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SuiteWorld 2018: Businesses more likely to learn from failures than successes, says NetSuite EVP

Failure is the best way for firms to learn and succeed when it comes to business transformation, NetSuite’s executive vice-president Jim McGeever tells the audience at SuiteWorld 2018

Lessons learnt through failures and not through successes are the ones that “stick with you”, according to NetSuite’s executive vice-president Jim McGeever.

During a talk at SuiteWorld 2018 in Vegas, McGeever said hearing stories of technology transformation from NetSuite’s customers was important for the show’s theme Ready, Set, Grow.

“The lessons you’ve learned in failure – the ones in blood – are the ones that stick with you,” he added.

McGeever used NetSuite’s initial attempt to scale globally as an example, saying that the firm tried to adapt its business model to fit each region it planned to move to before realising the approach wasn’t sustainable.

“We tried to do different things in countries, but you have to take the core of what made you successful [in one place] and focus on that – not to try to create a new business model,” he said. 

As digital becomes a necessary part of business life, many firms are embarking on digital adoption projects. McGeever warned that one of the most common mistakes businesses make is becoming complacent when things are going well and assuming change is finished as opposed to an ongoing challenge.

“Growth is also continuous. You need different processes at different stages of your business,” he said.

The scaling challenge

It is becoming increasingly easy to start a business in the digital age, because gaps in technology skill or knowledge can be filled by adopting software as a service (SaaS) or other digital solutions that are becoming easier to use.

But scaling is a challenge that is only becoming more difficult, according to McGreever. “The reason we think [scaling] is hard is because growth means change and change is always hard,” he added.

He warned that, in some cases, scaling can mean departments can grow “bigger than your entire company was the year before”, which can often create barriers between departments and prevent them from communicating.

He said NetSuite made a point of taking people from various departments throughout the organisation and making it their job to work out how to break down silos and communicate across the business.

“Your customers don’t care how you’re organised internally. You need to be able to work together across everything,” he said.

When Oracle agreed to buy NetSuite in 2016, Oracle’s now CEO, Mark Hurd, said the businesses and its respective cloud applications would “coexist”.

According to McGeever, statistics from the 18-month period since Oracle bought Netsuite show that NetSuite has the highest employee retention, customer retention and revenue growth in years.

While McGeever joked of the acquisition, “I’m pretty sure we’re still in the honeymoon phase”, Hurd disagreed and stated that Oracle is “ecstatic” about how NetSuite has performed, adding that all Oracle did was help NetSuite to achieve some goals it could not have accomplished alone as a public company.

The future of AI for business use

Many in the technology industry believe that businesses could have the most to gain from artificial intelligence (AI) out of all of the currently emerging technologies.

Hurd said although many companies “say AI three times fast to get their stock price up”, the future of AI will be as part of integrated product rather than a standalone technology.

“You’ll see AI integrated discreetly into the apps and into the use cases” he added.

Some basic tasks are becoming increasingly automated, and Hurd believes AI will allow people within firms to identify patterns and correlations in data that humans couldn’t identify on their own and act on them.

Although some are reluctant to implement these technologies, Hurd said people will be on board once the benefits are made clear.

“If I ask our head of HR [human resources], ‘Would you like an AI application?’, I’m not sure what she’d say,” said Hurd, adding that AI could help the head of HR do her job better by identifying whether a graduate’s school, grade point average (GPA) or college major could make them a better candidate.

“All of these things can be done algorithmically through AI that we simply couldn’t do before, so she’s going to buy that every single day,” he said.

Read more about business transformation

  • Organisations that embark on digital transformation projects often run into difficulties. Following the seven principles of digital transformation will help them reap the benefits of digital technology.
  • HMRC’s digital transformation director Brigid McBride on Brexit opportunities, using AI and robotics to improve services, and growing the API ecosystem.

Read more on Managing IT and business issues

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