Monday, February 17, 2020

Dynamic Duo Mines Data, Improves City Performance

As Southlake’s Chief Performance and Innovation Officer, it’s Dale Dean’s job to find new and creative ways to improve performance and processes throughout the city.

One of his innovative ideas was implemented late last year and has helped propel the city, and two gifted students, forward.

Dean started an intern program in the Office of Strategic Performance, or the OPX and the program ushered in two interns – Yi Zhang and Deep Rajani. Each recent graduate was seeking some additional professional experience before moving into the workforce full time, Dean said.

The City of Southlake was a perfect fit for both sides. The duo was able to broaden their professional experience by tackling several complex projects, something they know employers desire in candidates. As volunteers, they generously donated their time, fresh ideas, and academic knowledge and left a significant impact on the City.

“They performed this work solely as volunteers,” Dale said. “We tried to put a dollar value on some of the programming done and, if we were to go out and get consultants for this work, it would cost the city around $15,000.”

Since beginning their journey in August of last year, each intern tackled two significant projects and transformed into a dynamic duo that has helped the city better understand its residents.

While focused in different areas, the first projects for the duo were related to the City’s Net Promoter Score, or NPS. NPS is customer feedback data, which measures customer satisfaction levels and also allows you to derive business insights, Deep said.

Yi, a graduate of the Jindal School of Management at the University of Texas at Dallas with a Masters in Information Science, focused on the NPS for Champions Club and the Citizen Survey. Essentially, she designed programs that sift through the city’s NPS and Citizen Survey to create a sentiment analysis report.

“We use the sentiment analysis to understand people’s general feeling about the city,” Yi said. “It shows you which aspects you want to improve.”

When the same topic is mentioned multiple times in either a survey or reviews, it often means there is a problem in that area. The code Yi wrote allows the city to see precisely where pain points are without sifting through a large number of comments one at a time.

In another effort to help the city improve, Deep utilized his NPS research project to derive information from other nearby businesses that compete with services the City provides. The project involved collecting a data set of over 10,000 reviews and comparing them to gather insights for improving the City’s customer base, Deep said.

At the end of the day, both interns were able to provide statistical data on how much opinions matter.

“There is a huge scope on how much influence (the NPS) can have on the City’s revenue,” Deep said.

As a math major, Deep believes in allowing the data to speak for itself. Attempting to predict the outcome of the data will just bias him, he said. Bias is something he’s also helped the City avoid during his time here.

The City had an issue during the research period with potential vendors. Often, the data received from a vendor would be incomplete, making it nearly impossible to compare apples to apples and make a selection.

“I came up with a formula to accurately and mathematically account for it without the data or the scores being biased,” Deep said.

Developing formulaic algorithms, as he did for the vendor comparison project, is where Deep’s interests lie and where he hopes to steer his career.

“I really want to study more, earn a Ph.D. and research applying math to areas that haven’t used it to its full extent,” he said.

As for Yi, she wrapped up her internship in mid-January to prepare for a full-time adventure as a software developer for a data analysis company. She believes her experience at Southlake was a significant determining factor in helping her pass the interview and securing the job.

“If I hadn’t completed these two projects, I couldn’t have been successful in that interview,” Yi said. “If the interviewer asked me what kind of projects I did and I hadn’t done these two, I would have nothing to offer.”

Providing that experience to young students also matters to Dale and his team. His goal is always to keep the intern program going and growing.

“It’s been such a positive experience for the members of OPX,” Dale said. “It’s a feel-good thing to be able to help those who are learning. I think that is what the team has experienced as well from having an opportunity to pour into other staff members, interns and help them along in their career.”