Business Intelligence Tool Streamlines Operations

In need of improved data warehousing and dashboard analytics to streamline operations, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium implemented a new business intelligence (BI) system.

The zoo previously relied on its own custom-grown data solution that had been written internally, according to Gregg Oosterbaan, vice president of technology services at the zoo. However, the cost and resources needed to maintain that system, as well as dealing with new growth, resulted in the need to implement an external product.

The zoo turned to Information Builders’ WebFOCUS BI platform, which could pull data from various sources and create effective enterprise reporting, says Oosterbaan, who was recently named to the top 20 list of most innovative midmarket CIOs at the Midsize Enterprise Summit conference.

“That [capability] was a big driving factor for us,” he says. As a result, “our decision-making is better and more timely.”

The WebFOCUS platform enabled zoo staff and management to use dashboards, portals and reports, and to integrate mobile analytics, which is useful for staff members who travel or work at the zoo’s remote sites.

A new unified data warehouse enabled the zoo to build membership and revenue portals, which provide a more exact look at park revenue. This also leads to better data-driven decisions, such as where a food stand might perform best. Key metrics enable managers to see whether revenue is new or is being shifted around the park. The metrics also capture information about attendance at various attractions—such as at the zoo’s Dinosaur Island—which gives management the ability to determine what attractions are most popular and should be continued.

Oosterbaan and his team worked closely with Information Builders to clean up the zoo’s existing data, which came from various areas, including membership, retail and donations. Duplicate records for members and donors were deleted, and the zoo’s overall data quality improved. The data cleanup, one of the hardest parts of the BI solutions project, took six to eight months to accomplish, and it continues as new data comes in.

“We had years and years of data going into a system that really didn’t have any checks and balances on it,” says Oosterbaan.

New operations and procedures needed for integrating the WebFOCUS platform included training the staff and getting departments to think differently about how they can aggregate data.

“When you think of changing the way an entire company is looking at and using data, it’s a pretty big deal,” he says.

The zoo’s new BI solution led to many new project ideas, and Oosterbaan says there is now an “insane” number in the queue.

While he describes BI as a new data approach within the zoo industry, he says that data solutions are discussed at zoo and aquarium conferences. A zoo is similar to most midmarket companies that have point-of-sale, retail, record-keeping and financial systems, but there are additional layers such as animals and research, he points out.


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