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10/25/2006
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NetSuite Readies SuiteFlex For Custom Development

The toolset extends NetSuite's user interface and hosted software system to incorporate custom add-ons.

In early days, software-as-a-service applications offered customers one-size-fits-all simplicity at the expense of choice. Now, customization is sweeping the field. NetSuite is the latest SaaS company to announce plans to extend its platform with programming tools, a move NetSuite hopes will lure developers and VARs to devise vertical apps and solution sets.

The new SuiteFlex platform is a toolset for extending NetSuite's user interface and hosted software system to incorporate custom add-ons. Some of the platform's tools are already live, but two major additions are slated for release in mid-2007: SuiteBuilder, a point-and-click customization tool that can be used to build construct personalized or role-based interfaces for NetSuite, and Suitelets, custom portlets for expanding NetSuite's workflow.

"We've really 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," said Mini Peiris, NetSuite's vice president of product management.

NetSuite, based in San Mateo, Calif., is also introducing the new SuiteSource Directory, a repository of free, open-source Suitelets developed by NetSuite's engineers, customers and partners. A new SourceForge site invites developers to swap SuiteFlex SuiteScripts they've developed.

SuiteFlex echoes Salesforce.com's recent announcement of its forthcoming Apex development language, part of that company's effort to expand its platform's customization potential.

NetSuite CEO Zach Nelson has long said the very existence of a flexible hosted platform can enable VARs with strong vertical expertise to reach customers well beyond their geographic reach. Because NetSuite deals with upgrades, patches and hardware upgrades, all of that comes off the VAR's plate, NetSuite execs say.

NetSuite has been getting creative in partner recruitment, and one of its newest plans is a series of partner-led seminars in select Apple retail locations. The goal is to attract small businesses to NetSuite's hosted ERP applications

The sessions will kick off after the holidays in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Southern California Apple retail locations, said Kristen Brown, NetSuite's vice president of alliances and channel sales.

While most perceive these flagship Apple stores as consumer-oriented venues, Brown said this collaboration fits into an invigorated small-business push by Apple. The fact that NetSuite works with Apple's Safari browser makes for natural cooperation, she said.

"Apple and NetSuite will drive traffic for these seminars and on-site demos, which will be done by partners," Brown said.

NetSuite raised some eyebrows last June when it launched a partnership with CompUSA, the mass retailer, to push NetSuite hosted solutions to businesses. The pilot inaugurated in New York and Connecticut. Brown acknowledged it "got off to a little slower start than we hoped." She attributed that to some CompUSA reorganizations in that region and said the situation has stabilized and the companies are now building up a "reasonable pipeline."

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