Zoos South Australia has enhanced operational efficiency, animal care and customer experience with new video-based collaboration tools.
Speaking at Sydney's Skype for Business event, Zoos South Australia CIO, Ashlen Naicker shared details of how video collaboration tools allowed the staff at the Adelaide Zoo, and sister site Manarto Zoo to reduce travel time between the sites, provide more efficient care for the animals, and better immerse visitors into the world of animal care.
Naicker said the idea first came to him during a complete infrastructure overhaul in 2009, when he saw the opportunity to better connect the staff at the two zoos without the nearly two-hour round trip between them.
"We often have operations between the two zoos and staff at both sites wanted to participate in these opportunities with ease," said Naicker.
As part of a unified communications strategy, the zoos first implemented Microsoft SharePoint as a collaborative solution, and it was off the back of their success with SharePoint that Naicker decided to take things to the next level in 2013 with face-to-face communication.
"After evaluating many software applications, we found Skype for Business, formerly Lync, sealed the deal for us, so we started rolling it out.
"It has improved the way we work in all realms of the business," said Naicker.
The software was primarily developed for office application, to improve efficiencies with meetings, reducing travel time, and improving access to training and development between the sites.
Eventually, Naicker said, the zoo also decided to use it as a value-add service for patrons. The Adelaide Zoo began broadcasting the examinations of animals in the organisation's healthcare facility onto a large screen in its central lawn area, along with ‘behind the scenes’ featurettes for various species.
"Because we're a zoo, and we're a not-for-profit, we count on the visitors that come through the gates to survive, so it's taking the tech we've built and adapting it to give them a new entertaining and educational experience, creating a bit of a buzz and attracting new visitors and potential new sponsors as well."
Zoos South Australia is now also reaching patrons that are unable to make it to the zoos at all, including live demos for school children without them having to leave the classroom.
The team attacked the initial adoption of Skype for Business with a top down approach, with business leaders driving the change throughout the whole organisation.
"More and more we find our keepers and ground staff now are using it to show certain animals - animals who might have particularly bad days - and the keepers can call on the vet with video," said Naicker.
"The vet might be at the next zoo, or he might be in China, and they can get a real world response on the fly, there’s no waiting."
The collaborative tools also mean a more integrated strategy for the two sites, as well as creating more exposure for Monarto's operations, with many Adelaide residents not knowing Monarto Zoo existed, despite it's 35-year run.
Read more: CSIRO experiments with 'no email' day
"Monarto always felt as though they were our poor cousins, but now they feel like part of the organisation, it brought everything back together, we are all under one brand now," said Naiker.
"During our first live surgery procedure at Monarto, we had the big screen out the front of the Adelaide Zoo, and a lot of interest was generated out there, we actually converted a lot of those visitors into members on the day as well."
Adelaide Zoo also showcased Monarto Zoo where keepers would capture footage on their mobile devices of roaming cheetahs and lions onsite.
"We've only got three lions in Adelaide Zoo, but they've got 12 over in Monarto and people didn't even realise they had animals there at all, so a lot of interest was generated and it drove people to visit them."
At first there were issues with some of the older cohorts at the zoo who were less familiar with the new technology, so they required additional training. The main challenge however, said Naicker, was sourcing the necessary support, which proved more difficult than in a larger metropolitan city like Sydney or Melbourne.
"Sometimes in a smaller city or town, there's a lack of general support and getting access to engineers when you do run into a fix. But we eventually found great partners in Perth and other places, that guided us along the way so in the end it was a huge success for us."
Naicker said he has plans to incorporate new technology trends to create a better experience for patrons, on and offsite.
"I've got some exciting visions for what this might look like – I’m talking about virtual reality, I’m talking about holograms that depict animals that have gone extinct many years ago – so the idea of literally having an elephant in a room here in Adelaide is something that is possible.”
“I’m also looking at building a 4D cinema at the Adelaide Zoo to showcase Monarto Zoo, so taking the concept developed with Skype for Business and extrapolating on that."
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.