What you don’t know can hurt you — especially when it comes to spending tax dollars. For Doug Nygren, chief of fisheries for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), the issue was even more fundamental: What his agency didn’t know was resulting in millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Officials had no answers for seemingly simple questions, like what age group of Kansans was most likely to buy hunting or fishing licenses. This lack of intelligence had real-world consequences for the state government’s bottom line.
With government agencies nationwide facing declining revenue, fish and game departments like the KDWP are expected to make money — not just spend it. As a fee-based agency, that meant Nygren’s department would have to find new ways to generate revenue from hunting and angling licenses.
The department realized it needed a heavy dose of data analytics. Three years ago the KDWP implemented SAS software to help make sense of the department’s 1.4 million records on file. Along the way, the department also improved efficiency and the interoperability of its databases.
And perhaps more importantly, the software also has helped the KDWP learn more about its paying customers. In the past, “they were just pieces of paper in a filing cabinet,” said Nygren.
Before, the KDWP had no usable data on its customers, Nygren said. The analytics helped uncover an enormous pool of potential customers the department was missing year after year.
How were those citizens discovered?
After putting in an automated licensing system, the KDWP mined data that would eventually allow the department to generate new marketing campaigns and license programs. By targeting specific segments of the department’s 600,000 existing customers, Nygren said he was able to reach thousands of new customers by offering new products like multiyear licenses or early season discounts
The department also discovered that those between the ages of 16 and 21 had the fewest fishing licenses of any demographic. As a result, the department designed a special $40 youth license that’s good until age 21.
“If we could keep people in this age range involved in fishing through their formative years, we would help them to, hopefully, become and remain anglers for the rest of their lives,” Nygren said.
In Kansas, the analytics program was up and running in just one week — and data from reports was being implemented into new programs in less than three months, said Nygren. ROI can be realized in as little as one year, according to SAS officials.
Marie Lowman, SAS global industry marketing manager for government and health care, said the analytics business is moving toward showing software customers that the vendor understands the challenges of a specific industry. “When it comes to government, that means showing taxpayers where their money is going and that it’s being spent wisely,” she said.
In the three years the KDWP has been using SAS, the state’s licensed anglers have increased by 3,000. Consequently Kansas has collected $3.8 million more in licensing fees during that three-year span. This additional revenue has generated approximately $365,000 in state and local taxes, more than $417,000 in federal taxes and a 10 percent increase in federal aid, said Nygren.
The department is also saving work time on other facets of operations. Previously the department’s fisheries section had nine databases that didn’t share information effectively, said Nygren. Biologists who take annual data synthesize it into about 200 annual progress and management reports. Scientists were spending 30 to 45 days generating these reports.
“By automating the process, the time was reduced by about two-thirds,” Nygren said.