The Aldridge Company applied its technical expertise and extensive Managed Services capabilities to make improvements in the Zoo’s IT infrastructure and provide on-site support, thereby facilitating the Zoo’s strategic expansion and public outreach programs.
In 2010, the growth of the Houston Zoo was rapidly outpacing the capabilities of its existing IT infrastructure and in-house staff members. The Aldridge Company applied its technical expertise and extensive Managed Services capabilities to make improvements in the Zoo’s IT infrastructure and provide on-site support, thereby facilitating the Zoo’s strategic expansion and public outreach programs.
Founded in 1922, the Houston Zoo provides a fun, unique, and inspirational experience fostering appreciation, knowledge and care for the natural world. It is the most-attended zoo in Texas, with almost 2-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.
The Business Challenge
The Houston Zoo has almost 400 employees using 250 desktops, clients and laptops distributed over a 55-acre campus. Despite the size and complexity of the Zoo’s IT needs, until recently, only two employees were responsible for all hardware installation and maintenance. Another two employees were responsible for application support. The IT staff members were constantly playing catch-up and did not have either the abilities or expertise to meet the Zoo’s increasingly complex needs. As the Zoo prepared for its African Forest Expansion, managers realized that the Zoo’s IT needs were pushing the limits of its in-house capabilities.
The Zoo’s increasingly complex needs demanded a broader skill set and additional expertise. In addition, the Zoo needed to upgrade its equipment and secure faster Internet connectivity to support its distance learning programs for local schools and hospitals.
“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.
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.
“We’re running a much bigger operation than most people ever think about,” said Ms. Forestier.
Management recognized the need to expand the Zoo’s IT functions, but wanted to avoid hiring new staff members if possible. Ultimately, the African Forest Expansion was the impetus for the Zoo’s outsourcing decision.
“We needed to expand in an efficient and scalable way, so we could have the technical skills when we need them, but not have to pay for them when we don’t need them,” explained Ms. Forestier. “A lot of zoos are outsourcing various services, so I thought, why not IT?”
Another IT company that had been providing services on an as-needed basis referred the Zoo to The Aldridge Company. Following an extensive review, the Zoo interviewed three finalists. Of the three IT companies, the Zoo chose to work with The Aldridge Company partly because it wanted to work with a partner that could provide on-site support to meet the Zoo’s unique needs.
When The Aldridge Company first began working with the Houston Zoo in the summer of 2010, it was tasked primarily with providing IT assistance to Zoo employees, upgrading the network to make it faster, and securing better connectivity to the Internet. Today, two dedicated Aldridge employees work onsite at the Zoo full time, supported remotely by The Aldridge Company’s other team members, infrastructure, and the entire company’s expertise.
The Zoo needed a stronger, faster and more reliable Internet connection to facilitate communication with the outside world. Of particular importance were the Zoo’s efforts to reach and engage the community through live video broadcasts from the Zoo to schools and local hospitals. . However, because the Zoo sits in a public park, any negotiations with Internet service providers must be coordinated with the City of Houston and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department. The Aldridge Company successfully navigated the bureaucracy to secure a better Internet connection. At the same time, Aldridge employees improved the design of the network and replaced switches to upgrade connectivity and reliability within the Zoo.
The Aldridge Company moved some of the Zoo’s servers into its Data Center facility – a best practice for business continuity. Moving the infrastructure off-premise provides fire protection and a 24-hour power guarantee. The Zoo’s Microsoft Exchange Server is now in The Aldridge Company cloud, too.
To further protect the Zoo’s information, The Aldridge Company helped the Zoo switch from its outdated tape backup system to a new cloud-based backup system. The transition provided greater speed, reliability and peace-of-mind.
Most recently, in late 2011, The Aldridge Company implemented thin clients, which are small computer terminals that are connected to a central server. With fewer moving parts, they are more reliable and durable than traditional PCs, and they are cheaper to replace. This results in lower maintenance and replacement costs.
The Aldridge Company and the Houston Zoo have proven they can work together to provide seamless service to benefit thousands of resident animals and millions of visiting people. Today, the two onsite Aldridge employees fit in and function in conjunction with the Zoo’s team of regular full-time employees. The Zoo also receives 24×7 telephone support and onsite assistance from the rest of the Aldridge team. For example, when a storm disrupts the Zoo’s electrical supply and causes systems to crash in the middle of the night, Aldridge is there to make sure everything is up and running again in plenty of time for the Zoo gates to open.
And, like most organizations, the Zoo keeps a close eye on the budget. Ms. Forestier notes that the relationship with The Aldridge Company has been very cost-effective.
“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,” said Forestier.
Most notably, because the Aldridge specialists work onsite, the Zoo no longer needs to pay salary and benefits for in-house IT staff members, yet it benefits from having access to a much broader range of technical expertise as needed.
“Now we have access to additional resources of whatever IT skill set is required to meet our ever-changing needs,” says Ms. Forestier. “That has been one of the biggest benefits of working with The Aldridge Company.”
The IT management and other services provided by The Aldridge Company allow the Zoo to contemplate future growth and strategic expansion without viewing IT services and support as a limited resource.
About The Aldridge Company
The Aldridge Company is a Houston, Texas-based technology management, consulting and outsourcing company. Founded in 1984, the company brings a winning combination of professional technical expertise, extensive capabilities and a strict focus on the importance of business processes. The Aldridge Company is a leading provider, consultant and integrator of information technology and cloud computing solutions. In 2011, the company was listed as No. 11 on the Houston Business Journal’s Fast Tech 50 list of fastest growing Houston technology companies.
The Aldridge Company provides enterprise-level management of servers, PCs, and networks, coupled with rapid and accurate technical support. In addition, it operates and manages data center facilities offering fully-redundant, secure hosting of servers that cross the spectrum of business disciplines. By offering a broad range of IT Solutions in one organization, The Aldridge Company allows clients to benefit from having a single point of contact for the entire IT environment.
For more information about The Aldridge Company and how it can help transform your IT management and services, visit www.aldridge.com or call (832) 209-2940