Five University of Nebraska–Lincoln students from the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management spent the past eight months creating an automated customer complaint resolution system for ALLO Fiber, the fast-growing fiber optics communications provider based in Lincoln and Imperial, Nebraska.
Implemented company-wide last month, the system is allowing ALLO to resolve most customer complaints in about three days, about half the time it took before. The new system loads faster and is much quicker to manipulate on a smartphone or tablet. ALLO leaders say the 335 construction employees who use the system each save 20 minutes or more a day in managing the record keeping. And, it has freed up three hours a day for the dispatcher, who previously assigned complaints to field representatives for response.
The ALLO project was one of 20 undertaken by University of Nebraska–Lincoln students through the Raikes School’s Design Studio this academic year. Design Studio is the school’s capstone program and is also available to University Honors students in computer science, engineering and business who participate as associates. Other participating businesses this year included First National Bank of Omaha, Hudl, Kiewit, the Nebraska School Activities Association and Olsson. Companies pay a $60,000 fee to work with the student teams.
The ALLO student team worked about 15 hours a week since August on the project, including weekly update meetings with the company’s managers.
“Our industry partners provide students with incredible opportunities to solve real-world problems during their time in college,” said Jake Koperski, the Design Studio’s program lead. “Moreover, our partners get exposure to our talented students, new ways of thinking and problem solving, and walk away with a valuable business solution.”
ALLO CEO Brad Moline was so impressed with the students’ work that he’s directed company leaders to identify a new project for the 2023-24 academic year. While developing the next generation of talent and supporting the Raikes School mission helped motivate the company to participate, the project was more than an academic exercise. The student team solved a significant technology issue for ALLO, he said.
“This project changed the way our business supports our communities and our customers,” he said. “We had a need, and we continue to have needs. I’m not sure where the next project will go, but it will be awesome. It’s front of mind for our organization.”
The students who worked on the ALLO project said it was exciting to create a tool that the company immediately implemented.
“It is very satisfying to see something you helped craft benefit so many people,” said Erik Konnath, development manager for the student team. From Omaha, Konnath is a senior software engineering major and an honors student participating in the Design Studio as an associate team member.
Sophie Hellebusch, the team’s product manager, said she’s learned hands-on skills through Design Studio that will help her throughout her career. Hellebusch, from Marthasville, Missouri, is a senior computer science major enrolled in the Raikes School. She graduated from Nebraska U on May 20 and has accepted a job with Hudl in Lincoln.
“Computer science is something you can teach yourself, but working well on a team isn’t,” she said. “It’s one of those things you never stop learning and getting better at.”
Other team members include Samuel Rangira, an integrated science major and software development minor from Kigali, Rwanda, who graduated May 20 and has accepted a job with Sandhills Publishing in Lincoln; Sophie Hill, a junior Raikes School business management major, from Gretna; and Hanna Pokharel, a junior Raikes School computer science major, from Omaha.
Founded in 2003, ALLO built a high-speed internet network in Lincoln in 2016-19. Partly owned by Nelnet, it now operates in 39 markets in three states — Nebraska, Colorado and Arizona. Its customer base has grown by nearly 250%, to 140,000, during the past two years.
Moline said the student team provided his company with a brand-enhancing tool at a significant point in ALLO’s development.
When the company enters a new market, its first task is to install fiber optic network behind homes, businesses and governmental entities. That’s a disruptive process that can occasionally damage landscapes and infrastructure. Moline said ALLO’s brand calls for quick responses that leave property in as good or better condition than before.
“When you’re smaller, you can respond virtually by word of mouth,” Moline said. “That worked when we were building in three markets. Now we’re building in 25 markets.”
Even though ALLO receives fewer complaints by population size, its expansion is generating more complaint volume. An efficient system is needed to avoid dropping the ball.
Led by Hellebusch and Konnath, the student team created online complaint forms to be completed by customers or customer service representatives. The system automatically assigns complaints to field engineers and tracks the response and resolution.
It replaced a cumbersome shared spreadsheet system that could take as long as six minutes to download in the field, said Jonathan McHenry, ALLO’s field engineer supervisor, who worked with the student team to create the new system.