Landing the project successfully
Tim Blackwell, Technology & Innovation BI Service Delivery Manager at Etihad Airways, explains how the initial experiment with Microsoft Power BI led to enterprise adoption at Etihad Airways: “Following FP&A’s initiative, the enterprise architecture group at Etihad Airways researched possible BI technologies, and came to the same conclusion: Power BI offers a very fast way to build interactive, visual reporting – and at commercially attractive per-user fees.”
With the decision to deploy Power BI confirmed, the Financial Planning and Control (FP&C) unit prioritized the development of key financial dashboards, designed to provide interactive visualizations that included drill-down to the underlying source data.
Etihad gained the experience and understanding of Power BI and its true capabilities, based on the proof of concepts already launched and shared to executives. The IBM Global Business Services team was then assigned to design and build the backend functionality to support the complete Etihad Finance Dashboard.
To achieve the elegant simplicity of the financial dashboards, IBM created the data structures and modeling that underpin the solution, designed the system architecture, and defined and implemented the on-premise and cloud data security rules. This formidable piece of work was completed in nine months, with an enterprise-strength solution ready for corporate deployment.
Etihad Airways follows strict corporate data governance guidelines. With senior executives requesting high-level financial reports that contained detailed commercial information, questions remained over security, access and location of confidential data.
“The cloud security requirements were defined relatively late in the design process,” says Tim Blackwell. “As a matter of policy we did not want to store commercially sensitive data in the cloud. For a cloud-based service like Power BI, this presented a formidable technical challenge.”
IBM created a first-of-a-kind hybrid solution that enables access to the power and capabilities of the Microsoft Azure cloud based Power BI Service, while retaining data entirely on-premises in a secure Microsoft SQL Server data warehouse via a Power BI On-premises Data Gateway.
The solution, architected and implemented by IBM, populates the Power BI service with the data held in the SQL data warehouse in Etihad Airways’ Data Centers, through a secure gateway. This design ensures that no data resides in the cloud, conforming with Etihad Airways’ security policies, while providing the full functionality of the Power BI Service. IBM Global Business Services installed and configured the data gateway to adhere to the security and infrastructure guidelines, enabled the secure supporting Microsoft Azure environment that connects the services, and configured the Microsoft Power BI tools.
While the solution ensures data is retained on-premise, the Power BI functionality is unchanged. For example, Etihad Airways takes advantage of the out-of-the-box mobile-enabled Power BI features, such that executives can check KPIs while on the move. Similarly, the powerful ‘content pack’ feature of Power BI provides tailored report sets to different audiences. Etihad Airways has now created distinct packs, with assistance from IBM, that serve selections of critical data to specific audiences.
Tim Blackwell remarks, “The IBM team went above and beyond the call of duty to re-architect our solution by using on-premise data, available to the online Power BI tools through the data gateway. This hybrid solution architecture, designed by IBM Global Business Services, meets our strict governance and controls policies, while the visualizations are generated and presented by the Power BI service.
“IBM leveraged its strength-in-depth to find the right people to finish the job. There were many hurdles from the governance, compliance and technical points of view, but IBM recognized the strategic importance of this project and made things work for Etihad Airways.”
Etihad Airways CEO, Peter Baumgartner, is also excited about the prospects of Power BI and the potential that it has to drive better decisions. “More than at any time in our history, Etihad needs to be making quick, informed and data-led decisions in short turnaround time, within an ever-changing economic environment. The key to making the right business decisions depends on the insightful analysis of real time data, using user-friendly agile analytics tools.”
Setting a new high-flying course
The Power BI solution has transformed information flows within Etihad Airways, and gives executives real-time access to important information at their fingertips.
The deployment of Power BI has significantly reduced the distribution of sensitive and confidential information over email, and allows the airline’s CEO to control and tailor access across the organization. Furthermore, the visualizations have been constructed in a way that allows the users to access information at a summary level and then further drill down to obtain more granular information as required.
It also allows for historical comparisons as well as comparisons vs targets.
Imran Alli continues, “One of the company’s most confidential reports, which is the route profitability report, has now been migrated to Power BI. This allows a user to select the route, choose the relevant cost and revenue metrics and create the report immediately on a self-serve basis. Unlike the previous solution, where the report was distributed via a flat Excel file, executives can drill down into any area to see the operational details behind the headline metrics.”
Tim Blackwell adds, “Etihad Airways constantly seeks to reduce its cost base, and the data visibility provided by the dashboards is a powerful enabling factor. Where executives see metrics that do not match industry benchmarks or our agreed targets, they can discover the reasons, based on validated data.”
Time saved by automating tasks helps to boost internal productivity, while simultaneously improving decision quality. Imran Alli explains, “The management reporting team used to produce a slide pack of 70 to 100 pages, summarizing stats such as route types, regional performance, load factors, revenues and more. Allowing for collection, consolidation and validation of the data, plus layout in PowerPoint, the pack took over two weeks to complete.
“Using the financial dashboards based on Power BI, and by identifying the information that provided the most insight, the monthly dashboard is now pulled together in a matter of hours. The Power BI process releases a huge amount of time for employees to focus on analysis and identifying areas of opportunity, rather than compiling large reporting packs.”
Etihad Airways has deployed the Power BI solution to three of its main operational divisions. Because the underlying systems are untouched, roll-out is quick and the benefits immediately available.
Tim Blackwell comments, “Using the standard dashboard interface is helping to introduce a shared language throughout the business, about how we measure performance, without interfering with the business units. We want to understand how they operate and where they can improve, and Power BI gives us this capability in a standardized manner throughout Etihad Airways.
“The project has taken time to ensure that all terms of governance and compliance have been satisfied, but it has ultimately been a great success. We now find that business chiefs are asking us to make it available for their area, which is a very positive sign.
“IBM Global Business Services provided essential guidance on how to architect the solution and manage governance issues, creating the secure hybrid architecture that really made Power BI successful for Etihad Airways.”
Imran Alli concludes, “Moving away from spreadsheets and PowerPoint is transforming our organizational culture. Power BI tools enable Etihad Airways to provide secure, efficient visual access to a shared view of company performance. Executives can log in securely, refresh the dashboard, and make swift, informed decisions from their desk, or on the move with mobile devices or the web, wherever they are.
“Etihad Airways has been working closely with IBM Global Business Services, allowing accessibility to highly dynamic information that enables senior executives to access and assess data on demand.”