the SaaS architecture have compressed and digitized the sales process, allowing companies to sell directly through an online channel, with demand generation, research, pre-sales, sales demonstrations, etc., conducted through inbound sales organizations rather than relying on channel partners to push products and services to the market. The proliferation of horizontal SaaS applications, such as email, webinars, Storage and Back Up has spawned a generation of self-configured apps that have made the customers question the need for third party involvement. It has also shorted the decision cycle substantially; many times cutting the channel out completely and giving rise to a “trusted advisor” role, especially in the lower Mid-Market.

Our research has shown that generally the more complex a solution, the more likely it is to have a partner involved in the implementation. Because NetSuite offers relatively complex solutions, it will have to play on both sides of the fence here – avoiding conflict with large partners for direct sales and providing profitable opportunities to the SMB channel partners, this was one area we felt might be a yellow flag in the distance.

Mobility is coming on Strong
With the installed base of Tablets and Smartphones exceeding that of PCs this year and annual sales of the former expected to number in the hundreds of millions higher by 2018, we see a fundamental shift in the way customers access and manipulate data. “Fundamental” meaning the difference between double-entry ledger accounting in physical books to a software application or the move from IBM Selectric Typewriter to PC-based Word Processing applications; nothing will ever be the same, and it is inevitable. There has already been a steady stream of casualties in the wake of Smartphone sales – single function GPS devices, midrange Digital Cameras and landline phone sets have all peaked in global consumption in the wake of accelerating handset sales. Just as the Internet itself essentially changed all business where value could be digitized (Financial Services, Travel, Shopping, and Advertising), so will ALL industries change as the primary mode of information consumption to the Internet is by mobile device.

SMB Channel Mobility SolutionsThis is the area that saw the greatest change in our 2013 SMB Channel Survey, from 56% of partners who said they were not planning to offer Mobility solutions in 2012, the number dropped to 8% this year, representing a doubling of Mobility Solution partners in the market as they implement the plans.

We did not hear that much about mobility from NetSuite during the conference, but given their strength in operational visibility through dashboards across departments, we think focus on this area could help both channels and end users.

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China's Rapid Growth and Technology

In an interesting blog in the Diplomat today, Asia’s Real Challenge: China’s “Potemkin” Rise, the author makes several comments about the low quality of China's economic growth. We responded to this LinkedIn thread with our take on the technology market angle.

An Excerpt:

"But the real story is not about PCs, it is about the billions of Smartphones and Tablet devices that will overwhelm the PC Market worldwide in very short order. The Global installed base of of Smartphones and Tablets will overtake that of PCs this year and grow by multiples over the next few years. Function-specific devices like digital cameras, MP3 players and GPS Devices and now the venerable PC, will all have been eclipsed by the new mobile devices. Lenovo and Huawei are both in the Smartphone business and are in the top five in China - Samsung is the leader. China has leapfrogged in some technologies, such as in the adoption of landline telephones, which peaked globally in 2002, The bottom line on innovation in my opinion is covered in the summary of the following blog post from last year concerning Internet adoption in China." http://techaisle.com/blog/2012/09/the-internet-in-china-will-it-follow-korea/

 

[caption id="attachment_2732" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Chinese Reforms Source: Economist

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Revisiting the Apple Predicament – What's Next?

This article from the New Yorker brings out several good points about how Apple has lost some of its luster over the past months, but is still in good shape on fundamentals, although it did drop to below $400B market cap a few days ago. As we noted in December, Apple was coming under criticism for not being able to scale to demand for the latest iPhone launch and had several other hiccups to deal with, including questionable worker conditions in China and that its principal manufacturer, Foxconn, was rumored to have begun discussions to pick up the slack by investing in new factories in Brazil.

On the other side, Apple was in a bitter legal fight with Samsung, an important supplier and competitor (frienemy), and could not get an injunction to stick after a lengthy lawsuit. A recent ruling in the case reduced damages awarded to Apple from $1.05B to $600M and the appeals process is ongoing. Another cause for concern in our opinion was that Apple had slipped to 6th place in the China mobile segment (the world’s largest and fastest growing major market), where local manufacturers Lenovo and Huawei were eating up share regardless of how much manufacturing was being done by Apple locally. Samsung leads the handset market in China, underscoring another competitive issue – in Korea, Apple is considered the most prestigious handset and it sells very well in the market, while Samsung is considered a premium brand in China due to early and broad Consumer Electronics investments by the Korean conglomerates; Samsung chief among them. China also has affinity with Korea based on the hope they can emulate the incredible economic growth shown by Korea over the last 25 years.

It was looking a little grim, but as noted at the time, Apple’s considerable war chest of almost half a trillion dollars was adequate to stave off short and medium term threats, however, as the above article notes, competitors are closing the gap and have introduced increasingly sophisticated models, most notably Samsung, with its’ Galaxy S line, which is seen as the strongest challenger to Apple’s technical leadership. Samsung’s newest version, the S IV is expected to be introduced this month, and in an example of raising the bar, is rumored to include “eye scrolling” technology.

Device OS Market Share History

 

The Big Picture

Apple has always been in a market crowded with well-funded competitors. Keeping the OS and architecture closed had major implications to the development of Apple, as seen above Apple never gained more than a 10-12% share of the OS market during the 1980-2000 boom of the PC market, which eventually forced them to accept both MS Office and Intel into their products to remain viable and while keeping a stubbornly loyal following for computing devices. It was really when Steve Jobs applied his design genius to a series of personal mobile devices starting with the iPod, which displaced the Sony Walkman, that Apple found a large enough consumer base to really explode onto the scene. iPhone followed with several versions and then the iPad was introduced in 2010 and the rest is history as they say…

The point here is that Apple became the largest technology company by using high-quality, high aesthetic design principles that allowed it to survive in the PC segment and applying them to a new category in the market: coveted personal technology devices that displace Phone, PC, Camera, Voice Recorder, Wristwatch, GPS, Media Player, Personal Planner, and other single use devices/apps combined into a single, small footprint high-tech productivity tool.

While Apple survived the PC Wars, many (including myself), gave them little more than niche player status and came close to counting them out altogether. The current situation is similar in a couple ways as Apple looks forward, but instead of Microsoft and Intel the arch rivals are Google and Samsung. The chart shows how WinTel dominated the PC segment from 1985-2005, squeezing Apple to 10% of the market. Currently, the rise of Mobile Computing brings hundreds of millions of new devices into the market, passing the threshold where Smartphones eclipse PCs in both volume and installed base within the next few years, creating an Android camp and an Apple camp. This has many implications for Apple, a few of which include:

Innovation: Apple needs to continue to innovate at a rapid pace. In the first 20 years of the PC market, consumers accepted a very high churn rate in both hardware and software categories because each generation was substantially more efficient and productive than the previous one. To prevent a backlash from consumers, Apple and other players are going to have to make fundamental improvements like very accurate voice recognition and new visual interfaces, not just new form factors.

Price/Performance: demonstrated Price/Performance increases in the bandwidth, applications availability and usability for less money will drive higher adoption. Again, looking back to lessons in the Personal Computer market, there was a long period of time where $2,000 was what the market expected to pay for a quality PC, and new models came out at a regular pace with faster CPU cycles, larger memory and storage subsystems, expanded OS and App capabilities, while keeping within the price range. This worked for a long time, until the market became too crowded and some vendors, led by Dell, overhauled their cost structure by cutting out the channel, using direct sales and a more tightly integrated and automated supply chain, giving back to the consumer in the form of lower prices - then it was a race to the bottom. Remember when the hot new vendor was eMachines?. The de-facto premium price-point that has been set for iPhones and iPads in the market is ~$700 and to maintain it there will be pressure to continue delivering more for the same price or less, as the slew of competitors undercut Apple’s premium.

How Many Form Factors?Cutthroat Competition: All of these segments are characterized by intense competition, and with Google’s ownership of both Android and Motorola brands, things become even more interesting in the handset segment. As Apple goes it alone against the whole market, similar competitive issues will appear as they did with PCs; many companies adding applications and value to a standard operating system (Android), diffusing the R&D costs among a whole ecosystem of suppliers while Apple concentrates on staying ahead of everyone by themselves. Ensuring a steady flow of high quality finished goods coming from China, concentrated among a relatively small group of suppliers, could also become an issue as trade friction, consumer backlash and other uncontrollable variables come into play in the global supply chain and domestic market.

As Apple looks to expand into Televisions there is a potential to tap into another ~$120B market, however, this is not going to be like the introduction of the iPhone; the market is mature and growing slowly, ironically dampened by the move to Tablet computers and Internet content, with a lot of heavyweight competitors led by #1 vendor in the world - Samsung. And Google is also waiting in the wings. Déjà vu all over again. If Apple can pull a rabbit out they may be able to add enough value to demand a premium in flat screen TVs, but that is going to be much easier said than done, the brand only goes so far when displayed next to a similar product priced 20% less on the Walmart showroom - Apple's retail success is based on a much different formula. No 35% margins here without the same kind of fundamental improvements discussed above; interface improvements, simple but deep integration with other devices and something like a super green carbon footprint on top of the demonstrated product superiority. Maybe.

Again, Apple proved very resilient as a survivor in the PC wars and many underestimated their staying power. The Market Cap remains near $400B and they have room to maneuver, it will just get harder over time, as it does for every company that gets to the top.

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Mid-Market Businesses Upgrading Network - Voices from the Field

One of the areas we watch most is the evolving needs of the SMB customer, who is being consistently pressured to speed up all core business processes while simultaneously reducing costs, generally  through the introduction of new technologies and specifically by adopting Cloud Computing approaches.

Looking Forward to SDN and SDDC  

Networking Spending Among Mid-Market companies (between 500 and 999 employees) recently interviewed, over 75% described their business being completely “Network Dependent” with a large share planning to move beyond Virtualization to Software-Defined-Networking (SDN) and Software-Defined-Data-Centers (SDDC).  Almost all had implemented Remote Managed Services (RMS), Cloud Computing, and Server Virtualization or VDI.

“Yes, I have heard about it (SDN) and we even tested it on one of our servers. We can get the software easily but we need to get proper hardware implementation as well and that too keeping our costs in control. So, both the things need to be evaluated. Yes, probably we would be investing in it, in the coming future. There are many things that are a concern for us right now, like cost, space and efficiency. So we need things that could help us in these areas.” - 900 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Mid-Market Reliance on Outsouced  IT Support

As we have written in the past, the larger SMB customers are more likely to rely on channel partners or vendor direct relationships to free up lean SMB IT departments and allow them to do more with less by supporting the research and selection process, and then testing and implementing the solutions, especially for those solutions involving a high level of configuration and remote management capabilities. The speed that specialists bring to the configuration, testing and implementation tend to outweigh the costs and speed up the decision cycle.

“Yes, the channel partners had a huge role. I sat down with their Cisco engineers and we looked over the changes we were going to make, then we did put together a business case, as to why we needed to upgrade or make changes to the system and what benefit it would result in. They were helpful and they made things look easier for us.” - 750 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


New Functionality is driving Adoption

Global NetworkAs we move into the Late Majority of SMB Cloud Adopters, there is less perceived risk and enough pressure to move companies toward implementing the architecture, if only to remain competitive.

"Now there are products available with better features and are cost effective. Earlier the cost of moving to the cloud was higher. Now because of the tough competition, the costs have marginally decreased. So, these things are enticing to look at different solutions. When we moved on to the cloud there were various benefits like cost effectiveness, in terms of IT management perspective. Previously it required 10 people, but now it can be done with 2 people. Previously the concept of datacenters was not that…important…, but now people are getting rid of the existing hardware and are moving towards datacenters to host most of their things that are in their offices. The datacenter costs are also competitive. If we look at any datacenter today and what they used to offer 5 years back, there has been a significant drop in prices due to the competition in the market.” - 500 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Budgets Continue to be Tight

We also see a significant effort on the part of customers to extend the life of the existing equipment and upgrade only the parts that are needed to achieve specific objectives such as 10GB capacity, which may require more robust firewalls, routers and switches, especially in those moving to VOIP. Typically we saw a reluctance to spend until it was necessary.

“Management here is very price conscious; they did not see the value of doing these things in the first place. The major factors were to increase speed and the reach of the network. So by these upgrades, we were able to demonstrate increased speed and increased network segmentation.” - 750 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Brand Importance Increases with Size of Company

While in certain areas such as SaaS, SMB end customers tend to be less likely to consider Brand as the key decision criterion, in the area of Networking among Mid-Market firms, virtually all said Brand was very important in their decision, mostly because of the expected service level associated with larger vendors but also to provide cover in a crowded market:

"There are a thousand solutions available in the market, but we had to ensure that what we chose was the best solution available and were cost effective. The new technology and the need to expand our business base were the main factors that drove the change.” - 900 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker

“Brand perception is very important because the management is not very technology minded, so to have a big name like Cisco was important to them. We depend on our channel partners for networking support or for help with windows server and Citrix products. They are our trusted partners.” - ~1,000 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


Re-enforcing this tendency to Brand, the majors in the market were cited repeatedly as go-to Vendors. Cisco got the most mentions by far, followed by Citrix, Microsoft, HP, Juniper and Dell. As seen in the quote on outsourced support above, the vendors can also help in creating a business case.

“Well, I guess some of the ones (increase share) would be Cisco, HP, Dell and Microsoft. The major ones I know are trying to get there, if they are not close. It’s very hard to say who is going to lose much (share), but probably Microsoft or Apple are going to lose some. ~800 Employee SMB IT Decision Maker


We believe these attitudes represent some evolution that is becoming more pronounced as the market matures and intelligent networking becomes increasingly important to SMBs in general and Mid-Market companies in particular.

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