PROACTIS: The Best-kept Secret in Indirect Spend Management? - Part 1

In this day and age of news flying fast over the Internet and tweets reaching every nook and cranny of the world, it still took physical attendance at an overseas event for me to learn about a lesser-known successful software vendor. Namely, during my attendance of UNIT4’s user event in the UK in early 2010, I encountered PROACTIS as UNIT4’s exhibiting partner for spend management and e-procurement solutions.

PROACTIS Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of PROACTIS Holdings Plc, was founded in 1996 under the name Get Real Systems Ltd. The company’s first product release was called the Dream  Suite and was launched in 1997. The next product’s generation was named PROACTIS 2 and launched in the late 1990s as a PowerBuilder-based client-server software suite. 


The company received its first venture capital (VC) investment in 2001 from Axiomlab Group Plc. In the same year, the PROACTIS 3 suite was launched, now called PROACTIS Purchase-to-Pay (P2P) and based on Visual Basic (VB) and Active Server Pages (ASP). Today, PROACTIS no longer has any legacy customers on PowerBuilder, as its current range of solutions are written in Microsoft .NET Framework.

Rod Jones joined as the CEO in April 2002. The very first business partner was appointed in mid 2002, and in 2003 the company changed its name to PROACTIS. In 2005, PROACTIS launched its Web portal-based software release. The latest purchasing solution and portal products (procurement solutions, which will be detailed later) are written in the latest .NET tools, and Microsoft SQL Server is the database platform.

After going public on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM)in 2006 under the “phd” symbol, the company acquired Requisoft in late 2006 and Alito in April 2007 to extend its P2P offering into the e-procurement, strategic sourcing, catalog management, and contract management space. These acquisitions have enabled PROACTIS to offer an integrated but modular spend management solution that caters to both purchasing and finance departments.

The company’s head office is in Wetherby, Leeds (England), but it also has offices in Bridge End (Wales) and (opened in 208) in Manchester, New Hampshire (US). In addition, PROACTIS has an extensive accredited partner network in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), the US, and Asia-Pacific (APAC) regions.

To be more precise, the accredited reseller and consulting partners can be found in the UK, the US, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Australia, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, and the Middle East. PROACTIS sells directly in the UK and the US, where it has about 65 employees, but there are also over 100 accredited PROACTIS consultants worldwide.

PROACTIS’ Solutions Portfolio

PROACTIS offers a modular suite of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) applications that offer integrated support for the Procure-to-pay process. As noted earlier, the solution caters to both the finance and procurement departments.

PROACTIS solutions for Finance (a.k.a. PROACTIS P2P) enable enterprises to streamline the P2P process, eliminate the labor-intensive manual registration of invoices, speed up invoice matching and approvals, and gain control of "after-the-event" purchase claims (that result in unnecessary employee expenses). In other words, these solutions(Expenses, Stores, Invoice Capture, and Invoice Matching) manage the purchasing cycle from the expression of need (requisition) through to authorized payments and streamline/automate the Accounts Payable (A/P) processes. They also ensure compliance to procurement efforts and automate requisition-to-payment processes.

For its part, PROACTS solutions for Procurement help companies to automate the entire buying cycle from improving the way companies find, evaluate, and engage suppliers to increasing "on-contract" spending and enabling more effective collaboration with their trading network. PROACTIS' range of e-procurement applications can reportedly be deployed in a month or less and typically deliver return on investment (ROI) in less than one fiscal period. The procurement-oriented modules are as follows:

  • Supplier Relationship Management (SRM) -- A structured platform for reducing the cost of interacting with, managing and monitoring supplier relationships. In other words, this module is for building and maintaining strong supplier bases including supplier risk management

  • Sourcing & Tenders -- A platform to handle many types of sourcing from requests for something (RFx) to large scale tenders. The offering includes event structuring such as knowing what information to show suppliers during a sourcing event and the type of logic to use for the event. PROACTIS’ technology incorporates industry best practices with related business rules, workflow, and templates to remove much of the need for consultancy support

  • Catalog Management -- An online content platform, with the ability to “punch-out” to third party websites and supplier catalogues, allowing suppliers to maintain up-to-date pricing and catalog information. In addition, the module classifies the physical goods and services the organization purchases

  • Contract Management -- A central repository for the post-award management of contracts to realize the full potential benefit from using contracts

Accommodating the Customer

PROACTIS’s suite of procure-to-pay solutions goes well beyond the basic purchasing capabilities of financial/accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) suites by adding flexible workflows. It also provides a means for accessing sources of content and providing functionality to manage uninterrupted lines of supply while ensuring compliance. This rich functionality has been designed to be sympathetic to both the business requirements and the IT capabilities of all types of user roles (such as buyers, employees, managers, and finance personnel) including personalized user interfaces (UI).

PROACTIS' software can be implemented on-premises or in a hosted model and offers flexible user-based perpetual and subscription-based licensing models. Perpetual (owned) licenses entail a capital purchase of software, with a support & maintenance charge per annum. Conversely, annual subscription (rental) involves an annual payment in advance for the use of the system, and there is no additional charge for support & maintenance.

Payments can also be transaction-based, and there is an increasing scope of professional services by PROACTIS, e.g. spend analysis, which will be delved into shortly. In contrast, many larger ERP and e-procurement vendors offer overwhelming choices but are unable to offer the flexibility required to effectively support different investment plans, including a mix of integrated suites and/or point solutions and on-premises, hosted, or transaction-based licensing.

PROACTIS’ content strategy is focused on providing support for and access to different content sources (regardless whether they are on-premises or in the cloud) in a consumable way. Examples could include accessing locally stored catalogs, contract repository, supplier portals, e-marketplaces, etc. This choice again offers flexibility to customers while driving compliance, as PROACTIS is not constrained by the content choices the enterprise takes or by the customer’s business processes.

It is also important to ensure end-user adoption by removing complexity of accessing different content sources with an intuitive and easy-to-use interface and workflows. End-user adoption is absolute critical in the deployment of P2P solutions.

Who Are PROACTIS’ Customers?

Over 350 enterprises with revenues between US$200 million and US$2 billion across 70 countries use PROACTIS software and services to streamline their P2P processes and obtain best value and control in procurement. In terms of unique users, two million licensed users take advantage of PROACTIS in their day-to-day operations across private, public, and not-for-profit (NFP) sectors.

Most customers use PROACTIS' flagship P2P product, but adoption of newer modules is beginning in earnest. Some exemplar customers and references are as follows:

  • Oldcastle Materials is an Atlanta-based federation of companies with 58 legal entities across the US. The implementation has enabled 10,000 PROACTIS users and integration to 2 ERP systems. There is a single PROACTIS instance across 58 legal entities in 50 US states and 4 Canadian provinces

  • CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) is the top global real estate company. PROACTIS was deployed in the UK, and rolled-out across Europe to 1,000 users. PROACTIS controls the US$260 million facilities spend budget for 2,000 properties and is integrated to 4 ERP systems

  • Europcar & National Car Rental is a US$1 billion service organization that initially deployed PROACTIS across 5 countries and integrated to Oracle Financials. About 3,000 PROACTIS users are working in a single instance deployment (centralized shared services)

  • APCOA Parking is a European parking management company with $850 million in revenue. About 850 PROACTIS users in 17 European countries are again in a single instance deployment

Although the lion’s share of the vendor’s customers are based in the UK, PROACTIS is seeing growth in international markets and through deployments to international divisions of UK-based global corporations. Other US-based customers include Control Components Inc. (CCI), Mercer (the parent company is Marsh & McLennan Companies [MMC]), Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART), and KBC Financials Products.

Public Sector Strength

If one looks at PROACTIS’ customers by sector, some other commercial sector companies would be Wolseley Plc, Swiss Life (in the Netherlands), HMV Group Plc, Corporation of Lloyd’s, Hoyer International, The Tote, and Virgin Active. Renowned customers in the NFP sector would be as follows: The Law Society, Amnesty International, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Peabody Trust, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), Sport England, and British Olympic Association.

Over 120 PROACTIS customers in the public sector have been managing £15 billion of taxpayers’ money. Over 90,000 government suppliers are already using PROACTIS systems and about 30,000 contracts are already under management. The vendor still sees a major cross-selling opportunity for its Buyer/Supplier Portal as part of the abovementioned Supplier Management module. Some marquee public sector customers are the following: The United Nations (UN), Scottish Borders Council, West Yorkshire Metro, Bristol City Council, and The University of Birmingham.

As mentioned earlier, Requisoft and Alito were acquired to fast track and extend PROACTIS’ solution footprint from purchase-to-pay into procurement (sourcing, contract management, supplier engagement, catalog management, etc.). In addition, the vendor obtained a number of clients primarily in public sector. In general, PROACTIS’ clients in this sector span across central (federal) government, local government, housing associations, education, UK National Health Services (NHS), and emergency services.

Notable Connectivity

Having been widely used in mid-to-large sized enterprises across private, public, and NFP sectors, PROACTIS is routinely integrated with existing heterogeneous ERP and financial systems. The vendor offers preconfigured connectors, methodologies, and a vast integration experience to connect with other systems. This includes support for different workflows for different divisions, charts of accounts (COA) maintenance, catalogues, and supplier master files.

As mentioned earlier, UNIT4’s CODA Financials and Agresso Business World (ABW) products have a number of joint customers with PROACTIS. Some of these customers include the Department for International Development (DFiD), Halcrow Group Ltd, Virgin Active, Hoyer, and the University of Birmingham.

In mid-2010, PROACTIS and UNIT4 have elevated their alliance to a strategic partnership agreement to provide the PROACTIS suite of enterprise level e-procurement solutions to UNIT4 customers and prospects. The new agreement was signed following a proven track record of collaboration.

Other Partners’ Helping Hands

Needless to say, PROACTIS works with a range of solution providers and strategic partners around the world to deliver its solutions to different markets and to drive successful customer projects. These include consulting places that integrate PROACTIS to ERP systems, such as Advantage Business Systems (to Microsoft Dynamics), LAKE Financial Systems (to Infor FMS SunSystems), and Touchstone Group (to Infor FMS SunSystems and Microsoft Dynamics).

The following IT consulting companies help PROACTIS reach different geographies: Computime (Greece, Turkey, Italy, Malta, and North African territories), AdvanceNet (integration to Infor SunSystems, SAP, and Microsoft Dynamics NAV in Africa), Business T&G (Spain and Portugal) and Eclipse Computing (integration to Microsoft Dynamics in Asia-Pacific). Moreover, Charteris has a focus on Microsoft Dynamics in the IT Services sector, ADERANT targets law firms, while InTechnology and Navisite provide the aforementioned hosting services for PROACTIS.

Part 2 of this series will analyze PROACTIS’ recent developments, current state of affairs, and competitive positioning. Until then, what are your views, comments, opinions, etc. about the current economic climate in your region/industry and about your approach to controlling indirect (non-payroll) spend via sourcing and contract management?

What are your best sourcing and procurement practices as well as experiences with particular e-procurement and spend management applications? If you are a PROACTIS user, I would appreciate you sharing your experiences with the product and the company.
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