Extending a 35-year track record of pragmatic product innovation
Long-time partners Pronto Software and IBM show how deep collaboration can bring breakthrough technologies like AI to broader markets
Sea turtle swimming in the Great Barrier Reef

When it comes to unique species, Australia is pretty much the undisputed world leader. It’s also one of the most competitive places in the world—in both the business and natural domains—where the ability to adapt is essential to growth and success. Today, in the business landscape of Australia, ERP vendor Pronto Software stands as a similar example of successful evolution, one that breaks the mold on how to deliver consistent value to customers.

Over its 45-year history, Pronto Software has maintained a consistently strong, presence in the middle tier of Australia’s ERP marketplace by marching to its own drum. Its growth has been organic and self-funded; its customer relationships deep, long-lasting and personal; and its focus on the customer unwavering.

In his nearly two decades with Pronto Software, Managing Director and CEO Chad Gates has seen just about every facet of the company’s operations up close, from marketing and operations to product development. When asked about the root of the company’s success, he cites the factors mentioned above, along with a vibrant culture of innovation that has kept the entire Pronto Software product portfolio infused with the features and capabilities that matter most to its customers. At a deeper level, he points to a more fundamental and enduring quality: “What we’re really selling to our customers is trust,” says Gates. “Everything we do is geared toward delivering on that promise.”

For mid-market businesses, Gates explains, trust in an ERP vendor comes down to factors like strong support, kept promises related to performance and reliability, and, of course, the continuity of the relationship—“knowing that we’re going to be there for them down the road.” In Pronto Software’s world view, part and parcel of “being there” is making sure that mid-market customers get access to the potentially game-changing technologies, like AI and analytics, that are more common among large enterprises. In this respect, Pronto Software views itself as a kind of conduit of innovation to its customers.

And in Gates’s view, Pronto Software’s long-term partnership with IBM is one of the primary channels for delivering that innovation. “Our customers really understand that both Pronto Software and IBM are pushing the envelope in terms of incorporating new technologies for their benefit,” he says. “They recognize that we’re willing to take risks to innovate, and that we’re going to do right by them and provide them with a great solution they can trust.”

1,500 customers

 

Supports nearly 1,500 mid-market customers in Australia and New Zealand with Cognos-enabled ERP

45 years

 

Has been a technology sharing partner of IBM for nearly all of its 45 years of serving mid-market customers as an independent, self-funded and employee-owned ERP provider

Our customers really understand that both Pronto Software and IBM are pushing the envelope in terms of incorporating new technologies for their benefit. Chad Gates Managing Director and CEO Pronto Software
Breaking though with innovative ERP

Perhaps the best exemplar of this joint innovation in action was the introduction of the company’s core ERP package, Pronto Xi, with the reporting capabilities of IBM® Cognos® Analytics deeply integrated into it. In the view of Paul Goepfert, Pronto Software’s Chief Marketing Officer, the company’s release of the tightly coupled solution—a global first among ERP offerings—represented a true turning point for an underserved segment. “We essentially brought Cognos to the mid-market in Australia,” says Goepfert, “and just as importantly, we packaged it in a way that made it much more easily consumable by mid-market customers.”

Among most mid-market companies, Goepfert explains, the way to make a technology easier to adopt and use has a lot to do with how it’s presented. “Unlike the larger companies that are more typical of Cognos users, mid-market companies can’t really justify having a dedicated BI team,” he says. “The essence of our strategy is to intelligently embed Cognos reporting and analytics functionality that dovetails with—and can create the most value within—key ERP functions.”

In short, it’s about identifying the use cases that matter and channelling those insights into ongoing product development efforts. Gates, who headed the company’s R&D unit for five years, claims this perfectly encapsulates how Pronto Software and IBM continuously work together to bring fresh innovations to mid-market customers. “Our product development team regularly speak with IBM’s R&D teams about new functionality and what it means for our own product roadmaps,” he says. “Our collaboration also extends to testing, with Pronto Xi serving as a beta test platform for new features to complement the testing IBM does in its own labs.”

Today, Pronto Software and IBM are building on their collaborative relationship to work to bring AI and automation functionality to Pronto Software’s mid-market customers. Now in full swing, the joint effort is focused on defining use cases where AI can be used to streamline and automate core functions of the Pronto Xi ERP platform and prioritizing them based on their time to value. To support and encourage it, IBM provided the Pronto Software development team with a foundation of AI training, followed by a successful Hackathon to put that training into action and enhance the ideation process.

Following the Design Thinking processes associated with the IBM Garage™ methodology, the combined teams then built an implementation roadmap for the most promising AI use cases. This took into account everything from underlying data flows and integration points to necessary changes in the Prontoi Xi platform’s screen design and experience flow. Once completed, the team then set out to design proofs of concept and, from there, minimum viable products (MVPs). Underscoring both companies’ customer-first approach, Pronto Software’s product management team is bringing select Pronto Xi users into the loop to get their feedback.

We essentially brought Cognos to the mid-market in Australia, and just as importantly, we packaged it in a way that made it much more easily consumable by mid-market customers. Paul Goepfert Chief Marketing Officer Pronto Software
Democratizing AI for the mid-market

On the IBM side, Dr. Adam Makarucha, Lead Data Scientist for Client Engineering for the IBM Garage in Australia and New Zealand, is heading up the AI prototyping work. To give a flavor of how AI can complement Pronto Xi’s core ERP functionality, he pointed to one of the team’s earliest use cases: making maintenance service call scheduling—a truly common and everyday activity for Pronto Software’s mid-market base—more efficient and automated. “First, you have a large contractor force doing the service work that has very different skillsets, and you’re sending them to sites hours away. To optimize, you need to send the right people with the right skills who can do the job in the shortest amount of time. And the data used to make those decisions lives in the ERP system.”

Under the MVP now being developed, Dr. Makarucha says, AI-enabled scheduling optimization will be embedded into Pronto Xi’s core facilities management module in a seamless and intuitive way. “Right now, the typical scenario involves experienced experts making mental math decisions, essentially on the fly,” he explains. “Our aim is to make that bedrock function more efficient and automated, without adding the complexity that can be disruptive for customers.”

What customer-focused innovation looks like

To Gates, the hallmarks of Pronto Software’s nearly 40-year partnership with IBM—focuses on practical, accessible innovation that delivers value for customers—mirroring the company’s own “customer-first” ethos. “As the technology landscape evolves along with our customers’ business problems, we recognize how critical it is to stay relevant to addressing those problems,” says Gates. “Our relationship with IBM is an exciting place to be for us and for our customers, because we’re able to bring them along for the journey and deliver more and more benefits in the future.”

To Nick Flood, Managing Director and Vice President of Technology for IBM Australia, Pronto Software’s long track record of customer-centric innovation truly stands out from the crowd. “By investing boldly in R&D, Pronto Software is focusing on helping its customers gain insights into their own organizations, where the richest opportunities lie,” he explains. “We at IBM are proud to partner with a company that has so consistently led the way in delivering outstanding value to its customers.”

With nearly 1,500 customers across a wide range of industries using Cognos-enabled Pronto Xi, the collaborative innovation partnership with IBM has already helped bring benefits like faster and more accurate decision-making to a large share of Australia’s mid-market companies. By focusing on the incorporation of game-changing technologies like AI, automation and application containerization, Goepfert asserts, this unique collaborative, co-creative relationship will continue to enrich both companies’ innovation capabilities—with big benefits for customers. “Whenever we have a need of for any kind of technology innovation, the first stop for us is IBM,” he says. “And as with any trusted partner, we know that, just as important, IBM truly listens.”

Pronto Software logo
About Pronto Software

Pronto Software (link resides outside of ibm.com) is an Australian developer of award-winning ERP and analytics solutions, serving mid-market companies across multiple industries. The company, an IBM Business Partner, supports its innovation-driven strategy with a long record of significant R&D investment. In addition to Pronto Xi, the company’s core ERP solution, Pronto Software also has specialized business units focused on Digital Transformation; Cloud and Hosting services; and Business Intelligence.

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