Oswald Regular
OpenSans Regular
This Old House
A multinational transportation company leaves behind an inefficient, expensive-to-maintain billing and invoicing system.

You know how perfectly nice, capable families can end up in a rickety old house where everything is patched up and patched together? The pattern is common: they buy a problematic house hoping to overcome its limitations by investing their time and money. Eventually things snowball, the problems become overwhelming, the house no longer works for them, and they need to move. But having invested so heavily in their present home, they have limited funds for the next one, and so they end up with another fixer-upper with a different set of problems. This cycle repeats, except each time the expense and effort of dealing with the inadequacies increases, making the next jump that much more difficult.

And it’s not just the money. People grow accustomed to the routines associated with upkeep, and they become attached to the things they have worked on so hard for so long. They may not even be able to imagine that something better exists; and so instead of looking for alternatives, they keep right on patching.

Well, the same thing happens – and all too often – with IT systems. The only difference is that entire companies are involved and so the costs are that much bigger. But when, from time to time, new people join the team, having a fresh new perspective in the mix can open people’s eyes to what they have been doing. Such was the situation at a very large multinational transportation company: their outdated billing and invoicing system – the gateway through which all revenue comes into the company – was no longer working effectively for them.


This customer had originally built its own billing system. But after experiencing high growth rates for many years, the company finally farmed it out to a well-known systems integrator who reworked it multiple times, costing the company many tens of millions of dollars. While some aspects of the system were improved, ultimately the changes made it harder for the company to manage and extend. So they spent most of their time going in circles, fixing the same kinds of problems over and over again.

Over time, the weight of maintaining the system became overwhelming. With millions of items needing to be processed nightly, the system simply could not keep up. This directly impacted revenue and was highly visible. The cost of maintaining the system was also significant – 100 full-time people were required to deal with the application problems that cropped up each day! Nevertheless, this company kept patching up the system for years because it could not imagine doing something different, or that something different could be better. And the staff that worked on the system didn’t want to contemplate a world that did not require them.


Until a new senior manager showed up. This manager knew from experience what could be accomplished with Ab Initio and wanted to rebuild the system from scratch. He knew there was something different, something better out there. But resistance was fierce. All kinds of excuses and arguments were made: “But how do we know it will work properly?”, “But the software is too expensive”, “But we’ll have to retrain everyone”, “We can’t afford any mistakes”, “We can’t throw away our investment in the current system, it took so long to build”, “How do we know Ab Initio will help us?”, “But we don’t have anyone who knows Ab Initio”.... The manager, having been through it before, forged ahead anyway.

Six months. Four developers. Two Ab Initio consultants. That’s all it took. The entire application was replicated, tested, and put into production. The new version was verified to generate exactly the same results as the old system, minus the bugs. Because of Ab Initio’s built-in scalability, all the invoices were now being processed each night, which had a noticeable positive effect on cash flow. And equally important, the cost of the software was less than what the customer was already spending on licenses for a well-known processing utility, a utility that was rendered obsolete by the Ab Initio software. And instead of requiring a staff of 100 to maintain the system on an ongoing basis, the robustness and ease-of-use of the software means that only 15 are needed. The others were freed up to do other tasks of far greater value to the business.

It can be hard to get people to vacate their rickety old houses. But when they move into something better, they will never want to go back.