The Kindly Creator

By focusing on user-friendly products and generous client support, Prophix Software and Paul Barber are empowering midmarket businesses

Much to the dismay of interested firms calling to join forces, Prophix Software, a leading developer of tools for budgeting, planning, financial reporting, and analysis, is focused on staying independent. Unlike most software companies today, Prophix has never raised money from outside institutions, and at the helm, CEO Paul Barber still takes pride in determining every direction the company takes. “We have the ability to constantly innovate and to be our own masters,” he says.

Prophix is supported instead by strong international partnerships with more than 2,000 customers from Brazil to Copenhagen to the company’s home base in Ontario. The company empowers enterprises such as LUSH Cosmetics, Myriad Genetics, and the Milwaukee Bucks to make savvy business decisions through the use of its value-driven services and products. “We’re not selling technology; we’re selling a solution,” Barber says. “We’re not a bunch of guys in a back room, furiously typing and programming. We spend a lot of time trying to understand the companies we work with.”

5 Questions
with Paul Barber

1. How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
In the software industry, innovation is often confused with technology. For us, technology is the enabler. We focus on selling solutions to people with problems.

2. What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
Innovation doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money. Real innovation begins with a creative business model. The way a company organizes around their plan determines success.

3. How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
 We don’t make assumptions about what companies want. We ask them. Instead of focusing on the latest technology, we try to understand the needs and wants of our customers. Finding a solution comes first, and technology comes second.

4. How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
We don’t have a final business model; as soon as we get organized in a way that makes sense, we need to change again.

5. How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
Innovation will come naturally if you allow your people to come up with ideas and create change. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Learn from your mistakes, and make decisions based on experience.

In 2000, this strong commitment to understanding client needs, coupled with more than 30 years of experience in the industry, helped Barber lead Prophix from being a mere software distributor to becoming a developer of world-class, corporate performance-management solutions, and since then the company has steadily improved its offerings and its capabilities to satisfy its clients even further.

While you might expect a software company to be driven solely by new technology, Prophix takes a more nuanced approach. “Technology doesn’t give any one company an advantage for long,” Barber says. “Most companies use the same technology. Innovation is more subtle.”

Prophix eliminates complex programming and configures its products to cost-effectively do what customers really need. The company’s employees keep an eye on cutting-edge technology, but they also work diligently to ensure that each of their clients has the support to use Prophix’s software to its maximum potential. The company is committed to what it calls “productization”—learning how clients use new products and then streamlining them to improve functionality. It’s precisely this commitment that has helped put the software in the hands of midmarket clients—rather than the multibillion-dollar companies that have historically employed similar tools.

As CEO, Barber is involved in the development of new products used by finance professionals, but he also oversees the operations of his sales, marketing, and senior management teams. To maintain an environment of creativity and customer-centred innovation, Barber stresses the importance of creating a space where people can share their ideas and flex their strengths. He often goes walking through the office, managing projects and ideas face-to-face and on the spot rather than scheduling formal meetings. But, he also makes sure there is a culture of accountability. “The biggest challenge of managing teams,” he says, “is having a structure but not being too formal. Nothing will get done if you have great ideas but no meeting minutes.”

The global software market shows no signs of slowing down, and neither does Prophix. In the years ahead, Barber plans to continue expanding the company while adding value to the customer experience and directing profits back into new product development. This year, Prophix is launching a new iPad app for its software, and the company’s 18 sales reps expect to acquire more than 250 new customers in North America alone.

“In this industry, lots of companies come and go, but we’ve been around a long time,” Barber says. “We have a wealth of knowledge and an in-depth understanding of the companies we work with.” That commitment to understanding companies’ needs and growth is exactly what keeps Prophix successful.  _a