The Joy of Numbers

One of the state’s belt-tightening measures is a consolidation of office space. Our department, for instance, is abandoning offices in four Lansing-area buildings, including one which has housed much of the department for thirty years or so.

One consequence is that we’re moving some equipment to new locations. This includes a server which hosts the telephone license plate renewal program we’ve had in place since late 1997 (we call it “touchtone”). The new hosting center for the operation requested some information about traffic levels the other day; since Alice, who administers the program for us, was out of the office yesterday, analyzing the numbers fell to me.

First thing I learned was that the numbers which are readily available only answer about half the questions we were asked. I gave Alice a call and she recommended we dump the remaining questions on our vendor. I passed that recommendation to someone the vendor would recognize as one of our people, and set to charting the information I actually had available. Most of the work was spent cutting and pasting monthly spreadsheets into a more flexible container. I ran the queries to get the answers to the questions, and turned those into charts.

In a sense, those charts are boring: However I slice the data, I get basically flat graphs. Sliced by year or by weekday, I find we consistently get between 400 and 450 daily hits on the system. Sliced by month, we see a real predictable peak in March (about 600 dailies); the rest of the time we’re (again) between 400 and 450. High-volume days are rare, but are about three times the average. The peak days are usually in March, and generally on Monday or Tuesday. This is truly dull stuff.

Except that the consistency is, itself, interesting. This program took about three months to ramp up, but found its natural customer base very quickly and they’re very loyal to it. We offer a half-dozen ways to handle renewal transactions, and all of the others generate more income, but for this one set of customers we’ve found the right way to interact. That’s interesting, and worth knowing.