Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium

A 2014 Computerworld Data+ Editors' Choice Awards honoree, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium uses a cloud-based analytics system to deliver significant labor cost savings by better matching staffing with anticipated attendance.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium turned to cloud-based analytics when it needed a way to better predict how many visitors would be coming on any given day. With 65% of its expenses dedicated to payroll and attendance swings that ranged from 1,200 to 5,000 people per day, finding a way to ensure that staffing levels corresponded to attendance levels represented a huge opportunity for savings. "We live and breathe by attendance at the gate," says Donna Powell, business and administrative services manager at the Tacoma, Wash., facility.

Unfortunately, historical attendance and revenue data was locked inside the point-of-sale system, and reporting capabilities were weak. "We needed to have better access to our data and apply that to the business," she says. But there was another problem as well: The two-person IT organization lacked the resources to take on the project.

Explaining that "we knew we couldn't bring an extra burden to them," Powell says she championed a strategy that involved bringing in Cognos and integrator BrightStar Partners to create a SaaS-based system that pulls data from the zoo's 12 million POS records and combines it with weather data to help predict attendance.

IT facilitated that initial connection to the POS data and then stepped back. Powell and visitor services supervisor Derek Chapin then worked with the vendor to create the system. "The big challenge was figuring out how to organize the data and making sure it was accurate," Chapin says.

Initial issues with connectivity to the cloud-based system required a network bandwidth upgrade. The new system, now running smoothly, includes both a data warehouse and an interactive dashboard with a drag-and-drop user interface that lets staff analyze trends around revenue, attendance, and food and retail sales.

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