NetSuite Technology Tailors Apps

NetSuite enables customers to customize its hosted ERP software.

ERP services provider NetSuite Inc. is readying a new technology that makes it possible for customers using its hosted enterprise resource planning software to customize their applications.

The introduction this week of the NetSuite Customization capability in the companys namesake hosted service breaks the one-size-fits-all model for hosted ERP, officials said. The NetSuite service includes modules for financial and order management, CRM (customer relationship management), e-commerce, and business intelligence.

The technology will be offered as two components, Custom Records and Custom Code, and it enables customers to alter NetSuites Web-native software with their own database tables and custom code. Changes made with the Java-based tool kits will be carried over in a customers individualized service each time NetSuite upgrades its software, officials said.

Such customization has been available in traditional licensed ERP applications and more recently in the hosted CRM service from Inc.

Custom Records provides a tool for gathering information and creating a relationship between that data and existing NetSuite capabilities. This gives users the ability to define custom records that link to the NetSuite system. It also supports complex relationships between custom and standard records, officials said.

Custom Code enables a company to add new JavaScript to forms and business processes within NetSuite applications. The functionality calls on logic for performing calculations and validation within the system.

NetSuite, of San Mateo, Calif., will also unveil new technology it calls Account Cloning, which lets its reseller partners configure and customize NetSuite for vertical industries. For example, if an ISV develops a NetSuite application for Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance, that development work can be cloned into a template and reused.

NetSuite provides the technology behind Oracle Corp.s Oracle SBS (Small Business Suite), which provides hosted ERP applications for small organizations. SBS has some of the basic elements of customization—such as the ability to add a column or row to a record—but the more advanced features that are being announced will not be available to customers of that service.

Dean Mitchell, general partner of Projector Doctor in Poway, Calif., used an early version of NetSuites customization capabilities to create a unique data set that captures all the information on a subset of his business. The data set allows data entry forms and searches and reports on that data.

"Its not a data set that NetSuite would recognize—it was really a feature we didnt find within NetSuite and created on our own," said Mitchell, whose company repairs projection systems. "Each time weve done an upgrade, the information remains the same. [NetSuite] organizes [information] so that it appears like lists that are data sets. [Our data set] looks to us like its just another list. Its very integrated in that regard."

The ability to take customizations with him as the service is updated is an advance over other hosted offerings, Mitchell said.

"I was used to working with Oracle [applications], where each time you go and do a customization, youve got to go back and retrofit that code [with the upgrade]," Mitchell said. "Here, when a new release comes, all the custom code is already retrofitted in the upgrade, and we dont have to do all that work."

Providing customers with the ability to add or change JavaScript to affect the operation of a hosted application is a significant advance, according to Denis Pombriant, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc., a research company in Boston.

NetSuite Customization takes the hosted offerings beyond mere configurability, which is what earlier services provided, Pombriant said. To customize, a user has to have the ability to get access to the basic code and affect it with new code; to configure, the user simply gets the ability to make changes to the user interface.

"For a long time, hosted [software] went through this Henry Ford phase: Any color you want is fine, as long as its black. There was no customization, but there was configuration," said Pombriant. "The advent of customizable in addition to configurable is a big deal."