Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Terry Leister, Pronto Software’s vice president of North American operations, for a discussion about the Australian vendor’s philosophy and goals.
The origins of Pronto Software trace back to 1976, when its precursor Prometheus Software was founded. In 1999, Sausage Software acquired Prometheus Software, and in 2001, when the dotcom bubble burst, the management of Pronto organized a community buyout of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) division, resulting in the Pronto Software we see today.
Pronto’s flagship ERP product, PRONTO-Xi, first saw the light of day in 1989 as PRONTO EMS. “We were writing custom software over and over again,” says Terry, “so we decided to build the framework that’s still in place today.”
“Since then, Pronto’s ERP application gradually evolved to a fully integrated enterprise management software solution, providing a full range of modules for accounting, distribution, manufacturing, service, contracting, and other industry applications.”
Renamed PRONTO-Xi in 2002, it is currently positioned as a solution that is designed to help companies maintain visibility over the extended enterprise and manage the entire supply chain. It includes business functionality that covers accounting, sales orders and purchase orders, customer relationship management (CRM), warehouse management, electronic data interchange (EDI), retail point-of-sale (POS), facilities management, manufacturing resource planning (MRP), and supply chain management (SCM), along with a business intelligence (BI) analytics tool.
How PRONTO-Xi Measures Up to Competitors
From TEC’s recent Product Certification Report for Pronto-Xi v. 670:
Lawson, Microsoft, Infor, and Epicor are some of Pronto’s main competitors; however, in some situations, Pronto’s software is also capable of competing with tier-one vendors [e.g., Oracle and SAP]. Financials, discrete manufacturing, inventory management, purchasing, sales, quality management, and POS modules are all closely rated in comparison to the highest-rated competitors in the ERP space.
According to Terry, PRONTO -Xi’s “sweet spot” consists of organizations with a minimum $100,000 (USD) to invest in their enterprise system, and with more than 10 users.
When I ask Terry where Pronto diverges from its competitors, he’s succinct and candid: “Honestly, it’s got nothing to do with the software,” he says. “Once you’re down to the top two or three solutions on your shortlist, there’s not much that differentiates them from a functional point of view… they’ll all do the job. Our differentiation is about the engagement model we have with our customers: a cooperative, consultative attitude that does not impose technology on a company that will not deliver real business benefits.”
“We’ve also been very diligent in not getting diverted from our core business,” he adds. “The challenge for any ERP developer is to stay current without disenfranchising your current customer base.”
In recent years, Pronto has started to break out of the Australasian sector, and is now chasing aggressively after fast-growing businesses in the international market, particularly in North America.
Indeed, a recent Pronto press release indicates that the vendor is taking concrete measures to accomplish this goal:
Pronto Software recently ramped up its North American operations with the signing of several new value-added resellers in the US and Canada. The move was a key initiative in the company's international growth strategy and its latest agreement with Avalara [a US provider of Web-based sales tax automation solutions] further expands its North American offering, leveraging the Avalara technology through its new solutions, PRONTO-Xi Tax Sales and PRONTO-Xi Managed Returns.
The Customer Point of View
TEC analyst Aleksey Osintsev, in his PRONTO-Xi Product Certification Report, notes that the solution scales extremely well, and is being used by customers with over 3,000 users. For PRONTO-Xi customer Home Run Inn, this scalability generates tangible benefits, notably in the reduction of IT support hours and (as a result) maintenance costs.
More specifics on Home Run Inn’s experience with PRONTO-Xi:
Geography: Chicago, Illinois (US)
Business category: Manufacturing and distribution (frozen pizzas)
Size: 175 employees across two manufacturing plants and one distribution facility
Benefits (cited by the customer):
• fully-integrated solution
• inherent scalability to support business growth
• real-time data generation, with improved accuracy and efficiency
• lower IT maintenance costs
• ability to customize system to meet specific business requirements
Another make-or-break component of Pronto’s future growth strategy is its ability to provide businesses with internationally scoped functionality.
Along these lines, PRONTO-Xi customer Bollé cites the solution’s sophisticated import management and
landed-cost-based pricing capabilities as a means of providing its senior management team with “access to real-time information on all aspects of the business, from source to settlement.”
More on Bollé:
Geography: Australia and New Zealand
Business category: Distribution (sunglasses, protective eyewear, and clothing)
Size: 50 employees in Australia and New Zealand
Benefits (cited by the customer):
• Increased visibility across extended supply chain
• Improved ability to meet trading partner expectation
• Reduced administrative effort and training requirements
• Reduced data duplication
• Transaction cost reduction
Challenges and the Road Ahead
Pronto says it invests over 20 percent of its revenues into research and development (R&D), focusing on “the design, development, and maintenance of the PRONTO-Xi application portfolio, as well as the infrastructure which supports its deployment, including the Rapid Application Development (RAD) language, the foundation layer, the thin client, and associated tools and utilities.”
Innovations aside, the transition from “local” Aussie business to full-fledged international competitiveness also has much to do with the challenges facing Pronto in the years ahead.
Although the vendor now has VAR partnerships in Canada and the US (as well as in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, and Mauritius), Terry makes the point that an Australian software developer must continually fight the impression that “world-class software comes only from the US [slight pause]… or Germany.”
To that end, Pronto is planning a major new release of PRONTO-Xi in 2011, which according to Terry will incorporate a “range of new technologies that will increase Pronto’s presence via the addition of international features.”
High-level Overview of PRONTO-Xi Functionality
TEC analyst Aleksey Osintsev drew attention to a number of PRONTO-Xi innovations and differentiators in the context of his Certification Report:
• New features: Alert intelligence and task intelligence features allow for quick response to events and transactions.
• Security: The multilevel authorization control mechanism allows various authorization settings according to user, group, or department.
• Scalability: The solution has excellent scalability, and is used by customers with users numbering from 5 to over 3,000. It offers the ability to set up multiple domains and sites for different client groups or legal entities.
The radar graph below provides a high-level overview of functionality for PRONTO-Xi, and demonstrates the degree to which each area of PRONTO-Xi contributes to the overall solution. This graph is based on TEC's model of discrete ERP solutions. Particular strengths lie in the Inventory Management, Purchasing Management, and Quality Management modules, along with Manufacturing Management.
2 Human Resources
3 Manufacturing Management
4 Inventory Management
5 Purchasing Management
6 Quality Management
7 Sales Management
8 Product Technology