Last week NetSuite, in conjunction with Oracle and Deloitte, announced a partnership to deliver integrated human capital management (HCM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) cloud services for the mid-market. Each of the three companies will throw something into the pot: NetSuite brings ERP, Oracle contributes HCM and of course both will be delivered via the cloud as software as a service (SaaS). Deloitte plans to work with the two companies to develop a practice with “highly skilled practitioners specializing in tools and implementation services to help customers adopt the soon to be integrated SaaS technologies faster and more seamlessly.” The “soon to be” qualifier implies a future deliverable, so Oracle and NetSuite will also have to work together on this integration.
The partnership between Oracle and NetSuite is not new, but until now was pretty much limited to the technology stack. However, as far back as June 26, 2001, Oracle announced its “small business suite”, which was in fact NetSuite. But applications from NetSuite and Oracle never came together in any kind of substantive way. After all, in some ways NetSuite’s solution competes against Oracle’s Business Suite, as well as the ERP solutions acquired along with JD Edwards.
But NetSuite never really built out HCM functionality, choosing instead to partner. In fact, it already has several HCM partners, but they tend to have different solutions for different parts of the world. One of the biggest challenges for HCM solutions has always been the different regulations around the world, both in terms of payroll and other compliance requirements. Laws in the United States are very different from those in Europe, and even from one country in Europe to the next – and on and on around the world. Most HCM solutions start out as country-specific and never make it into the big leagues to compete on an international basis. But Oracle’s HCM solution can.
There are also quite a few different sub-segments within HCM ranging from the traditional human resource information system (HRIS) to talent management (including recruiting) to benefits and compensation, etc. It is more common to find individual point solutions for each segment than to find a full, comprehensive suite covering all of them. Hence the market is quite fragmented. Oracle is one of the few solutions that has the breadth of functionality and also serves a global market. It not only acquired expertise early in the game from its acquisition of Peoplesoft, but also more recently acquired Taleo for talent management.
The Taleo product, which is also SaaS only (like NetSuite) fits right in. But because this is a “cloud only” solution, global HR will have to come from Oracle Fusion, not the Oracle Business Suite. Fusion is still a work in progress.
The nature of the relationship between NetSuite and Oracle could best be categorized as a “referral” agreement. Oracle doesn’t sell NetSuite products and NetSuite doesn’t sell Oracle products. However Oracle has a dedicated HCM team, which will engage with the NetSuite sales team to jointly sell into NetSuite customers. This makes sense because a NetSuite ERP customer is more likely to buy Oracle HCM. That’s not to say an existing Taleo customer might not be interested in NetSuite, but I am sure the Oracle sales team would prefer to sell them an Oracle ERP. An Oracle HR customer running Oracle Business Suite or JD Edwards is less likely to buy NetSuite. Even if they were willing to consider this, the Oracle sales team isn’t going to bring the NetSuite team in for a possible replacement.
While referral arrangements are quite easy to create, there is one inherent weakness. They are also easy to walk away from. As mentioned above, right now Oracle Fusion is a work in progress. When it is a complete ERP, will Oracle still be as interested in partnering with NetSuite? Probably. NetSuite has an installed based of over 14,000 customers, so it is quite a large field of opportunity.
But what about the role of Deloitte? According to Jim Moffatt, CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP, “Mid-sized companies are looking for solutions that allow them to be nimble and respond quickly to market opportunities. This newly integrated solution will help these organizations deliver better service at a lower cost, ultimately giving them an edge in the war for talent and a true competitive edge.”
I agree that mid-size companies are primed and ready for low-cost solutions. HCM functions have historically been under-served by enterprise applications and therefore there is a great deal of pent-up demand, particularly in the mid-market. I’m just not sure mid-size companies are ready to pay the price of a consulting firm like Deloitte. I suspect many mid-size companies will prefer the “do it yourself” approach, whether they are capable or not. Those that recognize their own weaknesses might turn to consultants, but the mind-set of a mid-size company expects a consultant to get in quickly and out just as quickly. Consultants such as Deloitte tend to like long engagements. We’ll have to wait and see how many times they get invited to the party and how long they stay.
All told though, this seems like a smart move for NetSuite. Its footprint expands without a huge development effort. Processes and functions managed by HCM solutions are quite easily integrated into ERP since they are not too deeply embedded in transactional activity. That is, unless time and attendance transactions are collected through workforce management in HCM. Even in this case, the integration is quite clean and simple. The HCM solutions market has been heating up, and this means the NetSuite team, in conjunction with its Oracle counterpart can provide a more complete and competitive solution.
Oracle also benefits from that wide open market of NetSuite customers, which get a more complete, integrated solution. As to Deloitte… we’ll see.