Clean-Mark goes with NetSuite

The Clean-Mark Group Inc. is but one example of a Canadian organization embracing the software-as-a-service model. The mid-market, Toronto-based corporate housekeeping services provider uses NetSuite Inc.’s Web-based business application suite for its front- and back-office processes.

San Mateo, Calif.-based NetSuite (originally founded and backed by Oracle Corp. head Larry Ellison) unveiled recently its Canadian operations in Mississauga, Ont. to launch its Web-based product offerings, including NetSuite, NetSuite Small Business, NetCRM, NetERP, and NetCommerce. Steve Frappier, formerly of Oracle Corp., was appointed director of sales for NetSuite’s Canadian operations.

According to Zach Nelson, NetSuite’s CEO, NetSuite 10.0 is localized for the Canadian market, from language conversion to accounting requirements for GST and PST. The latest release also includes support for up-selling (via sales information based on a customer’s expressed interests or past purchases) and Web site visitor analytics.

According to Clean-Mark Group CEO John Vavitsas, the firm was using QuickBooks to run its billing and accounting processes and was in the market for a CRM solution for its sales team. The company looked at traditional software offerings, particularly Microsoft Corp.’s CRM product. But the application service provider (ASP) model “gave us a front office and back office for a flat rate every month,” Vavitsas said. The NetSuite offering enabled the company to build a hosted CRM solution and tie it into the back-office billing system, he said.

But even as the ASP software model appears to be enjoying a resurgence of sorts, it is arguably still primarily suited to smaller firms, particularly companies that would balk at the cost of ERP software from top-tier vendors.

According to Brenda Cotton, CEO for Edmonton-based Cotton Systems Ltd., moving from the traditional software model (in-house IT support and graphic designer) to a virtual model where most of the support services are outsourced has afforded her company a certain measure of flexibility. Cotton Systems provides training systems for the financial services industry. With a corporate office finance department in Edmonton, a service centre in Lake Country B.C., a logistics provider in Salt Lake City, Utah. and Canadian and U.S. customers, Cotton Systems needed the flexibility to be able to access information.

The firm was using GoldMine and Great Plains Dynamic software for business and customer management, but it was costing a lot to keep on adding modules and additional staff to access the duplicate information. Cotton said the virtual model means using VoIP phones along with the Netsuite offering. Staff can access the system “from anywhere the VoIP system can plug in to high-speed Internet,” Cotton said.

Backups can be done in real-time and it does away with having someone on staff to handle IT issues. The system eliminates a lot of duplication errors since customers are doing the data entry themselves, Cotton said, while still allowing the firm to maintain control of information. Nelson said when large enterprises look to grow with new ERP technology, the ASP model spares them the upfront IT costs.

Pricing for NetSuite starts at $499 per month and $120 for each additional month. NetSuite Small Business starts at $120 per month and $60 for each additional user.

Currently 15 Clean-Mark employees use the system, Vavitsas said. He pointed out that Clean-Mark is particularly impressed by the NetSuite pricing strategy: customers pay a flat fee that increases when more users are added. Clean-Mark looked at traditional software offerings but it was a significant IT investment with servers, Vavitsas said. Clean-Mark also looked at other hosted ERP offerings from Siebel Systems Inc. and Inc.

“(With we didn’t feel we could tie in the back office with the CRM solution…there was ‘bridge’ software that would dump the data from Quickbooks to but we didn’t feel comfortable with that.” The key benefit of the ASP model is in increasing efficiency, boosting data accuracy and streamlining internal administration.

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