NetSuite banks suite success on AIby
Evan Goldberg pioneered cloud computing with the release of NetLedger 25 years ago, but these days artificial intelligence is where his obsession lies. Richard Hattersley explores how the NetSuite founder plans on integrating his vision into the ERP software.
Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) were a central theme throughout NetSuite’s SuiteWorld event in Las Vegas last week. In his keynote at the event Evan Goldberg (pictured above), founder of the cloud enterprise resource planning (ERP) software company, was keen to highlight that AI is only as good as the data you feed into it.
As he reeled off the latest AI-powered product enhancements - such as Text Enhance and Benchmark 360, which compares the users’ performance to their peers, industry and region - you couldn’t escape the feeling that Goldberg saw the technology as strengthening his argument that having all the data hosted inside an integrated suite is safer, more efficient and more customisable.
“I've been interested in AI for practically my whole career,” Goldberg told a press briefing after his keynote. “For a long time, it wasn't relevant for NetSuite customers. We were certainly doing some things with it, such as intelligent risk prediction and supply chain management with intelligent product recommendations and CRM, but now I see it's opening up a universe of new possibilities.”
A look into the not-so-distant future
This was further illustrated by a collection of videos at the end of the keynote. These demonstrated how AI could potentially assist CFOs in managing cash effectively in the not-too-distant future.
The scenario shows how NetSuite would use contextual AI to not only identify a cash risk projection and explain what’s causing it but also walk through the events that led to the cash position worsening, with NetSuite making suggestions and potential options for what to do next.
One suggestion offered in the scenario was paying one of the vendors within 60 days instead of 30, while another used NetSuite Capital to sell £25k of receivables. Not wanting to make a blind decision, the projection adjusts to reveal what the cash position would look like if they took either of these recommendations.
The video was presented as Goldberg’s future vision for AI in the suite, but he was bullish that users wouldn’t have to wait too long before they could see the full benefit of generative AI in the suite. “It really feels within reach,” said Goldberg.
He said that predictive cashflow technology is already in NetSuite’s Cash 360 (its cashflow forecasting tool), and while the developer has been working with traditional AI for some time, they're also working with a new set of tools. “We're just going to be iterating,” he said, adding that while they don’t have a specific time to do everything in the vision, he said the route there was “accessible”.
AI winners strike now
The breakneck advancements in AI have created the biggest change in 25 years since Google first emerged and NetSuite pioneered cloud accounting, and like the digital revolution of the cloud, history favours those that start fast.
Martin Kon, the president and COO of Cohere - the tech company powering NetSuite’s AI - joined Goldberg's opening keynote and had several key messages for attendees. “There were some companies that spent a lot of time analysing and prioritising what to do first and not really moving while others said, ‘let's just start and do things, even if it's not necessarily going to change our entire business tomorrow morning’.”
With any tech advancements, the challenge is bringing customers with you. Kon dubbed the rise of AI as the biggest change in the interaction between humans and computers since the smartphone or the Mosaic browser, and those that are lagging in adoption “will have problems”.
He added: “We need to get experienced by actually deploying.”
Pushing against AI concerns
Despite the obvious enthusiasm for what AI can bring to the profession, there remain trust and ethical concerns over AI. Goldberg’s keynote even started with spoof AI ‘EvanGPT’ going off the rails, and Brian Chess, NetSuite’s AI guru, later noted that “The number one point about AI is it's critical to keep the human in the loop”.
Part of NetSuite’s solution to this was revealed at the end of day two’s keynote, with a look at the Prompt Studio. Unlike other open-source models, the Prompt Studio is configurable. So rather than teaching language processing tools like ChatGPT with prompts - only for it to be forgotten two weeks later - the Prompt Studio gives the power to the customer at the administrative level to change the fields within NetSuite.
This means the administrator has control of the buttons and levers behind the AI prompts across the product and is not restricted within the guardrails of open-source AI alternatives.
“As an avid user of many AI GPT-enabled tools, they can be slightly frustrating because they’re never truly tied to your data or static instructions, but Oracle has improved this problem with their Prompt Studio which lets you map data to consistent GPT prompts” observed David Leary, the co-host of the Accounting Podcast, who called the announcement the biggest of the conference.
An argument for the suite?
Much of the conversations across the show floor were focused on the real-life usage of AI, but since the Oracle machine can be a slow-moving oil tanker, executives made plenty of overtures that this isn't a case of 'What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas'.
“Thus far, we've really seen a focus on consumer applications and reading poems about your parakeet,” said Kon from Cohere. “But the ability to tap into data, which is what NetSuite is built on, to get answers to questions to generate insights, make better decisions would ultimately have [the same] impact on intellectual labour that the steam engine had on physical labour.”
And that right there is NetSuite’s big AI play - having the data housed safely in the suite. There is of course the counter-argument that API plug-ins could present a challenge to the suite, with AI capabilities easily flowing without the need to have it housed in a suite.
But for Goldberg, AI is not only something he has visualised throughout his career, but he sees it as only advancing his argument for the suite. “We feel very strongly that the best AI comes from the best data in your business and the best data in your business is represented by the suite and having this system of record across so much of your operations,” he told AccountingWEB.
“We'll see how that plays out. But I think it actually accentuates our advantage. And again, that's what we're trying to show today is the interconnectedness of all these processes within your business and if there's an AI that can really tie everything, help you tie anything everything together and become this incredible assistant chief of staff or whatever you want to call it to help you really supercharge your growth.
He concluded: “That's our approach and our view and we're going to be investing very, very heavily to bring that vision forward.”