That's where NetSuite is offering itself with its Crossroads Initiative as an alternative to SAP.
The terms are attractive: Zach Nelson, NetSuite's CEO, has been touting the special promotional offer: basically, to provide a NetSuite license in year one for the price the customer is now paying in SAP maintenance fees, followed by a 50% discount on NetSuite's then-current list price in year two and beyond.
Sounds like a great deal. But is NetSuite really a viable alternative for most SAP customers? I think the answer is no, for at least two reasons:
- My primary concern is the issue of functionality. In a recent evaluation for a distribution company, my consulting firm Strativa found significant issues with NetSuite functionality. These gaps did not involve esoteric requirements, but basic needs involving inventory allocation, available-to-promise, returned material, controls over changes to sales orders, and other issues. Furthermore, this client is not a large company, but rather has well less than $100 million in annual revenue. It is unlikely that any company large enough to be running SAP would find NetSuite to have functional parity.
- Second, NetSuite is reported to be well behind the curve in terms of supporting requirements of multinational organizations, especially those with localization needs in international sites. Many SAP clients fit this description.
Where NetSuite fits
It would appear then that NetSuite would only be a viable alternative for organizations with very simple requirements, perhaps basic financials with some sales or CRM needs. Or, small services-based firms. Such companies really have no business being on SAP in the first place. NetSuite may be targeting SAP in its marketing efforts, but in reality it is most likely going to show success with small companies that are outgrowing Quickbooks, or existing customers of Sage, Best, Exact, and other Tier III system providers.
To be fair to NetSuite, I think they've done a great job in moving the ball forward for software-as-a-service in the enterprise systems space. NetSuite's multi-tenant architecture is a terrific platform for other developers, such as Rootstock, to build upon and extend NetSuite's core offering. If there is any hope for NetSuite to close the functionality gap with SAP, Oracle, and other mature providers, it is likely to come from such efforts in NetSuite's partner community to develop industry-specific functionality.
There's no shame in serving small businesses. That's the natural starting point. As Clayton Christensen describes, disruptive technologies (such as SaaS) always start with success in the low-end of the market, then move up-market as the technology matures.
And long-term, I agree with Nicholas Carr that SaaS solutions (or cloud-based systems, on-demand systems, utility-computing, or whatever you want to call them) are likely to replace on-premise systems for the majority of customers. The economics are simply too powerful.
But in the meantime, unless an SAP customer was too small to be on SAP in the first place, it's unlikely they will find NetSuite a viable alternative.
Update, Oct 1. To all NetSuite customers that have converted, or are in process of converting, from SAP: I would really like to hear from you, confidentially if needed. Email me at the address shown in the righthand column.
Update, Oct. 2. David Stover, CFO at AKSA commented on this post and responded to my invitation for further dialog. As it turns out, David's experience is a good example of where NetSuite does in fact provide an alternative to SAP. David's firm, a manufacturer of textile fibers, was previously a user of SAP, as dictated by the firm's corporate parent. When the firm was then spun off, David realized that SAP was simply too big and too costly, without the support of the previous corporate parent. In a quest to cut costs, David then embarked on a search for a simpler solution and wound up on NetSuite.
To illustrate the point, of AKSA's 200 employees, 100 of them previously were using SAP. Now, under NetSuite, only 20 employees need to use the system. The remainder, who are mostly production people, get their information from reports or Excel worksheets. In my words, David de-automated the operation, allowing it to run on a much simpler system.
In our discussion, however, David did confirm my basic point in this post regarding NetSuite functionality gaps, mentioning one perfect example. NetSuite doesn't do standard costing, something that is a requirement in many if not most manufacturing firms. It only does average costing. So David wrote some custom scripts in NetSuite to work around the problem, a solution that would probably not be acceptable for many manufacturing prospects.
So, in my opinion, David's experience can be summed up as follows:
- There are companies out there running SAP that don't need to be
- Such companies can and should look for simpler solutions, and NetSuite is one of them
- NetSuite is not the functional equivalent of SAP, but to serve customers such as AKSA it doesn't need to be.
Update, Oct 8. My fellow Enterprise Advocate, Dennis Howlett, has a lengthy post following up on my post here. Dennis goes into great detail regarding NetSuite's progress in addressing the localization issues, which I only mention generally above. Read Dennis's entire post, as he has done significant primary research on this matter and other matters involving NetSuite.
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