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Using Tableau as your airline operations real-time dashboard — 3 reasons why this isn’t a good idea.

Let's talk about the idea of using Tableau as an airline operations (real-time) dashboard. To make it clear right from the beginning: I love Tableau. Actually, I think Tableau has changed the way companies are approaching the world of data analytics — tremendously and sustainably.

Tableau literally enabled business departments to get in control of their data. And Tableau paved the way for data-driven improvements and enhancements. It filled the void between Excel-limitations and database developers and created the world of self-service business intelligence.

Moreover, I think because of the before mentioned, and the new possibilities Tableau is providing people start to think about how and where they can utilize the tool.

Tableau as airline operations dashboard — an often asked question

I guess that’s why – from time to time – potential clients or people I talk to ask me, “What about Tableau? Can’t we just use Tableau as a real-time operations dashboard?”.

When I was confronted with this question for the first time, I was really surprised. I had never made up my mind — simply because I think that real-time dashboards and Tableau are different solutions, addressing different problems and different use cases.

Besides a wide variety of features Tableau brings to the table, there are three aspects why — from my point of view — it doesn’t make sense to use Tableau as an airline operations real-time dashboard.

And to make this clear again: I don’t think that this is because Tableau is missing specific features. It is because Tableau wasn’t built for this particular use case. Let’s take a look at the details.

Reason 1 — Analytics vs. Situational Awareness

When taking a look at the Tableau website, one can quickly realize how Tableau positions itself: As an end-to-end analytics platform. And Tableau offers a wide range of functionalities, features, and strengths for this use case.

It’s all about combining data and drilling down into the very details. It is about identifying the root causes and patterns. Or, to get it straight: A tool to analyze a company’s or airline’s vast amount of data. The main focus of an operations dashboard is quite contrary to the use cases Tableau is aiming for.

It is not about analysis and digging into the details. It aims to create an unmatchable situational awareness. It is about aggregating data, curating information, and providing a comprehensive view of what is happening in your airline’s operations.

So first and foremost, Tableau and operations dashboard aim for entirely different use cases.

Reason 2 — Real-time calculation

As mentioned in many other blog posts, an airline operations dashboard has to provide real-time data, information, and KPIs. It doesn’t make sense to show KPIs and information on the last day or week only.

Most of the benefits and advantages an operations dashboard brings to the table are tightly linked to its real-time nature. Of course, Tableau is capable of dealing with real-time data. Nonetheless, and similar to reason 1, this is not the primary goal of Tableau. Therefore, the hurdles and challenges to use Tableau as a real-time dashboard are immense.

We had discussions with airlines that were trying to achieve that goal with Tableau and received very disillusioning feedback. Although it can be possible, it won’t work out-of-the-box and requires considerable effort.

Reason 3 — Certified Corporate KPIs

The last reason addresses the aspect of quality. In this context, one of the most significant advantages of Tableau can turn out as a disadvantage. Especially when using Tableau as an airline operations dashboard.

Tableau — and this is an unbelievable achievement — re-defined or should I say, created the world of self-service business intelligence. With Tableau every user, every business department can create reports, analyze data, and subsequently define KPIs.

However, this possibility inevitably leads to a decentralized creation of information. And we’ve seen many airlines looking at an on-time performance KPI on five different Tableau dashboards, and every KPI showed a different value.

Indeed, it is possible to establish data governance processes to avoid such situations — but from experience, I can tell you, this is really tough work. As a negative effect, this can lead to situations where operations dashboards show different values for the same KPIs.

With a dedicated operations dashboard, we enable airlines to establish certified KPIs.

That means we agree on KPIs, its calculation, its dimensions, its source data, and ensure that these KPIs are shown across all dashboards. This leads to the situation that it doesn’t matter how (mobile, screen, browser) and where (operations control dashboard, management dashboard, etc.) you are using the dashboard — you’re always accessing the same certified KPIs.

Summarized — Tableau as airline operation dashboard

Tableau is a brilliant solution in terms of business intelligence and analytics. It really changed the way businesses are dealing with data and created entirely new approaches for self-service business intelligence.

But, from our point of view, the use case of a real-time operations dashboard is different from the one Tableau is aiming for. Mainly due to the aspects use case, real-time, and certified KPIs.

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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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