The previous software, from Mac software developer MYOB, could not consolidate financial results from each of the company's four business units, which maintained separate finance databases. Creating an earnings statement that included the results from the aircraft overhaul division, the department that designs aircraft replacement parts, Able's real estate holdings arm, and the unit that manages an employee management software offering, proved time-consuming.
"If I wanted to do anything, it was export it out to Excel, and that would take hours and hours," said Leach. "And if something changed, or it was wrong, then the decision became, Do I want to fix the Excel spreadsheet or live with the difference? That's not quite right."
And Able is a company whose mainline of business, expensive and logistically challenging aircraft overhauls, depends on data being right and easily accessible.
Able's customers, which include Delta Airlines, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and military aircraft and helicopter operators, turn to the company for affordable overhauls. According to Leach, the company holds a 70 percent share in the market for refurbishing the carriages that move the wing flaps on a jumbo Boeing 747, for example. Able looks to make the process more affordable by selling overhauled carriages for $10,000 to $15,000, versus $150,000 to $250,000 for new components.
Data also plays a key role in managing the global shipments that help stock Able's supply chain. For most overhauls Able ships a refurbished or replacement part when the aircraft is about to undergo scheduled maintenance. In some cases, the customer then may ship Able the used part, which is refurbished and sold to another airline.
The timing of the parts' departure and arrival is critical, since component overhauls can take an average of 20 to 30 days. Supply chain wrinkles certainly can impact a customer's bottom line in a significant way. A parked plane is "not earning revenue," noted Leach, so airlines work hard to minimize jet downtime.
After taking over the finance chief position a year-and-a-half ago, Leach determined that "anything would have been better" than Able's accounting software, and began researching replacement applications. Whatever options were presented, Leach wanted to eliminate the barriers preventing employees from accessing and sharing finance data.
Allowing them immediate access offered "a real time savings that just doesn't get captured," Leach said, since employees don't have to ask someone for the data and then wait for them to produce a report.
He also realized that this goal of open data meant a "very intimate" finance and IT relationship, because linking the accounting software to other systems depended on IT's ability to the maintain system. To him, this connection underscored the importance for IT of being actively involved in the project.