SAP, NetSuite Heat Up Small-Biz Space

Despite their comparative sizes, applications giant SAP and ASP provider NetSuite offer outwardly similar products that offer a range of business processes functions within a single, cohesive application.

Like its predecessor, Business One 2004 is an all-inclusive suite of business management functions designed to be used by nearly everyone inside an organization. This new version moves beyond its previous target of service-oriented customers -- such as retailers -- and now addresses the sort of small, light manufacturing companies that are especially prevalent throughout the United States.

New to the 2004 version: material resource planning (MRP) functions inserted between the demand and service phases of a manufacturer's end-to-end business processes. As a result, manufacturers can base production on their CRM reports, service engineers can view lot batches to pinpoint problems, and sales people can see where in production a customer's order is.

"SAP Business One is a fresh way to approach solving business issues for the small business client," said Mike Cassano, vice president, Business Solutions Division, of Ram Computer Technologies, a Parsippany, N.J.-based solution provider. "Three-user, $3 million customers love it, and companies with 100 users and $150 million in revenue love it, too. This new version will be a perfect play for a lot of smaller manufacturers that need to plan labor, materials and demand but don't want to deal with software complexities."

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Besides its new MRP capabilities, Business One 2004 also boasts a new collaboration calendar, an enhanced SDK for adding customer-specific functions and improved CRM capabilities that can, for example, give competitive intelligence by showing to which rivals, and under what circumstances, the manufacturer has lost deals.

In addition, new integration with Microsoft Outlook allows users to place e-mails inside their workflow. "We've found that 90 percent of small businesses use Outlook as their information hub," said Gadi Shamia, vice president of Solutions Management for SAP Business One. "Now they can save messages to Business One, and initiate a workflow to handle a customer's complaints."

Where customers buy software licenses for SAP Business One, NetSuite 10.0 customers pay a monthly fee for the software as service. The new version released Thursday now boasts improved analytics and a recommendation engine to help users sell additional products. In addition, more advanced budgeting functions include the ability recognize revenue over time, allocate departmental overhead costs and use multiple budgets to manage a business.

"This version really fills out any functional gaps we had against Great Plains and Mas 90," said Zach Nelson, CEO of the San Mateo, Calif., vendor.

New to version 10.0 is the NetSuite Upsell Manager, a separate module that performs statistical analysis on companies' entire customer records. based on that analysis, NetSuite can suggest products that an individual -- or a collection of customers - is likely to buy. A built-in wizard will help users mine the data, create e-mail campaigns, tailor promotional opportunities to sales people's specific accounts or write phone scripts.

Also available as a separate module, NetCommerce Analytics gives companies the ability to track how each user interacts on their Web sites. That information can then be handed to the sales team, in order to glean insight into the interests and concerns of individual customers or prospects.

"Every major release from NetSuite moves us one step closer upstream," said Rufus Lohmueller, CEO of Lohmueller Consulting, in Raleigh, N.C. "The new revenue recognition feature now means we can go after new kinds of customers, like software companies, that recognize revenue on a schedule."