The British Airways Essbase experience

Johannesburg, 12 May 1999
Read time 5min 30sec

British Airways (BA) is one of the largest users of Essbase in the world. Phil Day, project leader of BA`s central Essbase team, presented on BA`s success with Essbase at the recent Dimensions user group.

BA is a large company which had a large need. Just how large is shown by the statistics of the airline: 8,6bn stg in annual turnover; 60 000 employees; 130 stations, worldwide, with 330 aircraft in service executing 420 000 flights a year. So there are some serious challenges in trying to model the business.

Before we implemented Essbase we had multiple data sources which led to problems with reconciliation duplicated manual processes, non-standard data, with varying content and details, lack of management information, and when we did get it, it was in an inflexible and rigid format.

Immediate benefits we`ve had with Essbase have been improved visibility of and faster user access to data; uniform processes. Our users can slice and dice the data, and be flexible in their approach to it; and it has empowered the users to work when and where they want to.

Essbase applications

Our central Essbase project team of 12 people has developed a wide range of applications for the business, ranging from three users to 1 000. These applications have delivered great value to the business.

Our largest system is Midas, our management accounting system which delivers financial information to 500 users. It provides management with budgeting and forecasting capabilities and standardised reports. It extracts data from the general ledger, drills down to individual journals, analyse variances and, by taking a feed from the payroll, allows management for the first time to do manpower forecasting and costing.

We then developed Midas Lite, which will ultimately provide a view of our financial status to some 1 000 users at 130 stations worldwide. It has to cope with multiple currencies, multiple timezones, had to be low-cost and had needed to be deployed rapidly. It also had to operate off one data source, be viewable through Excel templates, had to limit network traffic, require no training and run on the Internet or intranet. Midas Lite, developed in the Essbase environment, met all these requirements.

Smart, our management reporting tool, provides group consolidated figures at the very highest level. Smart consolidates data from 14 departments and delivers full accounts for management - an important and visible benefit. On the one hand it is an OLAP system for analysis and on the other an OLTP application with realtime journal entries. As such it combines fully operational OLTP with OLAP.

This application allows us to answer strategic business questions, and lets users slice and dice data and present it as they choose. For example, they can do a full analysis of fuel cost trends over the last six months, and track revenue trends by geographical regions.

Our MINT application (management information through NT) gives management a total company picture of who is buying what from BA and improves our purchasing power. To put this in perspective, BA has 15 000 suppliers and spends more than 2,5bn stg annually. MINT allows our buyers to analyse orders, invoices and payments, by supplier, budget, buyer and product. We can see at a glance who are spending our money with, identify buyers who will exceed their budgets by year-end and see which suppliers are delivering late and incomplete.

We are looking to analyse aircraft and fuel purchases, drill through to individual invoices and data, add Euro capability and that`s just the start. We are expecting huge demand for more features in this application.

Our Prowess application has allowed us to focus on staffing requirements and perform proper planning, especially in the area of baggage handling and crew transportation. Prowess allows us to track staffing levels, overtime and unpaid leave and to develop a profile of shift patterns. 9 000 people are involved in this activity, which represents 70% of total costs. Improved management information has led to better decision-making, allowing us for the first time to manage people, shifts and rosters as a cost centre.

Our first big win has been our ability to identify rogue staff. The next will be activity-based costing, where we can gauge the cost of loading an aircraft, and the profitability of individual routes.

Our other two Essbase systems, which are on the smaller side, are Socrates, which allows us to analyse revenue in our cargo handling area; and TSA, which analyses the revenue accruing to us from our telesales operations.

Central Essbase team

Our team consists of 12 analysts and developers. We provide a full range of services - advice, development, support - and work across traditional IT boundaries. As a side product we have given BA a great deal of business knowledge.

From a business-IT point of view, we have a solid consultancy, a good track record, a standard architecture which delivers rapid results, and a software library geared towards reuse.

Lessons learnt

We have learnt an enormous amount. We place a high premium on business knowledge and now make extensive use of BPR and modelling, workshops and prototyping. In short, we have adopted a formal approach to application development in the Essbase environment.

A major mistake was to over-engineer our systems. Because Essbase development is fast, it can lead to scope creep, with more requirements being fed in all the time.

So we have developed the Moscow technique: what Must the user have; what Should they have?; what Could they have?; and what Won`t we touch?

Other critical issues are data quality, verifying results, and creating a balanced OLAP design.

The future

We constantly have to address the gap between IT demand and supply. We need to perform ever more analysis to understand what is happening in our company, to investigate trends historically and to predict the future. People want results faster and faster. It`s their data and they want to view it in their own way, in as much detail as possible.

Editorial contacts
Frank Heydenrych Consultants Frank Heydenrych (011) 452 8148
See also