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NetSuite updates customer management tools

NetSuite 10.0 offers analysis tools to help businesses predict information about customers based on data they've already entered.

NetSuite, a provider of hosted customer relationship management software, plans to debut an updated version of its services Thursday that aims to give users more powerful tools to sort data.

NetSuite 10.0 offers analysis tools to help businesses predict information about their customers based on data they have already entered. The San Mateo, Calif., "software as a service" company believes that many standalone CRM systems have failed to deliver real insight into customer behavior. Rival business software packages revolve around data related to internal sales processes, the company said.

Zach Nelson, NetSuite's chief executive, contends that far more valuable customer data resides in other systems, such as order management applications.

"CRM has enjoyed a resurgence, but the fundamental problem remains that most companies still have no way to address business functions that span across different departments and data locked into disparate IT systems," Nelson said. "Companies still have islands of information, and some are trying to address this with Web services, but in many cases, this still doesn't solve the data issues that exist between applications."

Nelson said NetSuite's products are aimed at midsize companies that can't afford to pay for, or digest, the more complex software designed for larger businesses by vendors such as Siebel Systems and SAP. NetSuite 10.0 is available both as an online service managed by NetSuite or as on-site application. The majority of the company's customers use its application-hosting skills.

NetSuite is able to integrate data taken from multiple applications partly because its tools exist in a single architecture. That allows CRM, enterprise resource planning (ERP) and e-commerce processes to be managed in a single database, Nelson said. In addition to selling all the applications in one package, NetSuite's CRM and ERP products are sold individually.

The new analysis tools in the package help draw conclusions from data entered into other pieces of NetSuite's system. NetSuite's Upsell Manager software promises to automatically suggest products and services that a customer may be likely to purchase, based on analysis of that client's purchase history. Its NetCommerce Analytics is a set of tools that aims to provide customer behavior information on everything from historical buying patterns to activity on an e-commerce site.

At least one industry watcher expressed optimism about NetSuite's latest entry into the CRM midmarket, where it will compete with applications made by Best Software, Microsoft and Salesforce.com. Mary Wardley, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC, said the product's greatest strength lies in its single database design.

"When you have all the data in one database with a consistent model, it's a lot easier to draw conclusions regarding customers," she said. "This release is offering NetSuite's users a lot more in the way of behavioral intelligence."

In fact, Wardley said NetSuite's biggest challenge is in helping its customers figure out just what data to focus on among the crush of information generated by the tools.

"The biggest question is what you choose to highlight and where," she said. "In an out-of-the-box bake-off against competing products, what (NetSuite) has to offer takes a little bit longer for users to get their arms around."