How a CFO and an IT chief cooperate to add value at Able Engineering

Finance chief Gregg Leach and tech manager Ken Hughes work closely on software, cost-control, giving aircraft overhaul firm an edge

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Leach wasn't alone in wanting to replace the finance management system. The IT department understood the challenges their finance coworkers faced using technology "we out grew it a long time ago," said IT manager Hughes. "These guys had to do back flips to close the books every month. It was truly painfully."

In fact, accounting's bookkeeping dilemma had spilled over to IT. Staffers there were going beyond their standard duties and developing custom software to help finance generate earnings reports, an area Hughes wanted to exit.

"We shouldn't be in the accounting software development business," said Hughes. "That's definitely not our expertise."

Having IT and finance -- "both big levers in any business" -- operate in tandem on the project "pretty much accelerated our process," said Hughes. That process started in January 2010 when the project was discussed and picked up speed that fall when finalists were named. Intacct was selected in December, and Able began using its new software in April 2011.

Leach and Hughes agreed on several requirements for the new application. Like his CFO, Hughes wanted to give staff greater data access. To him, this meant faster decision making instead of "waiting until the end of the month" to review financial results and then take action.

Equally important was a product that offered an API (application programming interface) that would allow IT to link the software to other systems, like Able's homegrown, Java-based ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. Given Able's specialized work, its IT department receives requests daily to change the system, said Hughes. Producing the paperwork that accompanies a new airframe or foreign military aircraft means that Able needs its ERP system to reflect these situations as quickly as possible. These modifications need to occur immediately, and IT can't wait for a vendor or consultant to make the changes, Hughes explained.

Apple products run most of Able, so the two men wanted a Mac friendly system that did not require "Internet Explorer or that we had a PC server," according to Leach.

When it came to cost, Hughes wasn't keen on purchasing a product that required hiring staff to handle backups and software upgrades. This further lead him to consider a cloud option with a service provider handling the back-end functions. A large price tag didn't scare Leach, who was willing to pay million of dollars more for the right product.

"This kind of money really doesn't mean an awful lot to be honest," he said. "I take that all in context."

This collaboration between IT and finance was hardly limited to the software rollout. And indeed, as Able expands its operations, finance will continue to look to IT to help reduce work costs, for example.

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