NetSuite, HP: New Saas Solutions to SMBs?

Includes: HPQ, N
by: Jeffrey M. Kaplan

One of the most vexing questions in the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) market, and broader on-demand services industry, is what role traditional channel companies will play in this brave, new world.

While (NYSE:CRM) and other SaaS vendors are touting the enormous advantages of leveraging the ‘cloud,’ there are still plenty of companies on

Main Street
who are just beginning to become familiar with today’s online services. Many of these small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs), and even large-scale enterprises, have relied on their local value-added reseller (VAR) and system integrator (SI) as not only their primary technology supplier but also their ‘trusted advisor’ for their technologies strategies.

These VARs and SIs have been uncertain about the impact of SaaS solutions and on-demand services on their businesses. In fact, many feel down right threatened by these services.

There is no question that SaaS solutions and on-demand services eliminate much of the upfront planning and design, installation and integration, and ongoing support requirements (which have been the bread and butter of VARs and SIs’ revenue streams), not to mention the margins they made on hardware and software product sales.

However, there are still plenty of opportunities for channel companies to add value to SaaS and on-demand services across the entire lifecycle of customer requirements from needs assessment through the deployment and management processes. Appirio, Astadia, Bluewolf, SaaSpoint and Sofia Works are living proof of these new market opportunities.

On Tuesday, HP (NYSE:HPQ) and NetSuite (NYSE:N) announced they were collaborating to offer SaaS business applications to SMBs via HP’s vast channel community of 15,000 VARs in the U.S.

Under this agreement, HP and NetSuite will initiate a referral-based program for HP channel partners that will encourage them to recommend NetSuite’s solutions to their customers. They will also offer new value-added implementation and management services as part of the HP Total Care support program.

NetSuite will provide dedicated resources to support the HP resellers, along with a toll-free hotline for channel sales support and a self-service portal for channel partners to access sales tools and online training resources.

This agreement is significant on a number of levels:

  1. It gives NetSuite a vast new channel to market to a broad cross-section of SMBs.
  2. It gives a wide array of VARs/SIs an opportunity to jump onto the on-demand services bandwagon with the help of HP.
  3. It gives HP a SaaS solution to sell to SMBs through its channel partners.
  4. It gives SMBs an opportunity to obtain a SaaS solution from their existing technology suppliers who they trust.

This agreement is a strong endorsement for NetSuite at just the right time. The company has been trying, without luck, to keep pace with, which continues to command the attention of the on-demand/cloud computing industry because of its brilliant marketing efforts and robust sales growth. Meanwhile, NetSuite has never been a strong marketing company and has seen its stock value severely impacted by failing to meet Wall Street expectations, which hasn’t helped its standing in the SaaS industry.

Teaming with HP can be a timely shot in the arm for NetSuite. As a result of its acquisition of EDS, HP is now the largest vendor in the IT industry. HP has spent years building a strong channel network. Its willingness to expose the HP channel partners to NetSuite’s solution shows that HP believes it is a good fit for their customers. Otherwise, HP wouldn’t waste its time promoting NetSuite’s solution or jeopardize its channel relationships.

This agreement is also a way for HP to gain entry into the SaaS market where it has lacked a presence. In fact, HP insiders have told me that the company's own SaaS initiatives have been slowed by their EDS acquisition. Who knows, HP might become a potential acquirer of NetSuite as a result of this relationship rather than Oracle who has been the most natural candidate in the past. On a more tactical level, the alliance also gives HP an opportunity to sell and promote more of its ProLiant servers and StorageWorks Modular Smart Arrays, which are a key component of NetSuite’s service delivery infrastructure.

Ultimately, this alliance has the potential to be a win-win-win-win for all four parties—NetSuite, HP, channel companies and customers.

However, making this agreement a success won’t be easy. It will take time to train the channel companies and devise the right pricing and promotional programs to encourage them to sell NetSuite’s solutions. Even when the channel companies become comfortable with NetSuite and are convinced that they can make money in this program, it will still take time to sell enough NetSuite subscriptions to have an impact on everyone’s financial results.

Nonetheless, the evolution of this alliance will be an important indicator of how traditional channel companies will participate in the SaaS/on-demand services market. While the hoopla at last week’s Dreamforce was squarely focused on the new world of the ‘cloud,’ Tuesday's announcement might help to define the role of traditional channel companies in the SaaS market of the future.

Disclosure: None