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Alter Everything

A podcast about data science and analytics culture.
Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

The Alteryx Excellence Awards celebrate outstanding breakthroughs with data. The 2021 Globetrotter Excellence award was granted to Ramzey Zbeida, with Corsicana Mattress Company for their work in spatial analytics. Learn about the award winning use case, and why getting creative with the data was the key to success.






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Episode Transcription

THALITA: 00:00

Welcome to Alter Everything, [music] a podcast about analytics and data science culture. I'm Thalita Carrico, and I'll be your host for this episode. I'm a senior program manager and customer [advocacy specialist?], and I'm passionate about our customer stories. Every year, Alteryx holds the Excellence Awards to celebrate analytic breakthroughs. For this episode, I sat down with Ramzey Zbeida, demand analytics manager at Corsicana Mattress Company. Ramzey at Corsicana won a Globetrotter Award granted for excellence in spatial analytics. We talked about the use case itself. How Ramzey was empowered by leadership to get creative with the data and what it felt like to learn that his analytic breakthrough was award-winning. Let's get started.

THALITA: 01:04

Hi, everyone. I'm Thalita Carrico. I'm a senior program manager at Alteryx, and I'm here today with Ramzey Zbeida. He's a demand analytics manager at Corsicana Mattress Company. And today we're going to talk about the Excellence Awards that Ramzey recently won. Hi Ramzey. First, congratulations for winning the Excellence Awards. And thank you for joining us. Let's start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

RAMZEY: 01:32

Sure. Yeah. Thanks for having me. I guess I'll start. You introduced me. I'm the newly minted demand analytics manager at Corsicana Mattress Company. I have been working at Corsicana for almost four years now and started as a contractor. Joined full-time and got this recent promotion in large part due to some of the work that I've done with Alteryx. Some kind of fun facts that I can share about myself. The one that I always like to share because it's so unusual is my son Heider actually shares the same birthday as me, so I have a perpetual birthday gift from my wife. And it's appropriate winning an award named the Globetrotter because I actually began traveling internationally myself at age four, and I've only been bested by my son Heider. We went to visit my folks while they were living in the UAE when he was almost two years old. So he now has the title for the youngest traveler.

RAMZEY: 02:39

Some of my personal interests, of course, I've got a varied background, but I've got to follow environmental policy pretty closely. I have a lot of friends working in international development and am interested in it as a professional space. And then also, it's kind of how I got into technology. Cloud and analytics technology was my interest in the power of technology to accelerate development. And that was something that I came upon while working in Libya. I'm a dual citizen of the United States and Libya, and I spent a summer there while I was a student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. So we were advocating for transparency in the national oil companies' contracts, and some of our dealings with the national oil company, the central bank. And I really saw a lot of opportunity for cloud and analytics technologies to improve their processes and service delivery for citizens. So that's kind of how I got where I am today.

RAMZEY: 03:44

But beyond professional stuff, I am a pretty avid video gamer. My son definitely would be upset if I didn't mention that he and I spend a lot of time playing retro video games, in particular, especially classic Nintendo stuff. Love music and forest bathing. If you've ever heard of the Japanese term Shinrin-Yoku, that's something we do as a family. We like to go hiking in the woods. Travel, obviously. As soon as things are getting back to normal, definitely got some plans to do some international travel. Even staying close to home, I like to go fishing and just spend time out on the grill making some good Texas barbecue. So a pretty eclectic mix.

THALITA: 04:32

That's a super interesting background. I love traveling. And I think the last video game I played was Nintendo 64, the Mario Kart. So it's been a while. I used to love it, but I stopped playing when I was a teenager.

RAMZEY: 04:47

Yeah. My son is a big Mario fan. So now that there's a Nintendo Land to visit in Japan, that's kind of our big international trip that we'd like to make. So that's what we've been dreaming of.

THALITA: 04:59

Yeah, me too. I've been planning to go to Japan since last year, so hopefully, sometime soon. Ramzey, tell us a little about your winning story. I'm sure the audience is dying to learn. Can you start telling us about Corsicana and what do they do?

RAMZEY: 05:16

Sure. So Corsicana Mattress Company, obviously, is in the mattress business. We are probably the largest mattress manufacturer you haven't heard of. We do a lot of private label business. This is our 50th year of operations. It started as a family-owned business based in Corsicana, Texas. Mattress manufacturing used to be a cottage industry. There were lots of small manufacturers scattered around the country. And over that 50 year time, there's been a lot of consolidation. And when Corsicana was sold to private equity, the attention really turned to not just growing the business, but also making the business lean and efficient. And so naturally, data analytics was a big part of that, beefing up our operations, logistics teams. So it's something that has been developing over the four-year period that I've been with the company. And so we're right in the middle of all of it and definitely trying to deal with that growth. And again, still keep a focus on maintaining lean operations.

THALITA: 06:27

Awesome. And so, what was the problem that you're trying to solve?

RAMZEY: 06:32

So I mentioned our logistics team was involved in several meetings, and it was great because we got to really be partners with the different business units. They brought us in the room, and we were involved in just kind of brainstorming solutions. Our logistics team was really focused on cost reduction. Reducing fixed costs and variable costs as well. And in terms of our variable costs, mattresses are big, bulky products. There's a lot of air that you ship when you're shipping mattresses. And so we have to be really careful with how we set up our routes. How we assign our ship-to locations to facilities. And our logistics director, Gary Johnson, had put in processes to improve that assignment so that we knew that we were assigning ship-to's to the closest facility to best serve them. But there was a big challenge that they faced. We had decades of assignments that had been happening before anyone came to this business or in a time when the folks that were with Corsicana throughout that period didn't really have tools that they could use to make those assignments in an efficient way.

RAMZEY: 07:52

So what I proposed was that we audit our ship-to assignments. And we knew there was a chance for improvement. I had seen certain instances of locations being assigned to a facility that didn't make sense, was too far away, and also seen that our schedulers were doing a good job of catching those and manually moving those orders over to the optimal facility. But obviously, with manual processes like that, things happen. And we wanted to make sure that we could have confidence in our operations and just not have to worry about this as a problem. So that's what we did. We set about auditing our ship-to assignments and trying to measure the distance between these locations in our facilities and find out just how many we could possibly reassign.

THALITA: 08:43

Awesome. And so, how did Alteryx help you solve this problem? How much easier it was?

RAMZEY: 08:49

Well, I think, obviously, the team had a way of doing this manually. They would go and use some tools available online to measure the over-the-road distance between addresses. But they didn't really have a way of doing that at scale. We looked at using the Google Maps API that they were just using the graphic user interface for, but there's a cost to doing that. There's development. And when I started using Alteryx in 2019, I, of course, saw the spatial analysis tools. And that was one of the things that I was interested in because I came to Alteryx after first being an ArcGIS user. And so spatial analysis was definitely something that was on my mind. So I at first Geocoded all of the relevant locations. Our facilities. All of the ship-to locations that we service from, those facilities. And compared the default facility that each of those ship-to's is assigned to with the closest facility which we determined using the Find Nearest macro. So once we measured the over-the-road distance between default and closest and compared them, that's when we really got a sense of just how big of an issue we were dealing with.

THALITA: 10:12

Awesome. And your analytical solution is super clever. I know that you're able to quantify the impact of your solution, not only in dollars but also in CO2 emissions. What was that impact, Ramzey?

RAMZEY: 10:26

So the impact that we identified - this is on an annualized basis which we determine based on a trailing 12-month volume of orders that we actually shipped from our facilities to these locations - was about two and a half million over-the-road miles. When we started looking at these numbers, I mean, there's big impact, and obviously a lot of volume that could have shifted around our network. That works out to, for us, approximately $5 million per year, which is huge savings. And yeah, as you said, I also just kind of did some back-of-the-envelope calculations with an average CO2 emission per mile statistic. Freight emissions are usually measured in ton miles, so I used an average load weight and came up with this number, 250 metric tons. And the reason that it was important to me to look at that was I have a background in economics, natural resource economics, and environmental policy. And that's just something that's always top of mind for me. And I actually spent a year during graduate school on a project team that was looking at evaluating policies that were first feasible. That was our directive. We had to find things that were going to be adopted, or there would be interest in. And efficiency was a big one. So whenever I think of ways to improve efficiency, I always think of it through that lens of climate change, greenhouse gas mitigation, and I know there's so much opportunity to reduce emissions and save money at the same time.

THALITA: 12:15

Awesome. And can you share a little bit about what did you learn from this use case from this project? Any tips and suggestions that you would apply to other projects that you can share with the audience?

RAMZEY: 12:28

Sure. I think one of the most important things that-- the biggest takeaway that I had is none of this would have happened had it not been for the foresight of our leaders to give us some really cool tools to play with and kind of give us free rein in some respects to go out and find ways to use them to drive change and really improve outcomes. And then also, just being included, right? The fact that I was a junior team member but included in these high-level discussions about important strategic objectives. That's what allowed me to be able to connect the dots and see the opportunity that we had to not only save cost but improve service, improve outcomes. It's something that especially with a change like this, when you identify so much opportunity, it doesn't happen overnight. We're a large organization, and still, through last year, and now with a merger going on, there's a lot of balancing that we have to do. But at least now we have the skills, and we have analytical workflows that we will continue to use, repurpose, take parts of and combine in different ways to continue to improve our outcomes. And that's really kind of an organizational sea change. When we have everyone see that there's so much opportunity in working together, sharing information, sharing ideas, I think that it really opens the eyes of everyone and gets them thinking that, well, I can be a part of solving these problems too.

THALITA: 14:18

Awesome. So let's go back to the Excellence Awards, now. Why did you want to participate in the Excellence Awards, Ramzy?

RAMZEY: 14:29

Well, so as I said, it was half-jokingly, but also seriously. When I was browsing the community and saw the call for submissions, part of that post was an image of the Sisyphus trophy that was going to be awarded to winners. And I've obviously got an interest in Japanese culture. I like the Zen style. And it kind of called to me, and it was something that I wanted to get my hands on. So I figured there's no time like the present. I literally sat down, wrote in. I wrote up the case and submitted it.

THALITA: 15:07

Awesome. And did you receive the Sisyphus already?

RAMZEY: 15:10

I did. And I have done some tinkering with Raspberry Pi before. And so my son and I both have been playing with it and uploading some custom tracks and browsing their community and looking at what they have available and kind of getting familiar with it and thinking of ways that we can come up with some cool designs for our centerpiece on the table when we've got guests over and that sort of thing.

THALITA: 15:37

It's awesome. It's an awesome piece. So can I ask you to describe the piece, Ramzey? Because if people are listening to us, then they might be wondering what it's like. How would you describe the trophy?

RAMZEY: 15:50

Yeah. So I think the best way to describe it is it's like a tabletop kinetic sand art sculpture, right? So there's a magnet that moves a steel ball around and draws designs in the sand, and then a ring of LEDs that are also programmable that will interplay with the position of the ball. Or there's different settings that they have. And so it's definitely been fun for me to spend some of my free time on. So maybe that's a new hobby I need to add to my list.

THALITA: 16:25

The Alter [magically?] Zen garden. Yeah, that's fun. And what did you feel like when you win the Excellence Awards? When you received that email saying, "You won." What was your reaction?

RAMZEY: 16:39

So I'd say first was surprise. I've seen some of the previous winners and read their cases, and there's definitely a lot of great work going on. So I was a bit surprised. But then, when I started to think about it, I realized that it was probably the way I told the story that was really appealing. And for that, I have to give thanks where it's due. My wife is an English professor, and so understanding the rhetorical situation. And then obviously having a policy background myself and understanding that speaking to your audience in a way that will capture their attention is something that is now just second nature for me. So I think that's really what led to my success.

THALITA: 17:32

It was awesome. It was an awesome story, very well-written. Full disclosure, I did not vote. I'm not allowed to vote. I just organize, and I'm responsible for the Excellence Awards, but I don't get to vote. Any tips you would share for people who are considering submitting a story on the next round of Excellence Awards?

RAMZEY: 17:53

Yeah. Obviously, you can't win unless you participate, right? So definitely, if you have work that you are proud of, make sure that you take the time to tell the story. As I said, I think understanding what-- or trying to imagine. Because it wasn't something I was thinking of consciously when I wrote it. But trying to imagine what the audience and the analytic community would be interested in hearing. What's going to capture their attention? And then, of course, quantifying your results. What does this mean to you and to others, right? It's not just that you're proud of the work, but why does it mean-- why is it meaningful? I think that being able to communicate those things will definitely lead to success like mine. [music]

THALITA: 18:47

Thanks for listening. We are opening up another round of Excellence Awards in fall of 2021. So if you have a use case you'd like to share, stay tuned in the community and follow our social media channels for announcements. In the meantime, check out all the winners and their stories on our INPUT blog and on the Alteryx Use Case page. Thank you for listening. Ciao. [music]


This episode of Alter Everything was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ).
Special thanks to @jesperwinkelhorst for the theme music track, and @TaraM for our album artwork.