For many, turning to cloud software to run their business applications is an economical, agile way to free up resources and potentially get a better handle on operations.

For Better Energy Systems Inc., it helped save the business while also bringing affordable, sustainable energy to people in rural Kenya.

It recently earned Better Energy Systems and its CEO Andy Howe the Individual Achievement-Turnaround Award as part of the 2013 ML100 Awards. The ML100 Awards are known as the most prestigious awards program honoring manufacturing companies that have transformed themselves through the use of information technology. Past ML100 honorees include 3M, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Eaton, Ford, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, L'Oreal USA, Motorola, Nalco, and Raytheon.

The Oakland, CA-based company manufactures Solio energy products, which range from handheld solar chargers for smartphones and tablets to water purifiers to home power systems for emerging markets. Yet, when Howe took over the company as CEO several years ago, he was immediately confronted with a cash shortfall and an urgent need to catch up with R&D, an area where Solio had fallen behind. Howe’s immediate reaction was to focus at once on innovation.

Howe turned to NetSuite’s cloud software to free staff from having to focus on managing servers and software. In turn, NetSuite runs the company’s order to cash, produce to pay, inventory management, eCommerce and other ERP processes, finding efficiencies over the old system. But NetSuite did more than just find efficiencies, it powered innovation.

Solio analyzed customer support cases in NetSuite and found that most support requests were about which tip or connector they needed to connect their Solio charger to a specific camera, phone or other device. Customers were confused and responding took away from Solio core growth and innovation activities

Engineers at the company designed a universal connector that works with both Apple and CTIA-standards based USB-powered devices, providing an all-in-one product that is easy to use. The new product ultimately lowered manufacturing and operating costs while bringing down costs to consumers, boosting customer satisfaction and improving margins.

NetSuite also allowed Solio to focus on another part of its business, bringing Solio products to rural Kenya. Solio has pioneered an innovative “solar as a service” social enterprise in Kenya that enables people to lease a solar appliance in a business model similar to how US consumers do with cable TV equipment. Through the program, Solio products are providing affordable and sustainable energy to households in rural areas with no access to an electrical grid, which may earn just $10 a week and spend half of that on single-use batteries and kerosene to power their home. Run as a business partnership between Solio and local entrepreneurs in Kenya, the program pursues the goal of bringing clean, renewable energy to populations at the base of the economic pyramid.

It’s an example of a NetSuite customer using the solution in innovative and creative ways and it’s a case of a company using cloud software to do more than save on IT costs, it’s transforming the business and maybe, in a small way, the world.