NetSuite Flexes Its Muscles
NetSuite is the latest SaaS company to extend its offerings via a platform of programming tools. Today, the company announced SuiteFlex, a customization and development platform that enables both the creation of third-party applications on top of NetSuite and end-to-end business process customization, according to the company. The platform is intended to lure developers and VARs to devise vertical applications and solution sets that NetSuite customers can leverage via SuiteFlex.
The new SuiteFlex platform is a toolset for extending NetSuite's user interface and hosted software system to integrate custom add-ons. Most of the platform's tools are live, but SuiteBuilder, a point-and-click customization tool that can be used to build personalized or role-based interfaces for NetSuite, and Suitelets, a framework of custom portlets for expanding NetSuite's workflow to make any third-party application feel and look like NetSuite, will be released in spring 2007.
The Suitelets framework is a part of SuiteScript, a toolset that allows new processes and apps to be built and hosted within NetSuite. With SuiteScript companies will be able to import data from other Web applications or make front-end customization changes, says Mini Peiris, vice president of product management. "We've added the final layer in terms of programming extensions to tailor the entire interface to a vertical industry or the business processes of an individual customer."
NetSuite also introduced the SuiteSource Directory, a repository of free, open-source Suitelets developed by NetSuite, its customers, and its partners. A new SourceForge site allows developers to swap SuiteScripts they've developed online.
SuiteFlex may echo Salesforce.com's recently announced Apex development language and AppExchange third-party customization platform, but Peiris asserts that NetSuite is taking a different approach with its customization platform. "The core functionality is already included in the NetSuite platform," she says, referring to the company's CRM/ERP/e-commerce suite solution. "Who wants to take on the complexity of adding that functionality? We're focusing on allowing customers to verticalize their NetSuite products via third-party vendor apps."
NetSuite's built-in ERP functionality, combined with its new customization and development platform, "puts them on the same playing field as Salesforce," says Denis Pombriant, managing principal of Beagle Research. "They're going toe-to-toe with Salesforce," although he doesn't see NetSuite being "as aggressive with third-party vendors." This, he says, could be attributed to the fact that NetSuite "hasn't been doing this as long as Salesforce has been," referring to Salesforce's AppExchange platform, which was released last year.
Regardless, Pombriant says both companies now offer their customers similar solutions that diminish another "knock against SaaS," namely, the ability to access the architecture of the product. "Both companies have developed Java-based scripts that allow customers to access the fundamental framework of their on-demand solution," he says. "First you couldn't configure on-demand applications, then people complained you didn't have access to the architecture to fundamentally change the solution. Now you do. This will be a delivery model that will carry on-demand well into the 21st century."
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