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:
Of 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.
To 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:
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.
In 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.
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.
This 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.