At SuiteWorld 2015 NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson announced The End of the Beginning. “The question of whether cloud was going to happen is answered. Cloud is here.” Mint Jutras agrees. Attitudes towards cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) have changed dramatically over the past few years, particularly with respect to software that runs your business. As recently as five to ten years ago, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) could easily have been called the last bastion of resistance to SaaS. “Cloud” had yet to become part of the business vernacular and “SaaS” was still a relatively new and poorly understood concept. While other complementary solutions were headed in that direction, entrusting the transactional system of record of your business to the cloud requires a higher level of trust than required for other applications, including those which are often referred to as “systems of engagement.”
But now – how times have changed! According to the latest Mint Jutras 2015 Enterprise Solution Study, the majority of businesses have some sort of cloud strategy and the shift to the cloud has definitely begun.
What’s Your Cloud Strategy?
To get a clear picture of how cloud strategies have developed and evolved, we turn to some specific questions in our study.
Figure 1: What Best Describes Your Cloud Strategy?
The first of these questions specifically asked about cloud strategies. This is the first year we have asked this question and the results were a little surprising – but only a little. The first surprise was that the majority (84%) has a cloud strategy, even if that strategy is to not go there (8%). In a way this is not particularly surprising given all the hype over cloud these days. This leaves the remaining 16% with no cloud strategy. But notice how we phrased this option: “We don’t have a cloud strategy. Cloud is just one of many factors we consider.” So it doesn’t mean these participants will not consider cloud.
We phrased it that way because for years we have been capturing priorities for selection criteria for ERP. Over the years we have always included some sort of reference to deployment option and it has consistently been ranked close to the bottom of the list of criteria. Since deployment option was not the overriding factor in selecting these solutions, you might also conclude that cloud was not driving strategy. And yet only 16% don’t have a cloud strategy.
So, in a way, survey participants are sending us mixed signals. But at the same time, we saw the availability of “cloud options” rise significantly in importance this year. It moved up from the very bottom of the list of criteria to the middle of the pack.
But, based on the strategies shown in Figure 1, we might conclude that cloud deployments will not dominate immediately. We actually confirmed this conclusion by capturing the percentage of all business software that is currently deployed as SaaS, along with projections over the next two, five and ten years and beyond (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Percentage of Business Software Deployed as SaaS
This steady progression is to be expected largely because of the number of existing on-premise (non-cloud) solutions that are currently installed. These will not be ripped out and replaced overnight, particularly when it comes to ERP. Implementing a solution that runs your business is not a small undertaking and most will not abandon their current solutions without a very good reason and an expected return on investment. So in that respect, it is not surprising that the most likely strategy is to leave existing systems in place but surround them with cloud-based solutions. This option leads to a hybrid environment, which delivers some of the benefits of SaaS, but will lead companies down a more circuitous route in their cloud journeys. In these cases, hybrid solutions might simply be viewed as temporary options and not necessarily the desired final destination. It will be interesting to see if interest in these hybrid solutions continues to grow or decline over time. A lot will depend on whether the hybrid solutions deliver the desired (end) results or just whet the appetite for more SaaS.
However, one in five (20%) will seek to replace existing on-premise solutions with cloud-based alternatives and another 8% are taking specific action now to do just that. If we add these two percentages together we see those taking the plunge and replacing systems with complete cloud solutions (slightly) outnumbers those that prefer a more evolutionary, hybrid approach (28% versus 25%). These are the companies most likely to be evaluating NetSuite as a replacement solution, as well as companies just starting out on their ERP journeys.
Those with a defined strategy of moving to the cloud clearly see the potential benefits. These benefits may be cost savings, more innovation, better support of remote workforces and distributed environments, or simply enabling growth.
But Remember, Not All Cloud is SaaS
However, if you recall our previous definitions, while all SaaS is cloud, not all cloud is SaaS. So we asked specifically “Which is most important to you in terms of placing any solution in the cloud?” While 12% admit to not really understanding (Don’t Know), the preference is for SaaS (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Which is most important to you in terms of cloud?
SaaS is the top choice, but as long as the solution is web-enabled, even a hosted or on-premise solution might be able to be accessed anytime, from anywhere. However, Mint Jutras would contend that without a SaaS solution, you would leave some of the potential benefits on the table. And as you can see, there is still a significant percentage that prefers a private cloud. This might be because a private cloud is considered more secure (it may or may not be), or because of current or anticipated customization. If the overriding desire is to simply move to the cloud (only), it might be easier to lift and shift existing solutions to a private cloud. Yet in doing so, you relinquish the opportunity to re-implement and remove limitations that might have been imposed by older, less functional and less technology-enabled solutions. And with the current configurability of a good SaaS solution, you would likely be able to eliminate a lot of your invasive customizations and therefore simplify your IT life, particularly as business needs change over time.
As the World Turns
And what business today is not undergoing change? Only those that are stagnating and losing any competitive advantage they might have ever had. In fact today we are living in times of unprecedented change and growth opportunity. New consumer middle classes have sprung up in countries that were hardly industrialized a short decade ago, creating opportunity even for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Innovation, advanced technology and the Internet have combined to create new business models that were never even considered a decade ago.
Those companies providing these consumer goods and even those offering industrial products that support the manufacturing and distribution of these consumer products see the most opportunity, but are also most subject to new and ever evolving business models. This is a market that NetSuite is very well suited for given its strength in eCommerce and its support for digital transformation.
NetSuite was born in the cloud long before cloud and SaaS came into the limelight. While NetSuite could not have foreseen all the new opportunities and new business models that have been created over the past few years, it did have foresight enough to build a system that could accommodate change. As Zach Nelson likes to say, “We built change into the system. We can’t predict the next business model or where it might go, but we can make the solution adaptable, regardless of the direction.”
Disruption in an Omni-channel Environment
As a result, NetSuite views “disruption” as a good thing. In prospecting, it seeks out these disruptive business models and sees its support of “omni-channels” as a key factor in supporting growth and therefore featured it prominently in its SuiteWorld message..
Omni-channel, alternatively referred to as “multi-channel,” refers to the ability to use different channels simultaneously. Consumers might purchase online, but pick up, or return merchandise at a physical store. Retailers may use retail stores as distribution hubs. As consumers make online purchases, it may be advantageous to ship from a store location where the item may be overstocked, thereby drawing down surplus inventory. Or the choice of ship from location may be made to minimize cost and lead-time. This is definitely an issue for retailers today. But more and more manufacturers and distributors find themselves also selling direct now, so it is just a matter of time before they need to deal with omni-channel supply chain issues as well.
Combining all these options requires flexibility, a level of expertise and feature functionality not typically included in your traditional ERP software suite. NetSuite has differentiated itself by doing all of the above. But more importantly, this requires an unprecedented degree of flexibility and adaptability, well suited for the cloud.
Much of this adaptability comes simply from being a multi-tenant SaaS solution. On the one hand, solution providers that maintain a multi-tenant SaaS solution have a distinct advantage to those offering traditional on-premise or even single-tenant SaaS solutions. But while they must only maintain a single line of code, it must be more configurable and flexible than a traditional solution, or it winds up appealing only to a small sector of companies.
The NetSuite ERP provides many options for configuration without invasive code changes. But it also goes one step further, offering a software development platform that allows partners and customers to add in new features without impacting the single line of code that NetSuite manages for its subscribers. The code developed using this platform can and does survive updates that are made on a quarterly basis.
Shopping for a New Solution?
In order to take full advantage of next generation solutions, enabled by advanced technologies, you may choose to replace your current solutions. The question we have been asking for years now is this: “If you were to select a solution today, which deployment options would you consider?” In the early days of this question, those that would consider SaaS were definitely in the minority and almost everyone would, of course, consider on-premise solutions. That landscape has shifted dramatically. Figure 4 shows the most recent few years.
Source: Mint Jutras Enterprise Solution Studies
* Option added in 2015
SaaS is currently the option most likely to be considered (participants are allowed to select as many options as they want). For the past few years “SaaS” and “hosted and managed by your solution vendor” have run neck and neck. In the past, one of the reasons has been because the difference between these two options was often blurry and survey respondents didn’t necessarily understand the difference. This was substantiated by observing that a significant percentage of participants that were running solutions that are SaaS-only (including NetSuite) chose this hosted option instead of, rather than in addition to SaaS.
But we’re now starting to see evidence of a better understanding of the difference between these options. Not only are more participants actually running SaaS solutions, but also the preference for SaaS is starting to pull away from hosted solutions.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Mint Jutras would agree with Zach Nelson. Data from our 2015 Enterprise Solution Study signals that the end of the beginning is indeed here. Early pioneers, and NetSuite in particular, have been providing cloud-based SaaS solutions for more than a decade. NetSuite customers, pioneers in their own right, have led the way and are living testimony to the benefits. The shift to the cloud has begun in earnest.
Most companies today have defined a cloud strategy. If you have not, either because of lack of understanding or lack of attention, take a step back and develop one. Educate yourself on cloud and SaaS, along with the potential benefits; satisfy any lingering concerns you might have and investigate your options.
Not everyone will take the same approach. If you are currently running your business on legacy solutions that limit your connectivity and interoperability, adding some peripheral and complementary cloud solutions might selectively help you connect to trading partners and customers, but ultimately you will need to replace that old software or run the risk of being at a significant competitive disadvantage. Replacing it with a cloud-based ERP, deployed in a secure SaaS model might just be the giant step you need to move into today’s digital world and accelerate your own competitive advantage. If you’re looking for a SaaS ERP solution with some longevity in the market, you would do well to add NetSuite to your short list of vendors.