As if you don’t have enough hats to wear, now you find yourself in the position of evaluating, procuring, and implementing new software to either replace your outdated software or start up a new enterprise. Either way, here are some tips to consider for any solution you may choose.
Web-based vs. desktop
Software applications can be either web-based or desktop. Web-based software is software that is stored and run entirely on a remote internet server. Desktop software is stored and run on your own internal computer systems. Desktop software can also optionally be accessed via the internet. Arguments can be made for either platform and may ultimately boil down to just a personal preference. If you don’t want to worry about doing backups and maintaining a network file server, web-based systems can be a better solution. However, if you are worried about the performance and stability of your internet connection and data security, desktop applications would be the most preferable.
Adaptability, functionality, and flexibility
Remember, there is never one ‘right’ answer; it will always depend on your organization’s specific needs — make sure the software vendor understands that. You will want the software to adapt to your requirements and not have modules and functions that are not functionally related to your business model. For instance, if you are a repair station, there may be no need for the software to have a component maintenance module. Likewise, if you are a 135 fleet operator, you will probably not need an invoicing module for customers’ aircraft work orders. However, if you are a little of both and need to have a fully integrated application to handle component maintenance and different customer aircraft work orders, be sure the new software can handle it.
Also, it is a big plus if the software vendor can customize the system to give you the information and forms layout you want, and be able to change them if needed in the future. In short, be sure your software vendor is flexible enough to give you the exact configuration of modules and features to meet your organization’s specific needs.
Regarding useability, whether software is “user-friendly” or not is purely subjective. Always preview or obtain a trial version of the software to “test drive” the various entry screens and report options. Remember, you will have to use these screens and reports over and over throughout your workday, as well as show other users how to navigate through them.
For desktop applications: it is a little known secret that many software vendors will “target” price their software to the size of the organization. That is, they will find a way to charge more for larger companies than smaller companies for software with the same capabilities.
For instance, a software vendor charges by the number of users even though there is no difference in the program code itself. To their defense, sometimes the per-user charge is a result of the underlying database engine. Software that uses some popular database engines (such as MS-SQL or Oracle) is licensed and priced by the number of concurrent users.
Try to look for software that uses powerful multiuser databases such as Visual FoxPro or MYSQL. These databases are very fast and usually not priced by the user. Another cost consideration is ongoing support, training, and program updates. Some companies require it and you must keep paying or the software will shut off. Support should be optional — but in either case it is a very good idea to get at least one year support when purchasing a new system. This will give you a complete annual cycle to make sure all accounting and seasonal issues have been resolved. An ethical software vendor will re-evaluate your support habits and adjust its rates up or down, depending on your usage history.
For web-based applications: these products are almost always charged by the user and may require lengthy subscription contracts that go on forever. Again, make sure you aren’t paying for modules and features that you’ll never need. Also make sure the vendor is willing to customize screens and printed forms to meet your needs.
Most Windows-based software prints on 8.5- x 11-inch cut-sheet forms by default. If you’re using odd-sized forms on dot-matrix printers, that will probably have to go away or you may pay a hefty price to keep them going. Barcode labels will need to be either on the standard 8.5- x 11-inch default form size or, if the software will allow, formatted for roll labels that print on inexpensive label printers such as DymoLabel.
Make sure the various forms such as work orders and task cards have form revision management. The FAA and some companies require you to keep forms revision histories and print the revision numbers and dates on the forms themselves whenever they are printed. The software should have a utility for the user to maintain all of the current form revision numbers and dates.
Users and security
All good software will have restricted access to only approved users. Make sure the software has utilities to manage users easily. Some applications allow the users to set up sophisticated user profiles with many options to manage and configure. For most organizations it is easier and more effective for the director of maintenance (DOM) to manage the users and access levels for his/her staff. A well-designed software package will have basic user security built in, and the ability for the software vendor to make specific adjustments to user access as needed so the DOM can turn on/off specific program screens and features to certain users.
Security can also be configured by the network administrator to allow users to have access to the folder(s) and databases used by the software application. Having access restricted at the server level is always the first line of defense to keep unwanted users out.
This point is the most important, and surprisingly the mostly overlooked — not only by the DOM but the software vendor as well. If you have a good, dedicated (and expensive) network server administrator, he/she will make sure this is done correctly and reliably. For the rest of us it’s a good idea to personally oversee the running and rotating of the backups on a daily basis.
However, just running and rotating backups is not sufficient. Be sure you verify the backups that are being produced. Most backup software will have an option or utility to verify the backup. Learn this function or make sure someone you trust does it. If your system crashes and you have to go back to the backup, it better work!
It is wise to test the backup system periodically by creating a test file, running the backup, deleting the file, and trying to retrieve it from the backup media.
There is an ocean of software alternatives out there to choose from. Using these tips and identifying your own company needs will enable you to narrow down your choices and make the right decision.
Gerry Merar is president of Decision Software Systems at AviationPro Software.
The following pages include descriptions of software products available for the aviation maintenance industry with company contact information so you can find out more about what might fit your organization’s needs.
Avantext offers an AD Regulatory Compliance Tool with built-in reporting capabilities, searchability within the software, and ongoing customer training and support. For more information call (610) 862-1057 or visit www.avantex.com.
AV-BASE Systems’ WinAir is a structurally integrated maintenance and inventory control software. Fixed and rotary wing operators can upgrade between editions or select additional modules for increased functionality and request customization based on their requirements. For more information call (519) 691-0919 or visit www.avbasesystems.com.
Aviation Core Matrix LLC offers Aviation Skills Matrix with STAReport. It utilizes data that defines employee/technician capabilities to ensure regulatory compliance, mitigate risk, and increase efficiency. For more information call (765) 848-1700 or visit www.aviationskills.com.
AviIT Inc. offers eMan, an electronic document library and application management system. A server-based software solution, it enables any format of electronic documentation and any application to be stored in one client or AviIT hosted location. For more information call (866) 922-8448 or visit www.aviit.com.
Avtrak LLC empowers the Gulfstream CMP.net system, Gulfstream’s factory maintenance tracking service, and provides web-based, analyst-supported compliance tracking services for more than 170 different aircraft types (both fixed and rotary wing). For more information call (303) 745-5588 or visit www.avtrak.com.
C.A.L.M. maintenance software will handle any make/model aircraft. Integrated features available include maintenance, bulletin, and periodic inspection tracking, inventory control, purchasing, repair orders, work orders and job costing, budget forecasting, CAS (Continuous Aircraft Surveillance) and bar-coding. For more information call (888) 545-2256 or visit www.calm-systems.com.
CAMP’s web-based Maintenance Tracking System provides a maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer’s technical publications. The system features electronic logbooks and data archiving. For more information call (631) 588-3200 or visit www.campsystems.com.
Click Commerce provides enterprise software solutions for airlines, OEMs, and maintenance providers to manage aftermarket service networks and spare parts. Maintenance paying customers receive 24/7 support. For more information call (312) 482-9006 or visit www.clickcommerce.com.
Component Control’s Quantum Control includes MRO, aircraft services, hangar management and manufacturing capabilities, contact management, distribution and rotable management, accounting, e-commerce, and more. For more information call (619) 696-5449 or visit www.componentcontrol.com.
Conklin & de Decker’s MxManager is designed to help improve the productivity of the maintenance manager and the maintenance department by reducing the need for duplicate data entry and streamlined reports. For more information call (817) 277-6403 or visit www.conklindd.com.
Continuum Applied Technology’s CORRIDOR Aviation Service Software features modules including work order, inventory, rotable management, accounting integration, line sales and management, quoting, purchasing, regulatory compliance (aircraft records), and more. For more information call (512) 918-8900 or visit www.corridor.aero.
DatcoMedia has software for general aviation shops, GSE, and fleet needs, and to run commercial airlines’ maintenance needs. Software tracks all costs, parts, labor, and forecasting. For more information call (775) 787-9446 or visit www.datcomedia.com.
EmpowerMX’s Fleet Cycle Maintenance ERP suite of applications focuses on increasing labor productivity and reducing maintenance costs. It provides total visibility on the complete maintenance cycle — encompassing both internal and third-party MRO processes. For more information call (651) 788-8888 or visit www.empowermx.com.
Flightdocs Inc.’s Maintenance Tracking Information Center is a web-based maintenance tracking program with 24-hour analyst support. For more information call (631) 737-4060, Ext. 404, or visit www.flightdocs.com.
Horizon Business Concepts’ TotalFBOweb provides software hosting. TotalFBOweb is a subscription service, where one flat fee provides the hosting service, access to the software, and 24/7/365 software support. For more information call (800) 359-9804 or visit www.totalfboweb.com.
Infospectrum’s infoTRAK is a fully web-based FAA/GAAP-compliant enterprise software solution supporting maintenance and engineering and MRO organizations performing asset management/maintenance, component repair, and aerospace manufacturing. For more information call (818) 874-9226 or visit www.infotraksolutions.com.
Mxi Technologies offers Maintenix Software that allows maintenance professionals to focus on the skilled activities. It has online workflows and automation of routine tasks such as data entry and searching. For more information call (613) 747-4698 or visit www.mxi.com.
Omega’s Ames suite of airline maintenance planning tools enables maintenance organizations to create optimized, complete maintenance schedules to fit any business model. It works with maintenance and IT to tie all of the MRO systems together. For more information call (972) 775-3693 or visit www.omegaair.com.
Pentagon 2000SQL offers its ERP System, a fully integrated software system that covers all aspects and procedures of MRO operations including financials, heavy maintenance, component work orders, flight ops, aircraft records, engines and subcomponents, and advanced materials management. For more information call (800) 643-1806 or visit www.pentagon2000.com.
QAV Aviation Systems’ MX System provides capabilities for maintenance component and document tracking, reliability analysis, maintenance planning, flight log, maintenance control, maintenance program, workcards, check package control, purchasing and inventory control, and more. For more information call (818) 729-9599 or visit www.qavsys.com.
SkyBOOKS Inc. (a Textron company) offers SkyBOOKS which features Flt Ops, maintenance tracking, and document vault. Account Analyst support and manage system updates available. For more information call (904) 741-8700 or visit www.skybooks.com.
Tdata Inc. offers MTrax, its software for maintenance tracking and forecasting for an unlimited number of aircraft. It features the ability to create a variety of reports, 24/7 email support, and the inclusion of technical support and software upgrades for two years. For more information call (800) 783-2827 or visit www.tdata.com.
WinWare Inc.’s CribMaster Tool Tracking System (software, barcode, and RFID) offers FOD control and cost reduction for tools, MRO, and other indirect material. For more information call (770) 419-1399 or visit www.cribmaster.com.