Future Ramp: How to create a good Ramp Agent Dashboard (Part 1 of 2)

Dashboards provide information at-a-glance visibility into the business performance. Therefore every Ramp Solution shall be equipped with such an overview screen. This blog describes some set up tips.

Welcome to chapter 2 of my blog sequence: “Future Ramp: Digitalize Your Ramp”. After my initial blog’s conclusion, that it´s now time that digitalization also reaches the apron - so to say the Ramp Agent - my objective for the following blogs is to share my ideas and experiences about how a mobile solution can support different Ramp Agent tasks (workspaces), such as Turnaround Management, Cargo Handling, Loading, etc.

In this and the next blogpost I will give some tips on how to set up a dashboard for a mobile Ramp Agent Workspace Solution, others might also call it a Ground Handling Solution.

 

What is a dashboard?

IT Consultant Stephen Few defines a dashboard like this: “A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.[1] In other words: Dashboards provide summarized information into instantly easy to digest analytics that provide at-a-glance visibility into the business performance.

 

What is a Ramp Agent Dashboard?

A Ramp Agent Dashboard monitors the nerve center of an airline’s ground operation for one or more aircrafts on the apron. The information displayed there shall aggregate all relevant Ramp Agent workspaces in one screen, such as:

  • Turnaround Management
  • Passenger Handling (Local / Connecting)
  • Baggage Handling (Local / Connecting)
  • Load Control
  • Cargo Handling
  • Loading
  • (…)

 

It is an operational reporting tool that is used to monitor these key airline business processes on the apron that frequently change and a tool to track current performance of key metrics and KPIs in a graphical and easy-to-read format. KPIs for the Ramp Agent might be for example punctuality of the flight or fulfillment of target times by service providers. The key information relating to progress and performance updates – compared to other types of (analytical) dashboards – changes very frequently, mostly on a minute-by-minute basis. The dashboard is checked by the ramp agent multiple times throughout the day when monitoring the process (progress) between on-block and off-block towards the scheduled (or estimated) departure time.

 

What are the benefits of a Ramp Agent Dashboard?

A Ramp Agent dashboard shall distill data sets into insights and process or business transparency by (mainly) using easy-to-understand visualization technology. It enables the Ramp Agent to control operational activity during the turnaround and ensure that core processes stay within prescribed limits of productivity, quality, and efficiency. As the dashboard displays a range of key performance indicators the Ramp Agent can (re-)act upon potential problems quickly.

The value of such a tool is the provision of the ability to identity fields of improvements for different workspace tasks – most important – in real time, react or act, change behavior or processes – all in order to be better in control of business decisions and drive continuous improvement on the ramp.

Bottom line: By having overall transparency about what’s happening on the apron the Ramp Agent is better in being in control of business decisions by having the right data.

 

What to consider when compiling a Ramp Agent Dashboard?

So, what to consider when designing a Ramp Agent Dashboard? A Ramp Agent Dashboard should be user-friendly and constitute a basic support for the Ramp Agent, his respective tasks and his specific decision-making processes – it should not simultaneously cater the information requirements of any supervisor or any other person on the apron or office. The Ramp Agent shall be able to access real-time performance KPIs and reports in a graphical format that is easy to view and digest. Thus, he can proactively analyze operational performance to avert problems while improving the process performance. Above this – and not to be underestimated – the Ramp Agent must also enjoy using it and consider it an essential tool. No one likes to use a tool that is perceived useless.

Creating such a dashboard is not a mission impossible, if do some good thinking before. So I would like to give you some tips based on what I already saw as best practice for operational dashboards at airlines. I will start with five basics:

 

Select the right type of dashboard

Roughly speaking there are two common types of dashboard; each performing a specific purpose:

  • Operational dashboards
  • Analytical dashboards

Even this might sound trivial, the choice of the right dashboard type shall be one of the first steps, as Stephen Faw gets it to the point here: “The greatest clarification that is needed today is a distinction between dashboards, which are used for monitoring what’s going on, and displays that combine several charts on a screen for the purpose of analysis.” For sure there is no doubt, that a Ramp Agent needs an operational dashboard. Nothing else. Analytical dashboards become relevant for the post-flight period.

An analytical dashboard will typically provide the KPIs that rather airline executives like to track. It can display operational and/or strategic data. However, this type of dashboard usually will offer drill-down functionality – allowing the user to explore more of the data and get different insights. Sometimes, I have seen operational dashboards that include this feature, even though it is not required for the time the aircraft turns around. Why? There is simply no time for the Ramp Agent to drill down and explore. He must know, where to act – right here and now. Remember: We speak about a time slot of 30-45 minutes for short-haul flights.

 

Relevance to the audience

Unfortunately, sometimes dashboards in the operational area are created “on-the-fly” with data being added simply because there is some space left on the display. In some cases, this goes along that different stakeholders (Ramp Agent, Supervisor, Ground Operations Back Office Staff, Suppliers, Executives, etc.) within the airline ask for different data to be displayed. As a consequence the dashboard might become hard to read and full of meaningless non-related information – for the Ramp Agent.

When this happens, the dashboard is no longer useful – for none of the stakeholders. The most effectively designed dashboards target a single type of user and just display data specific to that ‘use case’. This means: First, that the data displayed on the dashboard shall be always relevant to the user. Second, some adaptions might be necessary for any other audiences’ dashboard.

 

What kind of questions shall be answered?

When creating a Ramp Agent dashboard, one should think about, what should be displayed. In detail: What kind of operational questions shall be answered? Examples for possible questions:

  • Passenger Handling: How is the booking situation? How many people have checked in? How many people have boarded? How many connecting passengers coming from where? Which passenger will have problems with their available connecting time? Etc.
  • Baggage Handling: How much connecting baggage from where? Where is the jet way baggage? Where is the offload baggage? Etc.
  • Turnaround Management: Is the cleaner on time on position? Has fueling already started?
  • Cargo Handling: Are all my cargo, mail, special load and DG containers here? If not, where are they?
  • Management Equipment: Where is my equipment? Is it available? Etc.
  • Load Control Handling: How does the Loading Instruction look like? Is there a new edition? How is the trim?
  • Loading process: What is the progress with the Loading? Where is the jet way baggage? Where is the offload baggage loaded in the aircraft?

 

According to the most important information needed at a glance, the key questions selected (or prioritized) and shall be answered by respective graphics and metrics.

 

Consider how your dashboard will be viewed?

Actually a no-brainer for me, but many times neglected when being in “design mood” in the office: Put yourself into a Ramp Agent´s shoes. The context and device on which he will regularly access his dashboard has direct consequences on the way the information shall be displayed. For the Ramp Agent´s situation this means: The dashboard will be viewed most likely on-the-go, and not “calmly” somewhere at the office desk. This also answers the question about the fitting of the screen: Usually a tablet will be the Ramp Agent’s device in use.

 

Be aware of web user reading pattern:

This is a very specific topic, as it might be differing from culture to culture. But, I perceive it also as important when making up your mind about the design of a Ramp Agent dashboard. Western reading (western languages read from top to bottom and from left to right) follow an “F” on web pages[2]. Hence our eye will start its journey when discovering something new at the top left-hand corner. This is also where the key information should be displayed first.

 

To not overload this blog, I will continue with more visualization-oriented tips when designing such a Ramp Agent Dashboard within the next blog. Until then I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Please stay tuned!

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[1] Steven Few: Dashboard Confusion Revisited. Perceptual Edge. Visual Business Intelligence Newsletter, March 2007, p.1

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