People fishing in Texas

Data analytics goes hunting and fishing in Texas

While Texas’  population has doubled in the past 50 years, participation in outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing has remained flat, as the state’s growing urban population looks for other leisure activities. In order to continue to generate revenue and adjust to changing demographic trends, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department turned to data analytics to help it more effectively manage and promote the use of millions of acres of park lands and waterways.

Nearly two-and-a-half years ago, TPWD created the License Utilization and Revenue Enhancement System (LURES). TPWD’s goal is to create individual customer profiles from a range of disparate databases so it can better understand how state residents use the department’s services. Then, deploying analytics and customer relationship management software, analysts can pinpoint trends  in leisure activities, parks utilization and purchasing patterns, all the way down to different neighborhoods according to TPWD officials. LURES has, for example, helped department officials stock fish in lakes closer to where anglers live or promote special hunts to hunters.

“As far as I am concerned, we are at the beginning stages of doing a total customer touchpoint analysis,” said Alejandro Farias, a financial analyst with Texas Parks and Wildlife. The department is in the process of integrating all of its databases into LURES. When complete, “we will have a 360-degree view of the customer” showing how that citizen interacts with TPWD -- as a boat owner who needs to register his craft, a purchaser of one or more of the 200 available licenses, a frequent visitor to the state parks or a subscriber to the agency’s magazines.

Data and geospatial analytics has helped the agency segment residents based upon the types of licenses they purchase. Using Business Analytics, a part of Esri’s ArcGIS geospatial data analysis tool, TPWD analysts mined census and ZIP code information and used probability matching to get a better handle on their customers. During that process, department officials were able to determine demographic groups that were underrepresented in license purchasing, said John Taylor, a data analyst with Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Because the boating registration and state park databases represent two large revenue-generating sources, tapping into the tapestry of information from these databases will help TPWD devise strategic marketing programs that target users based on their purchase patterns and even education levels, Farias noted.

“One of the things we are really trying to accomplish is to provide data for decision-making,” Taylor said. So much of decision making in the past was based on assumptions or gut feelings. By deploying analytics the TPWD team is able to justify why it is making certain decisions, he said.  TPWD is looking to apply analytics to all databases within the department.

The heart of LURES is the SAS Business Intelligence suite of software, which integrates disparate databases from different vendors -- Microsoft Access, Oracle, and Sybase -- by using connectors to link into the systems, Taylor said.  Analysts can work with the data in its native source format within the databases, or they can build a data warehouse that sorts the data into a format to analyze patterns, he explained.  Customers can be profiled based on their interaction with TPWD, and themes can be gleaned from demographics so appropriate marketing can be applied to different segments, Taylor said. TPWD also is trying to do some sentiment analysis drawn from social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to learn how the agencies’ services are being viewed by residents.

Using geographic data and SAS analytics, for example, TPWD analysts uncovered opportunities to encourage  fishing among urban demographic groups, specifically middle-class Hispanic families in the Houston metropolitan area. TPWD regularly stocks a dozen strategically selected lakes near urban areas with catfish in the summer and rainbow trout in the winter as part of its “Neighborhood Fishin” program, Taylor noted. 

Taking ZIP code information from a customer satisfaction survey of anglers and ingesting it into the Business Analytics GIS product, they found that a large number of people from an area east of downtown Houston were traveling long distances to fish at a suburban site west of the city. As a result of the analysis, TPWD personnel stocked a lake with fish nearer to the neighborhood with higher concentrations of Hispanic families. 

TPWD officials also applied analytics in the "Big Time Texas Hunts” program, which gives hunters the chance to buy chances to win one-of-a-kind hunts for bighorn sheep or trophy white-tailed deer. The department used marketing segmentation to identify likely buyers and those who are more cost-effectively reachable by email to reduce mailing costs by 90 percent.

The Planning and Analysis financial reporting team migrated to a new financial system and a new way of accounting, which created exponentially more data, around the same time LURES was created. Using business intelligence tools, the team can now create customized reports and generate reports much faster. Reports that took days to generate can now be done in about an hour.

Work going forward will continue to focus on integrating the 360-degree customer profile across all databases. “We have connections into most of our revenue-generating databases,” Taylor said.  “We are in the process of combining all of that information into a single profile,” he said.

“We are a data-rich agency. We have so many disparate databases available to us; centralizing them is one of the things our executive director wants us to do,” Farias said. The goal is to develop “a library where you can walk in and check out any data you want.”


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