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NetSuite SuiteWorld keynote speech
SuiteWorld 2022_G9 Event Photography

NetSuite grapples with business complexity

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A close-up look at NetSuite’s new functionality and evolving product strategy raised some interesting questions about how business software is responding to the latest challenges.

5th Oct 2022
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Software conferences are a great way to get a glimpse of where business technology is going and to scope out how you might have to adapt to impending changes.

SuiteWorld in Las Vegas last week was a prime example. This is a company that claimed the cutting edge as its own when launching an online enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite, even before people were talking about the cloud.

Thanks to the likes of Xero and its ecosystem partners, NetSuite has a fight on its hands to maintain its position at the head of the race for innovation. Yet the vast reach and functionality of its software offers some very useful insights into contemporary business practice.

After several days in the company of NetSuite users, the issues they’re dealing with showed just how complex and competitive the global marketplace has become. Those two qualities appear to be feeding off each other. As users look for tools to help them maintain their competitive edge, developers like NetSuite respond with new functionality that optimises a particular process, while adding yet more complexity to business operations.

Roll call of advanced functionality

For an illustration of the latest state of the art, here are some of the announcements presented to SuiteWorld delegates.

  • Automating payments across different payment mechanisms, with HSBC banking and reconciliation embedded in NetSuite to streamline admin (currently for North American users only). This capability will already be familiar to users of Xero, Dext and AutoEntry and those who have adopted open banking tools in Europe, but was a big step forward for US businesses, many of whom still pay and receive cheques.
  • The Configure Price and Quote (CPQ) module launched on day one helps online traders guide customers through the various options available on a particular product – for example different finishes and fixtures for an office desk.
  • Dynamic pricing – showing the impact of what’s been done, either positive or negative, so users can understand the implications as they configure prices to improve conversion rates.
  • Managing rebates and trade promotions – with so many online deals on offer and different levels of trade discounts that may need validation or approval, managing and applying them to the final order can be a nightmare. This new NetSuite module “makes sure you’re always offering the customer the optimum price”, according to executive vice president Evan Goldberg.
  • Smart counting and a new “empty bins” feature within warehouse management – this automated allocation feature has emerged from Amazon-style distribution environments, where vital time can be lost if the pickers can’t find the item they’re looking for in the specified bin. They can also use it to report when a bin is empty.
  • Workforce scheduling – the latest mobile-compatible release for this part of NetSuite includes options to schedule and share proposed shift patterns with employees, who have the option to request swaps (with approval) with fellow employees. The app lets them clock in and out of their shifts from the devices they are using at work, the classic example being tablets used by waiting staff in restaurants. It will also summarise the projected payroll costs for managers.
  • Calculate payrolls in multiple territories (always a headache for companies operating in different jurisdictions) – the NetSuite payroll system includes a wage rule calculation engine to keep up with the fast-changing rules in regions like Australia and North America, not to mention the will they/won’t they approach to national insurance calculations in the UK.
  • The ability to support continuous planning, where analysts capture a range of budgets and forecasts to refine their scenarios on the fly – a vital tool to keep ahead with fast-moving economic changes, according to NetSuite’s product marketing vice president, Paul Farrell.

While Xero/QuickBooks apps like Deputy can handle staff scheduling and the NetSuite accounts payable/banking functions are following in the wake of specialist developers, these developments show just how complicated fast-growth business processes are becoming.

Someone with a cynical outlook might conclude that such dynamic systems are making it possible to offer multiple product tiers and prices that over-complicate business, for example by offering a variety of peak, off-peak and discounted train tickets when just two or three options would do.

The complexity argument

NetSuite executives including Goldberg were very alert to the need to find a balance between innovation and ease of use. In a way, the complexity argument goes back to NetSuite’s founding mission, which was to make things easier for the user by delivering the functionality they needed within an integrated suite.

“We might be playing a bit more catch up… and it’s a good thing if that’s what our customers want us to deliver,” Goldberg said at a SuiteWorld press conference. “But how many users have said, ‘We need a new module?’”

Rather than thinking about the latest software industry trends, users wanted to know how NetSuite could make their company better, he continued. “We’re not focused on the latest technology, but ease of use so relatively unsophisticated users can enhance their business with point-and-click tools. Some trends are important for some of our most sophisticated users, but we look at how small and medium organisations use NetSuite to grow.”

Goldberg added that after devoting a lot of resources in recent years to vertical industry solutions, the new accounts payable automation mechanisms were a response to calls from finance customers who felt they were spending too much time on paying their suppliers.

“I think the finance people said, ‘Maybe it’s our turn,’” said Goldberg. “Everything we showed [at SuiteWorld] was about automating processes and adding things so you don’t have to add staff.”

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