NetSuite rolling out 'codeless' customization tool

The vendor is making a run at SAP's Business ByDesign with a new business-process tweaking kit

NetSuite customers and partners have long been able to make tweaks to the on-demand ERP (enterprise resource planning) suite, but on Wednesday the vendor unveiled a new tool called SuiteFlow that could make the work easier.

The graphical interface allows users to tweak the various business processes inside NetSuite, such as for product orders, expense reporting or notifications, without writing code.

It builds on top of NetSuite's SuiteScript, a JavaScript-based language that would still be used for more complex tasks, according to Evan Goldberg, CTO and co-founder of NetSuite. SuiteScript is running under the covers, but users don't have to deal with it, he said.

"We think it makes it more accessible. Instead of coders and IT professionals ... a lot of [customization] can be done by business analysts and managers," Goldberg said.

Customizing applications so they closely fit a customer's preferred way of running operations applies as much to SaaS (software as a service) as to on-premises software, according to NetSuite.

But SaaS applications like NetSuite provide significant advantages, since changes can easily be moved forward when the vendor conducts a version upgrade. This is "far preferable to the traditional approach of on-premise providers that require the customer, or VAR, to analyze and retrofit customizations before upgrading," said Frank Scavo, managing partner of IT strategy firm Strativa, via e-mail.

Nearly every NetSuite customer performs some type of tweak to their system, Goldberg said.

SuiteFlow could conceivably take revenue away from NetSuite channel partners who now perform customization work, but Goldberg disagreed, saying that the tool simply allows partners to serve more customers.

In addition, "as we move upmarket and get into deeper vertical customization, we certainly expect that many [partners] will use SuiteFlow to make it easier for them," he said.

The tool will enter a beta period imminently and be considered generally available in the second half of this year, at no additional cost to customers, Goldberg said.

"We're trying to make sure it's rock solid," he said. "We think it will be the primary method of customizing NetSuite."

Other SaaS vendors have pushed the idea of simplified customization. NetSuite rival Salesforce.com recently announced Visual Process Manager, a graphical business-process-development tool for its Force.com platform.

NetSuite's move could also bolster its chances for "two-tier" ERP implementations, wherein a company uses the SaaS software on a departmental or divisional basis as an adjunct to its core on-premises platform, said 451 Group analyst China Martens. Such scenarios would be more effective if NetSuite could be modified to feel more like the main ERP system, she said.

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