Comair pinpoints major cost savings and instils new data-centric culture across workforce


Hundreds of ungoverned data sources connected
Single project identifies $500,000+ in cost savings
New culture of self-service established

Comair Limited is a leading South African aviation company that operates up to 130 flights per day both domestically within South Africa and regionally around Africa, as a British Airways franchisee and under its own kulula.com brand. Founded in 1946, the company is based at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, and has focus cities at Cape Town International Airport and King Shaka International Airport. Comair uses Tableau to connect hundreds of data sources around the company, improving business intelligence and enabling more informed decision making. Since its implementation, use of data within the company has significantly increased and a transparent self-service culture has emerged, saving time and improving productivity at every level.

One of Tableau’s biggest strengths is its ease of use, which means with just a small amount of training, anyone can start to uncover genuine insights by themselves.

Hundreds of data sources connected across the company

Comair collects thousands of valuable data points every day across its operations, on everything from pricing and ticket purchasing to fuel consumption and flight punctuality. Before Tableau, the company relied on Excel spreadsheets to collate and analyze it all. However, with data stored in hundreds of separate sources across the company and no way to bring it all together, key insights either went undiscovered or took so much time to find that they were no longer useful.

Liezl Brouckaert, Business Intelligence Manager at Comair, knew that infrastructure lay at the heart of the problem and to improve the organization’s data, a new approach was required.

“The entire company was in Excel hell,” explains Liezl. “The high number of data silos, combined with a lack of centralized intelligence platform was making it very difficult for the business intelligence (BI) team to deliver the kind of insights the wider business needed, on a timescale that worked.”

Now, everything is being connected through Tableau. Diverse data sets can be combined, visualized and interrogated directly within the platform, making it much easier to identify key trends and insights.

As soon as Tableau was implemented, Liezl and her team were able to start pinpointing areas where significant cost savings could be made, such as plane fuel consumption.

“When we started analyzing fuel consumption data across all our flights and destination airports in Tableau, we identified that a 27.5kg fuel saving could be made every time an aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) wasn’t started after landing. Based on local fuel prices, that works out to around $14 saving per flight. Across all flights, that becomes $1,610 per day and over a full year, the savings could be more than $587,000.”

Fuel is Comair’s biggest expense, accounting for 23% of total costs, so savings on this scale can have a significant impact on its bottom line.

“In the airline industry, small savings can quickly add up,” says Liezl. “Before Tableau we were aware that savings could be made throughout our operations, but they were never visibly available, so could not be easily consumed or acted upon.”

Comair has also achieved a number of other data milestones using Tableau. These include the creation of a single dashboard view of data for both Kulula and British Airways brands for the first time, as well as making on-time flight performance available every 15 minutes, on both desktop and mobile devices.

“Fast access to key business intelligence can greatly improve decision making at every level of the company,” says Liezl. “Better information leads to better decisions, which ultimately leads to a better quality of service for our customers.”

We were quickly able to provide exactly the kind of insights in Tableau that could make an immediate impact on operational performance.

Connecting the BI team with the needs of the wider business

With data infrastructure issues addressed, the next area of focus was synergy between the BI team and wider business. Years of Excel-based analysis issues had led to a disconnect between the two, with the BI team often unable to produce what the other business teams needed, when they needed it.

“With Tableau, we knew we had the means to address legacy issues, we just needed to realign internal business relationships to ensure the analysis being created and delivered was exactly what people wanted,” explains Liezl.

The BI team started by conducting business wide research to understand what the main data needs were, before establishing priorities and KPIs. Next, the team used Tableau to provide cross divisional access to key data such as on-time flight performance, CO2 emissions reporting and fuel savings initiatives, putting key information into the right hands and breaking down internal barriers in the process.

“Having the right tools in place means nothing if we can’t deliver the analysis that people need,” says Liezl. “By taking the time to connect and listen to the business, we were able to provide exactly the kind of insights in Tableau that could make an immediate impact on operational performance.”

Not only has Tableau improved productivity across the company, it has enabled the BI team to focus much more on strategic business analytics projects that can have a real impact on the future success of the company.

Better data management encourages employee self-service

The final area the BI team wanted to address was the ability of Comair’s employees to self-serve their own data needs, rather than relying solely on analysis provided by the BI team.

“Once we had addressed fundamental organizational data issues, teaching everyone how to make the most of our new analytics capabilities was a logical next step,” says Liezl. “One of Tableau’s biggest strengths is its ease of use, which means with just a small amount of training, anyone can start to uncover genuine insights by themselves.”

A key component of the drive towards self-service was the establishment of Comair’s Data Stewards Programme. This involved the appointment of nine data stewards to reside within the wider business and assist with analytics requirements, as well as promote self-service amongst employees.

“Initially, senior leadership wanted all data stewards to reside within the IT team but we fought hard to ensure they were out in the wider business, so they could start building a community of analysts from within.”

Liezl goes on to emphasize the importance of using relatable content when seeking the CEO support needed to get new BI programmes up and running.

“Without CEO buy-in, driving a BI programme is close to impossible,” says Liezl. “Therefore, when looking for support, we showed him Tableau dashboards that contained our own company data because we knew that would mean something and improve the chances of buy-in significantly. We are also very lucky that our CEO has a keen interest in data.”

Once the data stewards had been identified, training was conducted and standards manuals and Tableau templates were developed to promote consistency. In combination with this, Liezl and her team launched Comair Analytics, providing employees with open access to controlled data sets within Tableau.

With the data stewards acting as community champions and employees able to go into Tableau and experience it for themselves, a culture of self-service has quickly begun to emerge across the workforce.

“Once people started to see how easy Tableau was to use and how it could make their day-to-day tasks much easier, uptake really took off,” says Liezl. “Not only has this improved productivity across the company, it has enabled the BI team to focus much more on strategic business analytics projects that can have a real impact on the future success of the company.”

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