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MarTech Interview with Eyal Feder-Levy, CEO and Co-Founder at Zencity

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“City leadership is often left with skewed or incomplete feedback. For leaders to effectively improve their city they must be able to tap into the needs of their greater community.”

Hi Eyal, please tell us about your role and the team/technology at Zencity.

Along with my CTO, Ido Ivri, I Co-Founded Zencity to help local governments make data-driven decisions based on their communities’ priorities when creating policies and communicating them to their residents.

The Zencity platform gathers and analyzes millions of anonymized, aggregated data points of community feedback from channels like social media, local broadcast media, and government customer service channels (such as 311 and call centers) and turns them into actionable insights about community trends and priorities for local government decision-makers.

We analyze these millions of unstructured data points by using advanced AI and NLP algorithms to make the data structured and actionable for these organizations.

The algorithms automatically classify data by relevance to the different departments in city hall and then run a sentiment analysis to determine if the data reflects positive, negative, or neutral feedback on a city-related topic.

As trends emerge throughout cities or regions, our platform sends alerts to city officials so that they can take immediate action and be proactive.

These alerts ensure the awareness of any new issues throughout the community. We also have a dedicated team of analysts who generate in-depth data reports to assist local government officials seeking more personalized, hands-on information.

Our team is made up of over 65 dedicated, hardworking individuals who are experienced and educated in either public policy or data science and have a deep understanding of how policy decisions are made. Many of our employees are actually former local government workers, so they know first-hand the challenges that small, medium, and large-scale governments face.

We are also proud to have a diverse team, made up of more than 50% women.

As a CEO of a Data Science company, tell us about your vision and how you work toward achieving it.

Cities are my biggest passion. I think cities are the most amazing achievement of human society to date. Yet, I am not the only one who believes that- more and more people are moving to cities. Within our lifetime, our society will complete its transformation as a fully urban one. This means two things. First of all, managing a city has become very difficult. And second, we have to act now to improve everything in this process before it’s too late.

To help city leadership manage this growth, smart city technologies have been on the rise. This tech can help us quantify various aspects of city life such as resources, waste, water, and traffic. But one major category is being left out: resident feedback. People are the heart of the city. Many cities are trying to listen to that heart.

Cities can collect information about the public experience via surveys and town hall meetings, yet that often only represents a small, vocal minority within the city.

As a result, city leadership is often left with skewed or incomplete feedback.

For leaders to effectively improve their city they must be able to tap into the needs of their greater community. This means everyone else- the majority- who isn’t actively attending town hall meetings or answering lengthy phone surveys. Do these residents even care?

They do in fact and are taking to social media and other online channels now more than ever before to talk about their cities. This means that we have an unprecedented opportunity to understand what people in cities are thinking about in real-time. Yet, with the volume of daily social media posts in the millions, it can be easy for cities to get lost in the abundance of information.

This is where Zencity steps up to the plate.

We empower city leadership with organic, resident feedback data; data that is extracted from millions of online interactions, and neatly sorted into actionable takeaways.

Data and analytics, which for a long time was a “private sector” thing. But, thanks to the technology that we’ve built at Zencity, we can easily aggregate public discourse across multiple channels, quantify trends in topics, allocate sentiment based on diction, and so much more.

My goal is to provide cities with an accurate “finger on the pulse” when it comes to their communities’ needs. This data provides powerful insights for cities and can directly impact how they build policy, services, and communications. It’s time that cities, one of the world’s greatest inventions, feel the #datascience love.

In the current scenario of COVID-19 making an unprecedented dent on every business and exposing IT gaps, how does Zencity stay prepared and enable customers?

During this unprecedented pandemic, residents are actually looking to their cities and counties more than ever before for guidance and support. In parallel, local governments are urgently seeking updated, relevant data on what residents think and need during this crisis, in order to inform their actions and decision making.

Especially at this time, our technology enables our partners to easily parse through the millions of online data points about COVID-19 and identify key needs and concerns of their residents. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen our 140+ partner cities intensively use our platform to understand their communities’ new concerns/points of interest about COVID-19.

To meet this high demand, we’ve uploaded a dedicated COVID-19 toolkit chock full of new features and resources for our cities and counties. We’ve also quickly onboarded several new cities and counties thanks to our AI-based out-of-the-box setup.

Our data is contributing to quick, effective action, providing our partner network with the information they need to sharpen their messaging, improve their services, and navigate the critical policy decisions needed to mitigate this crisis. Our team is working 24/7 to support the personalized needs of our partners and provide them with updated, actionable information.

This can also be seen in our ongoing reports, city leadership webinars, and best practice guides.

We are honored to partner with such driven, innovative local government teams who are working tirelessly to manage this crisis and share best practices and lessons learned with fellow members in local government.

How is your AI-platform being used to combat COVID-19?

We are extremely proud that our platform is being used to fight the spread of COVID-19. Not only are local governments on the front lines of making sure that the spread of the pandemic slows and keeping citizens safe, but US residents themselves are playing an equally crucial role in this fight.

The success of government policies relies on citizens’ understanding and adhering to strict social distancing and other restrictive measures that have been put in place throughout the country. Having an open line of communication between citizens and their state or local officials is essential in accomplishing this.

As our platform empowers local governments with actionable, data-driven insights, city officials have been able to leverage our services to building more informed policy decisions and messaging strategies around stopping the spread of COVID-19. We are in constant contact with our partner municipalities to provide them immediate, real-time feedback—for example, so they know what emergency measures are being followed by its citizens or if there is any confusion around new guidelines, which have been changing week-to-week or even day-to-day.

City officials can find out exactly what its residents are most concerned about, and then direct policy decision making accordingly.

We recently released this piece, which stems from the city of Aurora, Illinois, for example, and details the four best practices for CIOs and local government leaders to perform amid the COVID-19 crisis. Another example is this analysis, which provides city leaders and residents advice as to how they can help keep their state economies running during the crisis.

Stopping the spread of misinformation around COVID-19 is another crucial task for government officials to address.

We provide support on this issue, as our technology and dedicated team of analysts can flag trending misinformation so that local governments can address it clearly and mitigate the damage done.

Your technology fills the gaps between Data Analytics and Intelligence. What kind of infrastructure does one need to leverage your technology?

We actually see a huge diversity in our customers’ “technological maturity”. Because our platform is very easy to configure and is completely Cloud-based, our out-of-the-box setup enables our partner cities and counties to start pulling actionable, personalized reports from our dashboard within five days or less. This further supports our primary goal- helping local governments quickly and effectively understand the needs of their greater community.

Which industries and regions have been the most active to benefit from your tech and support? Any particular industry, you would like to see a great adoption?

Zencity is specifically designed for the unique needs of local governments, municipalities, and legislators from all over the United States.

We are currently serving over 140 small, medium, and large agencies, from Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles to Dayton, OH, and all the way to villages of 12K residents.

We already know about Deep Learning, AI, Automation, and Data Visualization applications transforming every aspect of socio-economic order. What makes Zencity different in this competitive landscape?

Zencity is completely local government-centric, which is a sector only just starting to benefit from AI, and that is also our biggest differentiation. This industry focus allows for a suite of technological feats in Machine Learning. Our technology rapidly consolidates millions of public interactions and conversations across a range of online and offline channels.

We then classify the data by local government-centric topics and sentiment and translate that data into actionable insights on what residents want from their city/county.

Our mission is to empower processes in government organizations and enable them to make better, data-driven decisions when building and refining policies and services. Our data is essential in driving interoperability or work across different departments and areas of the same organization. This is why we chose sentiment, as it needs to be taken into account across different teams—the same way revenue needs to be, in a private sector company.

Most of the data we analyze isn’t owned by the city. It is automatically gathered from multiple open-data sources where residents interact, such as social media, for instance.

This diversity of sources, tracked in real-time, allows cities and counties to obtain a more comprehensive picture of their communities’ needs. In the local government realm particularly, a lot of that data has been previously unexplored.

Tell us how you partner within the data science industry that helps to improve your product innovations and support systems?

 We work with various partners to integrate data into our analysis.

Tell us about the tools and technologies you use for Marketing, Sales, Hiring, and Communications?

We utilize a range of top-tier CRM and Marketing tools to better monitor our efforts, support key processes and iterate quickly and effectively. We use Salesforce as a CRM, Mailchimp for newsletter distribution, and SEMRUSH for strategic Marketing efforts.

Tag a person whose answers you would like to read here:

Professor Stephen Goldsmith, Director of the Innovations in American Government Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Thank you, Eyal! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Eyal Feder is an urban planner and smart city geek, working with cities to implement advanced technology and methods. Today, as CEO of Zencity, he helps local governments around the world make better decisions daily by analyzing millions of citizen feedback data points using advanced AI. Before founding Zencity, Eyal was part of the founding team of “City Center”, Tel Aviv University’s Interdisciplinary Center for Cities and Urbanism, where he led several smart city programs. Apart from Zencity and academic work, Eyal is part of World Economic Forum’s Future of Cities advisory board, a member of the US Conference of Mayors Business Council, and the youngest board member of the Israeli Urban Planners’ Association.

zencity logo

Zencity is an AI-powered data analytics tool providing local governments with data-driven insights about their communities’ needs. Zencity’s platform analyzes millions of pieces of anonymized, aggregated feedback from varied sources like social media, local broadcast media, and government customer service channels to offer actionable insights based on trending topics in citizens’ conversations. Over 140 cities in the US including Houston, Chicago, and Phoenix, use Zencity to prioritize resources, shape policies, track performance, and connect with their communities.

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