by Wayne Slossberg
I recently spoke with James Prudente, Controller and Director of IT for Masterpiece International Ltd. Masterpiece International Ltd. was founded in August 1989 by David Epstein and David Cohen as a U.S. customs broker, international freight forwarder and logistics provider specializing in the movement of works of art and antiquities. Over the years, Masterpiece International has expanded its operations and diversified its service offerings. The firm’s mission is, and always has been, to provide clients with the best possible service to move their goods at a fair cost.
Masterpiece International Ltd. relies on QuestaWeb’s customs brokerage, freight forwarding and import and export technology to power its operations.
Wayne: In your own words, James, please tell me about Masterpiece International Ltd.
James: Masterpiece International is a U.S. customs broker and freight forwarder, similar in that respect to most freight forwarders in the United States. But unlike most other brokers, Masterpiece provides a lot of special services. The most well-known, which brings us back to the original inception of Masterpiece, is that the firm is the largest freight forwarder and customs broker representing the fine arts industry in the United States. Our customers include major museums, public institutions, auctions, art galleries and other fine-art-related commerce. We also specialize in other fields, including but not limited to, such commodities as sailboats and sailing equipment, orchestras, television and film production equipment, shipments for large oil importers, food, textiles and much, much more.
Masterpiece International was a true logistics provider long before the word logistics became an industry buzzword.
Wayne: In terms of the services that you provide, what challenges were you experiencing that made Masterpiece International seek a new technology?
James: That’s an interesting story. Back in January 2015, the provider of the software we were using told us that they were building a new platform and it would be Oracle-based. They also told us the end-of-life of the current software would be January 2016, which as you can understand was a major concern. Our other concern was that our current platform was developed to operate software that was Windows-based. As the director of IT, the first thing I did was to look at that provider’s “new” product, which included software made to operate on Oracle. When I did, I found that the Oracle version would require a tremendous outlay in both hardware and licensing agreements. At the time I looked at the software, it only encompassed customs broker functionality. Masterpiece International also had export and accounting departments that relied on the old software; this functionality would not be available in the “new” version. These issues, along with ACE coming down the pike, made us recognize that we had to look elsewhere.
Here is the interesting part. The software we had been using before we moved over to QuestaWeb was Questa, the software product developed by the predecessor company founded by Leon Turetsky and Felix Pekar back in the 1980s.
Wayne: What a small world!
James: Felix and Leon had the foresight – and were way ahead of their time – to build a Windows-based product. Back then, many of the customs broker and freight forwarder software products were running on IBM AS400 and other platforms. Later, after they sold the company, I discovered that they had created web-native technology, again demonstrating unusual vision.
Wayne: What particular QuestaWeb modules did you purchase?
James: We purchased most of the products offered – the customs broker, import/export, freight forwarding, Import Security Filing (ISF), accounting, rating and quotes, track and trace, etc. We acquired the all-inclusive package.
Wayne: How did the implementation go?
James: Very well. This was because we assembled a good implementation team with key people from the various sections involved: VP of Operations, IT Manager, Accounting Manager and Compliance Manager. Together with QuestaWeb, we planned how to lay it out. We held training sessions, we kept people notified of what we were doing and implemented a cross-over strategy during the transition because you don’t just stop one product one day and then start the new one the next. I cannot say enough good things about QuestaWeb’s Chris Springer. He was great. If we were up until midnight doing something, he was with us until midnight doing it with us. It wasn’t like at 5:00 p.m. he went home. He was very helpful, knowledgeable and patient. We went live on schedule on August 31, 2015.
Wayne: How has it been working for you?
James: It is working fine. QuestaWeb’s team has been on top of the transition to the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). I have felt so comfortable being with the QuestaWeb group during this time. Like I said, QuestaWeb has been excellent in keeping up with ACE and getting all the changes implemented.
Wayne: Beyond helping you comply with ACE, what other benefits have you noticed?
James: Because QuestaWeb’s technology employs a web-based platform, it offers benefits in how data are stored and transmitted. And, the system is flexible, allowing us to operate off of a single database. The fine arts industry has a lot of specialized requirements that a “typical” broker wouldn’t have. The QuestaWeb software allows us to easily communicate with our own internal software. We have much more integration now, than we had in the past.
Wayne: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
James: It’s so interesting that QuestaWeb has the same two principals – Felix and Leon – dating back to its Questa days in the 1980s. Their vision and expertise, combined with industry longevity, say a lot about QuestaWeb and the technology it offers.