SAN JOSE, Calif.—NetSuite started its annual SuiteWorld conference here with an eclectic mix of ear-splitting rap music pulsating through a packed convention room that featured a circular stage and seven giant electronic screens that covered the walls with picture-in-picture videos.
Once the music died down, NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson talked up recent customer wins and two major deals with Microsoft and American Express Global Business Travel. The mention of a deal with Microsoft generated an immediate buzz through the crowd.
For NetSuite, whose integrated cloud unified business management suite incorporates enterprise resource planning (ERP), financial, CRM and e-commerce software, the deal represents a major alliance with a software giant that it continues to compete with in some areas.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed attendees briefly via video saying the "strategic cloud partnership" with NetSuite "connects our Office and Azure platforms to bring together ERP and productivity in the cloud. Customers will immediately benefit from reduced security risks and being able to do more with Azure."
Nelson told his audience to expect other announcements with Microsoft. "Microsoft has projects in big data and e-commerce and others where we are going to find ways to partner with them," he said.
In a post-keynote press conference, Nelson credited the hiring of Fred Studer, who had worked at Microsoft on Office 365 and Dynamics and is now NetSuite's chief marketing officer, for helping to facilitate the deal.
Nelson said NetSuite hadn't actively pursued working with Microsoft because "we were blinded by competition with [Microsoft's] Great Plains and their ERP systems." But Studer said Nelson asked him to see if he could get a meeting, and a week later they were in a conference room at Microsoft with Nadella and other Microsoft executives.
Nelson said that NetSuite customers will continue to be able to use Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other systems for hosting, but he thinks Azure will look like a more compelling option as NetSuite achieves closer integration with Azure and other benefits as a result of the partnership with Microsoft.
Nelson also discussed several major new customer wins, singling out a deal with American Express Global Business Travel as "probably the largest customer we've ever had in the size of the deployment and number of users."
Steve Curts, chief strategy officer for GBT, said that when AMEX split off the Travel group in 2012 the decision was made to go "all in" for the cloud because it's easier to innovate and offers more flexibility to customize.
His company went live with the first deployment of NetSuite's HR and ERP software May 1 that covers nine countries and nine currencies. "Yesterday we had 58,000 transactions go through with an exception rate of less than 1 percent, which is less than we had on our old system," he said.
NetSuite founder, CTO and Chairman Evan Goldberg said the company has evolved from the early days when it was focused more on the small business. "Things do look different now than a few years ago," he said. "Our tagline used to be 'One system, no limits' for smaller companies, now [working with bigger companies] it's required us to look at how NetSuite works in the entire ecosystem of a company."
When negotiating with large companies on $250,000+ deals, NetSuite typically works closely with large system integrators such as CapGemini, Deloitte and Accenture, who Nelson said have expertise in areas like change management that NetSuite doesn't focus on. Jim McGeever, NetSuite's chief operating officer, said these big deals are easier for the company because the integrators typically do 80 percent of the work. "In many ways it's a more scalable model for us," said McGeever.
Other key NetSuite customer announcements included the T.G.I. Fridays restaurant chain (via business process outsourcing partner CapGemini), Australian apparel company Billabong International and Elite Modeling, the world's largest modeling agency that is using NetSuite to consolidate what had been 17 separate ERP systems into a single global system.