If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, Any Road Will Take You There!

Dr. Jay Liebowitz
Dr. Jay Liebowitz

This guest post was written by Dr. Jay Liebowitz, DiSanto Visiting Chair in Applied Business and Finance at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology. He is also the author of several books including, “Big Data and Business Analytics,” Business Analytics: An Introduction,” and “Bursting the Big Data Bubble.”

Next month, Liebowitz will be a keynote presenter at the Analytics 2014 conference in Las Vegas on Oct. 20. His keynote, “Analytics + Intuition = Success!” will focus on the interplay between analytics and intuition in terms of executive decision making.

As we look at the growing field of analytics, it’s pretty clear that they can provide the signposts to help organizations gauge how well they are doing.  In speaking about signposts, this reminds me of one of my pet peeves over the years--that is, lack of proper signage, especially at airports.   Nothing can be more frustrating than not finding your way to and within the airport.  Case in point:  Traveling from Montreal to the Burlington, Vermont airport, a sign says “New York or Vermont”.  If you follow the Vermont sign, which would be the most natural choice, it takes you all around the state of Vermont and you’ll never make your flight out of Burlington (I know, it is the only flight I have ever missed in all my years of flying).  It is even more annoying to follow signs at the airport that are blurred.  That’s right, according to Alice Rawsthorn’s October 21, 2012 New York Times article, “Designers of the Signs that Guide You,” the new signs in the Vienna Airport  (see recent photo) are intentionally blurred.  This can be troublesome for those who might have jet-lag and haven’t slept well on the plane, aside from those who are vision impaired.

Airport signage needs to be clear (pun intended), concise, and minimize customer dissatisfaction.  Some airports are getting better with their signage.  Instead of saying “Arrivals” and “Departures”, some say “Ticketing/Check-in” and “Passenger Pick-up”.  However, some airports like Brussels, are still using Helvetica type which is one of the poorest fonts for readability.  And, with car rental return signs, drivers are still being confused at such airports in Orlando and Florence, Italy, according to the blogs and newspaper accounts.

In the same manner, analytics need to convey and capture the right measures, such as Key Performance Indicators in the organization’s executive dashboards.  They need to not only report on what has happened (descriptive analytics), but also what will happen (predictive analytics) and ultimately what are the optimal conditions (prescriptive analytics for optimization).

We can learn what still needs to be done in analytics by looking at airport signage to increase customer satisfaction?   First, don’t get fancy with the airport signage—people want to be able to recognize the signs quickly (whether driving or catching flights in the airport).  The signs need to communicate the intent--clearly (both visually and content-wise).  In much the same way, analytics should use the KISS philosophy (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and provide the appropriate messages and signals.  Second, design signs with the lowest common denominator in mind.  That is, as international and domestic visitors travel throughout airports, include universal symbols, colors, and verbiage so that the typical traveler can understand.  Analytics can also use this guidance in terms of their respective end users.  Last, continue to embed an analytics culture throughout the organization, in the same way that airport signs should also be intuitive.

Similar to using analytics for improving the business user’s experience, I am also trying to suggest ways to improve the airport signage for the average traveler.  And, it’s not just in the airline industry, it applies across other transportation industries as well.  For example,  I noticed that there was an electronic sign at the front of each Amtrak car that stated “Exit” and whether the rest room was occupied.  Why couldn’t the sign also have the train stop at each embarkation?

Call me crazy, but I’m still “waiting for a sign”!


About Author

Maggie Miller

Education and Training

+ Maggie Miller was formerly a communications specialist at SAS. You'll likely find her writing blogs, shooting videos and sharing it all on social media. She has nearly ten years of journalism experience that she brings to her writing to help you learn and grow with SAS. Follow on Twitter @maggiemiller0


  1. The blog title reminds me of this quote from "Alice in Wonderland":

    Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
    The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
    Alice: I don't much care where.
    The Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.

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