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Houston Zoo

Case Study

Executive Summary

Aldridge modernized and streamlined the Houston Zoo’s IT environment, including upgrading its IT staff with Aldridge employees, which resulted in the zoo being able to meet efficiency, performance, and cost-savings goals while undergoing a major exhibit expansion.

Introduction

Founded in 1922, the Houston Zoo is the most-attended zoo in Texas, with almost two million visitors each year. In addition to caring for more than 6,000 animals representing more than 800 species, many of them classified as critically endangered, the zoo develops and manages conservation initiatives in 11 countries around the world. In 2010, the zoo’s IT environment was comprised of almost 250 desktops, clients, and laptops used by 400 employees over a 55-acre campus. The zoo managed its entire IT environment with just four IT staff: two for installation and maintenance and two for application support.

Situation/Challenge

By 2010, the growth of the Houston Zoo was rapidly outpacing the capabilities of its existing IT infrastructure. The skeleton IT staff was routinely behind schedule and did not have either the abilities or expertise to meet the zoo’s increasingly complex needs. Additionally, the zoo was preparing for its African Forest Expansion, which would push the limits of its capabilities even further. The zoo requires IT support for accounting, ticket sales, fundraising, membership functions, donor relations, educational programs, volunteer management, and a fully staffed veterinary hospital with extensive medical records. “Many people don’t think of a zoo as a business, but we have the same IT needs as any other organization, plus some unique needs you won’t find anywhere else,” said CFO Leslie Forestier. “We’re running a much bigger operation than most people ever think about.” Zoo management determined they needed IT staff with a broader skill set and greater expertise, comprehensive equipment upgrades, and faster, more secure Internet connectivity. To afford these improvements, management decided to outsource the zoo’s IT functions. After an extensive review process of several IT companies, the zoo chose to partner with Aldridge to help implement their improvements and provide on-site support that could meet the zoo’s unique needs.

Objective(s)

The Houston Zoo required the fulfillment of several objectives:
  • Provide IT assistance to zoo employees
  • Upgrade the network to improve speed and performance
  • Achieve faster, more reliable Internet connectivity, especially to help provide live video broadcasts to schools and local hospitals

Strategy

Aldridge developed a multi-point strategy to achieve the zoo’s objectives:
  • Navigate local bureaucracies to negotiate with Internet service providers on behalf of the zoo, which sits in a public park
  • Improve the design of the network
  • Improve backup and recovery capabilities

Tactics

Aldridge executed a series of tactics to support its strategy and achieve the zoo’s objectives, including ongoing improvements and support as part of Aldridge’s continuing partnership with the zoo:
  • Successfully coordinated with the City of Houston and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department to secure faster, more reliable Internet connectivity
  • Upgraded switches to increase network connectivity and reliability
  • Upgraded the zoo’s outdated tape backup system to a state-of-the-art cloud-based backup and recovery system
  • Moved selected servers off-site to Aldridge’s data center, a cloud computing best practice for business continuity
  • Moved the zoo’s Exchange Server to the cloud
  • Augmented the zoo’s IT staff with two dedicated Aldridge employees who work onsite at the zoo full time and are supported remotely by the company’s other team members
  • Implemented thin clients, which are streamlined computers that are designed to run off a central server and are more durable, reliable, and affordable than traditional desktop PCs
  • 24/7 telephone support and assistance from off-site Aldridge support teams

Results

Aldridge successfully met, and continues to meet, the zoo’s performance and budget objectives:
  • Improve capabilities, performance, and support while cutting costs
  • Avoid salary and benefits for in-house IT staff while benefitting from a much broader range of technical expertise
  • Allow for easy IT expansions to meet planned zoo growth

Conclusion

The strategies and tactics used by Aldridge to assist the Houston Zoo resulted, and continue to result, in substantial improvements to capability, performance, and efficiency, including reduced operating costs. “Compared to what we projected we would have had to spend with the African Forest expansion, we’ve achieved about 10 percent cost savings on IT expenditures,” Forestier said. “Now we have access to additional resources of whatever IT skill set is required to meet our ever-changing needs. That has been one of the biggest benefits of working with The Aldridge Company.”