Business Intelligence - The Human Factor

I have always traveled a lot by plane and probably have enough flying stories to fill several books. I often use airlines as a great example of the application of Business Intelligence.

When fuel prices went through the roof and more than doubled in the US a few years ago, many airlines had to make strategic changes to reduce costs while minimizing the effects on their business. By analyzing multiple years of data, some airlines were able to use Business Intelligence to see which aircraft were the most expensive to maintain, which used the most fuel , which routes were the least profitable in order to make informed decisions about making those changes.

Then, of course, there is flight scheduling itself. In an ideal world everything would run on time (I hear in Japan it does!) but that is not the case with thousands of flights every day and so many uncontrollable variables. Business Intelligence can help with both the analysis and the options for corrective actions.

Another great example is the boarding process where several airlines have performed extensive research using Business Intelligence to find the most efficient way for passengers to board a plane in the least amount of time. This has resulted in a system of using boarding zones and seating people in window seats and in certain rows to both avoid congestion in the aisles and speed up the boarding process.

Today, my flight from Phoenix to Dallas was delayed due to a problem with the plane resulting in the airline having to fly in a substitute plane from another city. When it was finally time to board, the supervisor decided to abandon the best practice method of zones for boarding and invent her own method that she determined to be more efficient. While the plane was still being cleaned, she boarded first class then she boarded all passengers that had checked in their carry-ons. Next she boarded all passengers that had carry-ons that would not use the overhead bins. This resulted in haphazardly boarding more than half the plane. When she went to board the other half of the passengers now following the zone method, so many people were already in their seats that people had to keep getting up to let others sit down resulting in chaos and an overall boarding process that took twice as long as normal.

This clearly demonstrates the fact that Business Intelligence is only 50% about analyzing data and the other 50% is the human action resulting from that analysis. We often define Business Intelligence as analyzing data to help us make more informed or “better “ decisions but that does not take into account the human factor that despite what the analysis tells us, we may still choose to ignore it and make another decision all together!

1 Comment
author avatarAlex

Quite convincing example of an airplane.