By John Goode, Senior Director, Channel Marketing, Oracle NetSuite
As the costs of solar power-generating equipment have fallen and public awareness of the benefits of clean energy have grown in recent years, the demand for solar energy installations has soared. On an annual basis, the sector grew by 43% in 2020, during which time more than 19 gigawatts direct current (GWdc) of solar power was installed, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
With over a decade of experience at the intersection of solar, business process, and software, Blu Banyan CEO Jan Rippingale and her startup team saw a significant market opportunity to develop a solution optimized for solar installers of all sizes. As a NetSuite Solution Provider, the leading platform candidate for Blu Banyan was NetSuite, for all the reasons the company had itself committed to it – a single database supporting a robust, cloud-based ERP suite with accounting at the core, and mature development tools. Before undertaking the extensive development effort however, Blu Banyan considered competitive options, including Salesforce.com.
“Having everything connected makes a tremendous difference,” said Rippingale. “Because of its CRM market presence, we did evaluate Salesforce, but quickly realized we would have had to use the Salesforce CRM plus FinancialForce; it’s two different databases, with all the headaches that brings.”
Connecting the dots between those two databases would have been a “miserable experience” for a software developer, Rippingale said. By working with NetSuite, Blu Banyan was able to extend the ERP platform and especially its accounting and project management functionality to meet the specific needs of solar installers, such as when small tweaks in system size (i.e., a customer who orders additional wattage) directly impact an installer’s accounting processes.
“Decades of work went into building the NetSuite unified foundation and getting it right; we obviously couldn’t reinvent that,” said Rippingale. “We picked NetSuite for its strengths, and then spent our time focusing on our particular value-add and building out those solar installation capabilities.”
Blu Banyan’s award-winning solution, SolarSuccess, helps residential, commercial, and utility solar installers manage their businesses, and can significantly reduce their soft costs. These soft costs are the non-hardware costs associated with solar installations, which include permitting, financing and installation, as well as all the expenses solar companies incur to acquire new customers, pay suppliers, train staff and cover their bottom lines. Soft costs comprise as much as 65% of the total cost of a new solar system, according to the department of energy (DOE), and make up the largest component of any installation.
The Power of Partnership
As one of the first companies to use NetSuite’s SuiteScript 2.0 to create customizations, Blu Banyan received personalized support as it developed SolarSuccess. Leveraging contacts the company’s employees made at SuiteWorld and other events, Blu Banyan gained insights and information directly from NetSuite developers and product managers throughout its development.
“We repeated the process until the software got better and better,” said Rippingale.
Blu Banyan also benefited from NetSuite’s sales and marketing efforts, which included making calls, setting up scripts and advocating SolarSuccess’ advantages via NetSuite’s channel development reps (CDRs), which helps partners bring in prospects.
“Our fourth client on SolarSuccess was 100% from the CDR program,” Rippingale said.
A Solution with a Specific Focus
Offered as a SuiteApp, SolarSuccess provides enhanced sales pipeline management, CRM, accounting, purchasing, installation project management (including per project costing and profitability), inventory management, customer invoicing, universal financier connectivity, team collaboration and business intelligence.
SolarSuccess integrates directly with NetSuite to give solar installers an application that’s specifically optimized for their needs. Together they provide:
- A unified view of data across company operations
- Integrated accounting, project management, CRM/sales, and design-bid functions
- Real-time insight into project status, costs and profitability
- Real-time inventory availability, pricing and purchasing
- Project milestones trigger accounting events
- Synchronization of project bills of materials (BOM) on sales orders
- Project-specific document management with revisions
- Solar-specific custom key performance indicators (KPIs), dashboards and alerts
“When you’re aggregating a group of point applications—regardless of how good each of those programs is individually—you really need them to be able to talk to one another,” said Clive Smith, Blu Banyan’s chief business development officer. “The only way to make that happen is with an integrated or unified application suite on a single database.”
NetSuite-SolarSuccess in Action
Titan Solar Power, a rooftop solar contractor that handles all aspects of a solar module installation was one of the early beneficiaries of the NetSuite-Blu Banyan partnership. It has seen steady growth since it was founded in 2013. It installed 153.5 megawatts (MW) of capacity during its last fiscal year, making it the third -largest residential installer in the U.S. with about 1% market share of the total market. Yet its homegrown project management system couldn’t scale with its growth. In 2019, its management team realized that the company could no longer run on siloed, disparate technology systems.
“We had a project management system, a file storage system, an accounting system, and others,” said Aaron Casillas, Titan’s technology and infrastructure director. “Sharing data across these systems was difficult, and in most cases our only way to ‘patch the holes’ was by adding labor. We wanted to get everything on one system.”
After considering its options, Titan found what it was looking for in SolarSuccess. Working with Blu Banyan, Titan went live on NetSuite-SolarSuccess in February 2020. As part of the implementation, Blu Banyan also installed bluChat, its native NetSuite communication and team collaboration tool.
Titan works with a nationwide network of sales organizations, taking over installation once the deal is in place. It manages the design, negotiates with utility companies, secures the required permits and handles the loans, leases or other financing required to see the project through to completion. Titan’s new system simplified its commission payout process and reduced the amount of labor needed to manage these transactions. “With NetSuite, we’ve significantly decreased the amount of labor involved in paying out our partners,” said Casillas, “and made that process very consistent across the board.”
Since implementing NetSuite and SolarSuccess, Titan has reduced the amount of time it takes to complete project installations, added an “install portal” that homeowners can use to track the progress on their installations and gained better visibility over its operational data. The company has grown significantly since the implementation and is on track to expand even further in the coming years.
Moving the Needle
To NetSuite partners looking to build out their own micro-verticals, Rippingale said the product-market fit is vital.
“Take the time getting to know both the industry-wide and customer-specific needs,” she said.
Knowing the language and trajectory of your target industry is also important, said Rippingale, who leads a DOE/SunSpec Orange Button Working Group that focuses on data standardization across the solar industry, and establishing a distributed energy taxonomy for the software development community. One of the first practical outcomes of the Orange Button work is a crowd-sourced, public Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) Registry. Initiated by Blu Banyan in collaboration with the SunSpec Alliance, the Registry tackles one of the thorniest and most costly operational challenges facing solar installers — identifying which of the nation’s 36,177 AHJ’s has inspection and approval jurisdiction (including building, electrical and fire codes) over any new solar installation.
Lastly, Rippingale said knowing what “moves the needle” has helped Blu Banyan maximize its partnership with NetSuite while also carving out a competitive advantage in its target micro-vertical. Attentive discussions with early solar customers about the costs of multiple site visits due to bad weather, led to addition of a basic weather portlet to the project manager’s dashboard. .
“We put thousands of hours into developing SolarSuccess,” she said. “In four hours we built a portlet that wows and benefits our customers. It took a few years for us to get those needle-movers identified and dialed in, but the results stand for themselves.”
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