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Enterprising Insights, Episode 20: SuiteConnect NY and Industry News

Enterprising Insights, Episode 20: SuiteConnect NY and Industry News

In this episode of Enterprising Insights, The Futurum Group’s Enterprise Applications Research Director Keith Kirkpatrick discusses the news coming out of NetSuite’s SuiteConnect NY event, focusing on new product enhancements around AI, and a new connector used to link multiple instances of the product. He also discusses several retail case studies, and then closes out the show with the Rant or Rave segment, where he picks one item in the market, and either champions or criticizes it.

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Transcript:

Keith Kirkpatrick: Hello everyone. I’m Keith Kirkpatrick, Research Director with The Futurum Group, and I’d like to welcome you to Enterprising Insights. It’s our weekly podcast that explores the latest developments in the enterprise software market and the technologies that underpin these platforms, applications and tools. This week I’d like to recap SuiteConnect New York, which is an event that was hosted by ERP vendor NetSuite, and it had actually a very distinctive retail focus. I’m also going to cover some announcements in the enterprise software market, specifically around some new product launches and enhancements to existing products. Then as always, I’m going to close out the show with a rant or rave segment where I took one item in the market and I either champion it or criticize it. So let’s get right into it.

So as I mentioned, NetSuite, which is an ERP vendor, hosted their event called SuiteConnect New York. This was an interesting event for customers, partners, and analysts where really they were trying to just describe some of the new features that they incorporated into the platform, as well as highlight a number of interesting customer stories of obviously organizations that were using their platform in order to run their businesses. So let’s quickly just take stock of a couple of announcements they made. Now, first of course, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room, which is of course talking about generative AI or AI. NetSuite has taken a really interesting approach around AI and generative AI features in that instead of productizing it and calling it some cute little name or whatever, they’re really trying to incorporate AI across the entire suite.

So what are they talking about here? Well, they have a feature that’s called Text Enhance, and really what it is, it’s using generative AI to take whatever inputs are captured within the platform and really help users generate content automatically using generative AI. Now, this works across, I believe it’s around 200 fields or so across the suite. It is embedded into the application itself, so there’s no additional fee required to use it. And really the idea is to let generative AI operate across all different functions within the suite, so finance and accounting functions, supply chain and operations, sales and marketing and customer support processes. And the goal, of course is to make using the application more efficient and make users more productive. Now, there’s a couple of things to keep in mind here. This technology is built on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure and its AI services.

So really it’s leveraging all of the work that its parent company Oracle has done around AI, specifically looking at things like respecting customer privacy, using top-notch data security protocols, all of that stuff. So what that means is that customer data isn’t being shared with LLMs and it’s not being seen or used to retrain models that other customers could use. The other thing that’s actually really important to mention is that role-based security is implemented into these workflows and it only recommends content that users are entitled to view based on their seniority level and function within the organization. So that’s really an important point because if you think about generative AI, it is very powerful. But on the other hand, if there aren’t appropriate guardrails in place, you can have a situation where people who are not supposed to be looking or available or allowed to interact with certain information, get access to it, and that can be a challenge for organizations to deal with.

Now, I’ll just quickly take you through a couple of examples of how this technology is being used. So let’s just say looking at things like finance and accounting function, what Text Enhance will allow folks to do is to really just accelerate the process of doing those time-consuming tasks, writing tasks that take up a lot of effort to really personalize and make sure that the right information is incorporated. So this could be things like summarizing the narrative for financial reports or sending out personalized collection letters. Basically what this means is that instead of having to go through that information manually and then input it into a template, it does it automatically for you. So this is really, again, just a way that generative AI can reduce the amount of manual work required within the actual flow of work. You don’t need to go out to a separate application or anything like that to utilize the technology.

Other use cases in supply chain and operations, in this case, things like it can suggest certain descriptions of items based upon the data held within the ERP. It can help folks write vendor engagement letters, procurement orders. The idea again is to take all the data held within the ERP, and then use that information to generate content that really a lot of these finance and supply chain people or whatever, that’s not their strong point, is not generating new content on the fly over and over again for every single customer they have to deal with. Obviously there are a bunch of other use cases across different functions, sales and marketing, obviously things like pitch letters, content for marketing campaigns. Even within human resources there is the ability to use Text Enhance to help these people write job descriptions, write requisitions, help address employee goal setting, that sort of thing.

And then of course, the typical use case for a lot of this stuff is around customer support. So if an organization is trying to manage this whole process of customer support, it can be used to summarize all of the customer activities going on, it can look at some of the root causes and help identify some resolutions based on the data held within the platform. So again, the interesting thing here from my perspective is that two things. One is that it is being incorporated across the entire suite. So that sort of plays into the larger trend around using AI to improve workflows that may cross various departmental lines to really improve efficiency and enhance productivity across the entire business. Now, the second thing of course is that because as of right now, Evan Goldberg, the head of NetSuite basically said that he wants to embed this type of technology into the core aspects of the application suite. So there will not be any additional charges.

Now, if there were some sort of a custom function that a customer wanted to do to build on top of that NetSuite platform that incorporated generative AI, yes, there there might be an additional charge there because you’re doing sort of custom development work for custom workflows and that sort of thing. But generally speaking, it’s not going to be productized in the way that other organizations are marketing a specific generative AI toolset on top. So that’s really interesting. So the other piece of news that came out of SuiteConnect was that NetSuite announced this thing called the NetSuite Analytics Warehouse Multi-Instance Connector. Try saying that five times quickly. Now, this tool is designed to consolidate data from multiple NetSuite instances into a single analytics warehouse environment. What does this really mean? It means if let’s say you are a franchise operator and you have several sub-businesses or franchisees that all on their own instance of NetSuite.

You want to be able to take all of that data and roll it up so you can look at it in the aggregate. And this is what that tool does. It allows to pull all of that data together so that way sort of company-wide trends, anomalies, and business insights can be surfaced very easily by just pulling all that together instead of having to look at it from a very sort of siloed view. So that’s pretty interesting. Again, it’s all about really making sure or making life easier in terms of interacting with the data and the product. In addition to franchisers, private equity companies might find that very useful, or holding companies as well that have a lot of individual operating units that all need to roll up into a parent or holding company structure. Okay. Now let’s talk a little bit about some of the other things that are going on here at NetSuite. One of the things I really appreciate when I go to these things is when we get to hear from customers.

That’s always a great way to really find out what is the company’s messaging around their products and services. Is that really resonating? And it is really holding through when these companies are actually using the products? And yes, obviously these customers are selected by the vendor, so they’re probably not going to trash them. But on the other hand, I was impressed with the way that they were answering questions it seemed to me in a very forthright manner in terms of things they wanted to see in terms of additional product enhancements and that sort of thing. And the interesting thing was I heard from, I’ll just title in a couple of quick case studies or companies that appeared at the event. One was UNTUCKit, which is the vendor that produces those shirts where you don’t need to tuck them in anymore. You can just wear a dress shirt and it’s cut and fitted in such a length so it doesn’t look sloppy when you don’t tuck your shirt in. So that company was there. They were on NetSuite, as well as Undercover Snacks.

Now, Undercover Snacks is a company that makes these quinoa snacks. I guess they’re dipped in chocolate or something like that. You might have seen them. I believe it’s on United Airlines. That’s sort of the snack that they give out on the planes there. And that was sort of developed because one of the founders had a child or children who had some sort of an allergy to some ingredients, so they wanted to go out and make their own that would be safe for them. And of course they’re on NetSuite. And the interesting thing there was hearing about some of the … Obviously they were able to really address a lot of their operational needs by pulling in data from whether it was spreadsheets or really nothing, like different sources from their manufacturer or from the logistics company and pulling it all into one system, which is NetSuite. They were able to really take a better look at what was going on and really optimize their operations.

So of course, not surprising to hear about that. But what was interesting is hearing about what would they like to see more in the product. And obviously the one thing they really wanted to see was a greater use of AI, but in terms of basically helping to interact with the platform in even more intuitive way. If we think about one of the greatest things about AI and natural language processing is it allows people to interact with data in such a way that all they need to do is ask a question. So they want to see more of that instead of having to drill down into menus or have particular skills in terms of learning how to query data. So that was interesting to hear, that even though NetSuite is doing a good job of incorporating the technology, their customers certainly want more. And I expect the platform to incorporate AI to an even greater degree over the coming months and years.

Now, the last thing I’ll mention about this particular event, which I found very interesting, was that NetSuite decided to take us on a little retail tour in the part of Greenwich Village, New York down on Bleecker Street. If anyone is familiar with that area, that is where there used to be or still are a lot of restaurants and bars, used to be sort of one of the centers where they used to have live music all over the place. But now a lot of what is in place there are these sort of boutique retail stores. And we got to visit a few of them on our trip. We got to see the Little Words Project store. We got to see REDVANLY and Cuts Clothing. Now, all of these were basically in the same area, and they’re all very interesting because they were relatively new businesses having operated or opened up within the last 10 years or so. Not large by any stretch of the imagination, but they each had an interesting story.

Really briefly, the Little Words Project, that was born out of the founder’s desire to build a community around the products that they are producing, which are these bracelets that are made up of little beads that spell out words. And the idea here is that these words have meaning and they come in a number of different phrases, but the goal is to sell them to, I assume young females or really whomever, but it is about empowerment and really connecting what they’re going through to the bracelets. So it’s interesting to see how NetSuite was really used to take a very small business that was essentially being operated out of an apartment at one point to become an internet business, and then now it’s expanding into having an actual retail footprint. And the other two stores that we visited, REDVANLY, that’s sort of a lifestyle brand. I think it’s a brand that’s really focused in on sort of an upscale 20, 30-something year old male. And of course females buy the clothes too, around golf lifestyle, that type of a thing.

And again, that was born out of an idea of the founder who wanted to create a very specific type of product and then reach out to their particular customer base in a very structured and measured way. And of course, because it’s a retail operation, they needed to keep very, very tight control over things like inventory and making sure that all of the various connecting pieces, distribution, marketing, all of that were all tightly integrated. Same thing with Cuts Clothing. That is another store, the last store that we visited, which started out again, I think they have one store right now, it’s in New York, that flagship location. But I believe they’re also looking at operating in other major markets. Again, trying to target that young fashionable male and their desire for clothing that can go from as I think they put it, the boardroom to the bar, to the club, and what have you. And they make T-shirts and tops and bottoms and that sort of thing.

And then they actually just expanded into a line for women as well. But the interesting thing about all of this is obviously we heard a lot about how those organizations started, what the founder’s story was, but of course they’re all using NetSuite. And why that it’s really important is as I was going through this and looking at the various locations, I was thinking that’s pretty impressive because real estate, particularly retail real estate in New York City is very expensive. It’s hard to get in and out because of the lease terms. You have so many people you need to interact with or so many organizations when it comes to building it out. That can be a massive lift, particularly for a young brand because a lot of times they don’t have that in-house expertise. So the fourth company that we were introduced to was called Leap, and they’re basically what I guess can be termed is a retail as a service company.

So their function is to work with brands who would like to establish a retail presence but maybe don’t have the capital or the experience to do it themselves. So their business model is essentially they will go out and handle all the operational aspects of setting up a retail location, and then they will manage and help these organizations manage their business. And of course, they are a NetSuite client, and it’s been great that all of those individual stores or brands are also on NetSuite and they’re able to leverage that power being able to connect in with Leap to help them manage a lot of their operational issues that relate to things like space and actual the running of the retail operations. So that was a really interesting look at how, if you think of NetSuite’s overall messaging, it’s about a suite of applications working together to make life easier for organizations that are trying to manage all of these disparate functions, whether it’s marketing, sales, distribution, operations, what have you.

And then to see this kind of expand it out even beyond the walls of a single organization was really interesting. So with that, I just want to briefly talk about a couple other quick things before we go here. I am going to be going to some more events over the next few weeks, and I will be covering everything I hear about those in the next couple of episodes of Enterprising Insights. Certainly if you have any comments, please do leave them if you’re watching this on YouTube or another platform, anything you might want to hear. And obviously I’m going to be going to some of the large application vendors, going to Google, going to Zendesk, Avaya contact center, so a variety of different places. So certainly would love to hear your feedback. So finally, we’ve come to our rant or rave section. Again, we do this every week, and this week I want to talk about a rave. Now, one of the big challenges around artificial intelligence has been sort of this balancing between the use of artificial intelligence to improve efficiency because you’re getting rid of repetitive work and repetitive processes, which is all great in terms of looking at reducing cost.

And from the customer’s perspective, perhaps you’re going to have less friction because a bot can do something in a more elegant way or a faster way than a human. The issue of course, is that this means that a lot of people who are in the workforce may not be qualified or their jobs may become redundant. So what does that mean? It means that in order to keep … Really two things. One is in order to give these folks opportunity to continue working and to addressing these new sort of job opportunities that are coming up focused on new skills and new technologies like using AI or interacting with AI, there needs to be a real focus on reskilling and upskilling of the workforce. So it was really interesting to see this week, and I applaud this, that Cisco and I believe they were joined by Accenture, Eightfold, Google, IBM, Indeed, Intel, Microsoft and SAP, as well as six other advisors, they announced the launch of this new, let me get this right, AI-Enabled Information and Communication Technology Workforce Consortium.

It is a mouthful, but in a nutshell, this consortium is focused on upskilling roles that are most likely to be impacted by AI. And basically what they’re saying is that there are going to be roles that are going to require new skills. There are a large number of people who may have been displaced or might be displaced by AI in the future. So what they’re trying to do here is figure out a way to train these people or upskill or retrain people over the next several years to make sure that the workforce needs can be met, as well as making sure that there’s a future for a lot of folks out there who may have been working in jobs that have typically been very repetitive in nature, that they have a path forward. So there are some individual goals here that were included in this release. Cisco says it’s going to train 25 million people around cybersecurity and digital skills by 2032. IBM says they’re going to try to skill up to 30 million people by 2030 in digital skills, and I think they’re looking at about 2 million that are going to be trained in AI. Intel is saying they want to train about 30 million people with AI skills in the future.

Microsoft wants to train and certify 10 million people from underserved communities with digital skills by 2025. So that’s coming up pretty quickly. Same thing with SAP. They’ve set a goal of upskilling about 2 million people by 2025. And Google just announced as part of this that they’re going to be spending about 25 million euros to support AI training and skills for people across Europe. So that’s all really great news. I certainly will rave to that, give that a rave and also want to mention a couple other things. It’s not just companies there that are doing it. ServiceNow announced an initiative called RiseUp with ServiceNow back in October 2022. I believe that was focused on helping individuals advance their skills and proficiency with ServiceNow’s own platform. I think that as of May of last year, which is the last time they published data, that program had reached about 400,000 individuals, which is pretty impressive. And then of course, I’d like to mention Zoho. I was at their event back in, I believe late January or so, or early February, I can’t even remember now.

They’ve taken a number of steps over the years to address worker upskilling and reskilling in 2005, which is going back almost 20 years now. They launched something called Zoho Schools, which incorporates Zoho School of Technology, Zoho School of Design, and Zoho School of Business. Now, these were really designed to help bridge the gap from what schools were teaching and what’s needed on the job to embark upon a career given that technology is changing so rapidly. The program actually paid a stipend to the students while they learned and gave them a one-year internship at Zoho to really hone those skills. And the thing is that was really interesting about it is if they decided they wanted to go work somewhere else, that was fine. They didn’t owe Zoho any other money or anything else like that. And to me, that’s a really noble example of an organization that realizes the value of education and realizes that for the most part, people who get that opportunity will continue to work with the company that helped them along, but they’re not making it a requirement.

So I really applaud that. And I think that’s important because if we think about the way work is changing so rapidly over the last couple of years, we’re going to need folks who are able to handle these new skills and handle these new tasks. And it is going to be up to the technology industry and the vendors in that community to address these needs because they’re the ones who are developing the tools and they have that experience and that insight into what is exactly needed. So again, I would like to put out a big rave to all of these organizations that are taking these initiatives to help prepare the workforce for the next set of challenges moving ahead. Well, that’s all the time I have right now. So I want to thank everyone for joining me here on Enterprising Insights. And of course, I’ll be back next week with another episode that’s focused on all of the happenings within the enterprise application market. Thanks again for tuning in and be sure to subscribe, rate and review this podcast on your preferred platform. Thanks, and we’ll see you next time.

Author Information

Keith has over 25 years of experience in research, marketing, and consulting-based fields.

He has authored in-depth reports and market forecast studies covering artificial intelligence, biometrics, data analytics, robotics, high performance computing, and quantum computing, with a specific focus on the use of these technologies within large enterprise organizations and SMBs. He has also established strong working relationships with the international technology vendor community and is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and events.

In his career as a financial and technology journalist he has written for national and trade publications, including BusinessWeek, CNBC.com, Investment Dealers’ Digest, The Red Herring, The Communications of the ACM, and Mobile Computing & Communications, among others.

He is a member of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP).

Keith holds dual Bachelor of Arts degrees in Magazine Journalism and Sociology from Syracuse University.

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