Partners Back NetSuite's New Features, Slower Update Strategy

NetSuite "2007.0" has already been released to a handful of the SaaS (software-as-a-service) provider's early adopters and to its partners, and will be delivered to the rest of its customer base in phases from now until August. Among the hundreds of new features are three big ones: pre-built assistants to ease set-up and data import, more advanced formula-based analytics capabilities, and multicurrency support for managing forecasts and quotas.

Partners who have started kicking the new version's tires cited the "NetSuite Assistants," graphical and guided tools for configuring NetSuite and importing data into the system, as the enhancement with the broadest customer appeal.

"Their user interface for transactions has always been fairly good, but the UI on things like import and setting up the product was lacking," said Randy Weitz, a partner with Horizon Associates Group LLC in Marlton, N.J., a VAR specializing in NetSuite. Weitz expects the new, simpler interfaces to be a hit with Horizon Associates' clients.

Partners are also pleased with SuiteAnalytics, which deepens NetSuite's business intelligence capabilities with Excel-like custom formula support. Calculations that once had to be handled externally in Excel can now be carried out natively in NetSuite, partners said.

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The third major plank of NetSuite's update is more advanced global CRM functionality, enabling organizations to break down forecasts, leads, orders and quotas on a local-currency basis. Previously, multicurrency support was limited to more superficial functions like generating a customer quote.

While NetSuite partners thato focus on smaller customer said they don't expect to make much use of the multicurrency functionality, a VAR who deals with larger customers said its lack once cost him a deal. With more companies working globally, he expects the new functionality to be a useful selling point.

NetSuite 2007.0 marks a shift in NetSuite's update strategy. It's pulling back from doing significant updates every few months to consolidate major changes into one annual release.

"That's really based on customer requests," said Mini Peiris, vice president of product management for NetSuite, based in San Mateo, Calif. "Customers find that they can't absorb major changes when we do them throughout the year. They'd rather have them in one major release."

One big annual cycle is also better for partners, said Rufus Lohmueller, managing partner of LS Technologies in Salt Lake City. Quality is higher, and partners can focus on training customers and beta-testing all the major advances at once time, he said.

One of the earlier players in the SaaS field, 10-year-old NetSuite is looking to soon raise its profile and financial cushion though an IPO. While the company has said for years that a public offering is imminent -- the NetSuite IPO is a tech-industry Godot -- this time it really does appear to be positioning to go public. Executives are staying quiet about material information (company representatives declined to disclose how many subscribers NetSuite has) and partners say it's cracking down on enforcing terms. Earlier this year NetSuite skirmished with some partners over margins and channel program fees.

Steadfast partners, though, are unconcerned about NetSuite's pre-IPO maneuvers. "I wouldn't say it's anything that's had a negative impact on the channel," LST's Lohmueller said.