Automation & transparency help airport mitigate financial turbulence

Airport worker with airplane

The Erie Regional Airport Authority is a municipal organization that operates Erie International Airport, which offers nonstop flights to three major cities and connections to over 1,100 different destinations. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with the airport’s CFO, James Pacansky. In just three short years, he’s helped the organization modernize financial operations, increase transparency across departments and income streams, and traverse the disruptive industry impacts of a global pandemic.

In a new customer story, Pacansky shared how moving to Sage Intacct helped his team achieve the following results:

  • Gained visibility to monitor and quickly react to industry disruption during pandemic
  • Sped monthly financial close and quarterly board reporting by more than 93%
  • Increased overall finance team efficiency and productivity
  • Saved $80,000 in annual salary costs following attrition

These are important accomplishments for an organization that oversees highly complex operations — from multi-million dollar infrastructure improvements funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and state grants, to lease agreements with airlines and car rental companies.

The need for greater automation, financial controls, and visibility

Prior to hiring Pacansky, Erie Airport relied on Intuit QuickBooks. However, the organization’s auditors were concerned that the software made it too easy for users to manipulate past data. Furthermore, managerial and financial reports involved a lot of hard-keying data into spreadsheets each month. This was tedious for Pacansky and made it difficult to get financial statements out in time for board meetings.

With the help of BKD Technologies, the finance team evaluated Sage Intacct and Microsoft Dynamics GP as possible replacements. “Being the CFO, I have my hands on the financials, but it was important to me that everybody else in the team have a say, because they were also going to be using our new financial system,” said Pacansky. “As long as we could get the reports and capabilities out of it that we needed, I wanted to deploy the software they thought was easier to use. When we did the demos of both systems, there were six of us in the meeting and our final vote was six yeses for Sage Intacct.”

As the airport’s implementation partner, BKD Technologies got the team up and running on Sage Intacct smoothly. “BKD did a remarkable job,” remembers Pacansky. “They sat down with everybody who was going to use the system to get an understanding of how they work and make sure that we could get what we needed out of it.” He added, “I also took my laptop to the Sage Intacct Advantage user conference and learned how to build financial reports right there, while actually using our real financial data. I was sending them off to my executive director in real-time and we were both just blown away with how incredible it was.”

A flexible financial system powers organizational agility

Following the implementation, the airport sped up its monthly close by 93% — from 3 days to just 1.5 hours — by eliminating the need for spreadsheet-based reporting. “Thanks to Sage Intacct, our financial close now basically consists of me getting an email from accounts payable saying, ‘I’ve received everything for the previous month. We’re good to go.’ Once I get that email, I can have our financial statements prepared literally an hour and a half later,” commented Pacansky.

The modern financial management solution also allows the team to easily upload and attach invoices and other documentation, greatly reducing their paper footprint. Now, when auditors ask for certain items, Pacansky can pull them from Sage Intacct himself in a matter of seconds. He also noted that the system’s robust financial controls and role-based permissions make it easy to segregate duties for people who need to access the operating side of the airport as opposed to the capital side.

Sage Intacct’s automation and sophistication also proved helpful as Erie Airport ramped from a couple of capital projects at a time, to managing 8-10 large, ongoing infrastructure projects. These are funded by the U.S. government’s CARES Act to help the travel industry weather the storm of COVID-19 and prepare for a post-pandemic surge in travel. By going from a rigid chart of accounts in QuickBooks to Sage Intacct’s flexible Dimensions, the organization gained the ability to efficiently report on these grant-funded capital projects.

“Before, we would have to create a new account for each project and reports never came out of the software exactly how we wanted them to, so there was a lot of spreadsheet manipulation,” shared Pacansky. “With Sage Intacct, we have a project dimension set up so I can very easily pull reports on our construction. For example, I can see how much we’ve been billed versus what the project’s estimate is and find out if a particular project is going to be over or under budget based on its percentage of completion.”

Transparency improves decision-making and inspires confidence

The finance team now uses individualized Sage Intacct dashboards that show each person exactly the data they need, whether that’s accounts payables, accounts receivables, capital project expenses, or the big picture view of the income statement and balance sheet. Pacansky also produces quarterly department-specific budget reports so that leaders can see if their area is running high during one quarter and reduce spending for future periods if needed.

With Sage Intacct’s role-based dashboards, like this Controller dashboard, Erie International Airport was able to provide personalized dashboards unique for its staff’s needs based on their position in the organization.

This deep insight into the organization’s performance helped increase the confidence of its board of directors. Pacansky noted, “As a public entity, transparency is a big thing here, and our books are open — that’s just how I operate in general. Our board has asked for special reports that I was actually able to pull right during a board meeting, and they were impressed. They’re all very satisfied that we finally crossed that bridge and got the airport onto more sophisticated financial software.”

Sage Intacct also helps improve the organization’s relationships with another major stakeholder: the airlines. “The efficiency and visibility I have with Sage Intacct gives me more time to stay plugged in to broader trends in the airline industry so I can help management make better decisions about how to better serve and attract airlines,” said Pacansky. “Right now, we’re closely watching which airports are picking up faster than others and looking for correlations, such as snow or sun locations that are meeting pent up demand for leisure travel, or possibly special incentives airports are offering to the airlines.”

Along these lines, the team also uses Sage Intacct’s statistical journal entries to help monitor its cost per enplaned passenger metric, which skyrocketed last year as passenger numbers plummeted while rental costs remained fixed. The airport is closely watching to see if that number normalizes in the fall and to determine what adjustments they might make on their end as passenger counts continue to fluctuate.

For more about how the Erie Regional Airport Authority transformed its financial processes and gained newfound visibility to help the organization adapt during COVID-19, check out our latest customer story.