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Houston Zoo puts animal and visitor care first with the deployment of their new intranet

logo - houston zoo
  • Employees
    250-1,000 Employees
  • Vertical
    Retail, Leisure & Entertainment
  • Locations
    North America

About

Houston Zoo is made up of many moving parts. It has over 6,000 animals in permanent residence, providing housing, meals, medical care and even education! There are over 2 million guests each year who come to experience the Zoo’s incredible variety of animals and ecosystems, as well as to attend special private and public events and entertainment. houstonzoo.com

Challenges

Mobile staff need fast access to clinical and other information to care for animals and look after visitors. They also need to minimize routine admin to prioritize their core tasks.

Key Benefits

  • An industry leading intranet - completely free of charge
  • Ease of development and deployment
  • Rapid adoption across all staff
  • Reduced admin and more time for animals and visitors
  • Enhanced internal communications

To help staff minimize administrative overhead, foster teamwork, and prioritize animal and visitor care, Houston Zoo deployed a new intranet which they named ‘The Watering Hole’.

Completing routine tasks is much faster and easier with Interact, so we can spend more of our time doing what we love: caring for animals and visitors.
Kara Masharani, Web Administrator, Houston Zoo

Nearly 2.5 million people visit Houston Zoo and its 6,000 animal residents every year. As well as having a whole lot of fun, visitors get inspired by the wide range of species and ecosystems they see at the zoo, fostering appreciation, knowledge, and care for the natural world.

More than 400 dedicated staff work around the clock to provide the best animal care, and to ensure that everything runs smoothly for visitors. In total, 10 teams look after animals, and 21 additional teams administer the Zoo, organize special visitor events, repair facilities, and more.

To work effectively, employees need access to a range of documents and other information. This includes medical guides used by vets and other animal care resources, as well as administrative forms and documents such as HR forms, supplier information, and Material Safety Data Sheets.

In the past, all this information was stored on two hard drives at Houston Zoo, making it difficult for employees to find. Kara Masharani, Web Administrator at Houston Zoo, says, “Staff spent a lot of time telling each other how to accomplish a simple task like getting a new name badge, where stuff was stored or which version of a file or form was the most current. We needed a better and faster way for people to get to that information.”

In addition to the hard drives, the Zoo used an aging intranet platform for sharing some information internally. “We had the intranet set up as the homepage on office PCs, and people could click through to some commonly used documents and systems from there,” says Kara. “It was difficult to use, though, and a lot of the documents – like our PDF of colleagues’ contact details – were frequently out of date.”

To help everyone work better and spend more of their time and energy looking after animals and visitors, Houston Zoo decided to implement a new intranet platform where staff could find what they needed faster.

A new intranet

After evaluating a number of intranet systems, Houston Zoo favored Interact’s intranet technology. The Houston Zoo team carefully planned its Interact deployment. “We started by getting together 12 people from different departments, including zoo keepers, Finance, and Purchasing, and asked them what they needed from the new platform,” says Kara. “We then figured out 20 things that were most greatly needed to be easily accessible and mapped out the site structure accordingly.”

Interact provided consulting and training to help the Houston Zoo team with site building and page layout. “We wanted to get things done fast, and Interact was a great help with that,” says Kara. “With the Interact team showing us the ropes, we found the development process really easy, and we got all our pages built much faster than we expected.”

Of the Zoo’s 415 employees, 400 now regularly log into the new intranet, which is called ‘The Watering Hole’. “Almost all our staff sign in to the intranet every day,” says Kara. “Even staff who work out in the grounds will visit a PC for a few minutes to access The Watering Hole for the latest information and news.”

Almost all our staff sign in to the intranet every day. Even staff who work out in the grounds will visit a PC for a few minutes to access The Watering Hole for the latest information and news.
Kara Masharani, Web Administrator, Houston Zoo

More time for animals and visitors

The Intranet has helped Houston Zoo staff work together more productively in a number of ways, maximizing the time they can spend looking after animals and visitors. “With the Search feature, we can find the information we need much faster, and we no longer have those conversations about where documents are saved,” says Kara.

Another big breakthrough has been the Interact People Directory, which helps colleagues connect with other team members easily. “We save a lot of time now that we’ve replaced our old staff PDFs with Interact People Directory, which you can search by department, first name or just look at the photos until you find someone,” says Kara. “The directory is also easy to update when we have new hires or departures.”

In the near future, the People Directory will be enabled for mobile devices. “We’re not there yet, but soon people will be able to find colleagues on their mobile device, wherever they are at the Zoo,” says Kara. “This will be great for staff who spend most of their time on the move.”

Finally, a number of “I want to” tabs on the intranet homepage save employees’ time and help them focus on their core tasks. “You can click to do routine tasks, from reserving a cart for a visitor, to ordering new business cards, requesting uniforms, or logging a support ticket with the IT team,” says Kara. “Completing routine tasks is much faster and easier with Interact, so we can spend more of our time doing what we love: caring for animals and visitors.”

Awesome internal communications

Senior managers at the zoo communicate with staff using emails and at general staff meetings, which are held every two months. Now, The Watering Hole is being used alongside these traditional communications channels to improve the employee experience.

“Our staff meetings are really fun, and there’s often interesting news, like an animal birth announcement or a new species arriving at the zoo,” says Kara. “The only problem is that not everyone can attend, either because it’s their day off, or because they’re out working on site.”

Interact fills a gap here and makes sure that everyone can stay up to date with the latest news. “Now, our Vice President for Animal Programs publishes interesting Zoo news on the intranet homepage every two weeks, so we can all stay up to date with what’s happening,” says Kara. “It’s just one more way that the technology brings us all together and makes us feel part of the same team.”

Another benefit is Interact’s blogging tool, which is used by Zoo Rangers to publish daily schedules for their teams. “The Rangers only have a few minutes to put the schedules together before they get on their trikes and head out onto the grounds, so the blogging tools is ideal,” says Kara. “They can quickly write the schedule inside the tool and publish it to their team with the click of a mouse.”

The Rangers only have a few minutes to put the schedules together before they get on their trikes and head out onto the grounds, so the blogging tools is ideal. They can quickly write the schedule inside the tool and publish it to their team with the click of a mouse.
Kara Masharani, Web Administrator, Houston Zoo

Perfect event scheduling

In the past, there was no way to see all the events happening across the Zoo in one place. This made it difficult to arrange dates for events, requiring multiple phone calls to colleagues in different departments. “With Interact’s calendar widget, we can see the entire event schedule for the Zoo, which means we can select dates for internal and visitor events easily and avoid any clashes,” says Kara. “Picking dates for events, like ‘Spotlight on Species’ or fundraising events, has become much easier and much faster, saving us a lot of time that we can use for core tasks.”

Saying a big ‘thank you’ to dedicated staff

As well as improving team collaboration and access to information, The Watering Hole gives staff a way to say thank you. They can use simple forms to ‘shout out’ to colleagues who have gone beyond the call of duty to help a colleague or visitor.

“Staff can nominate one another for an award, and we recognize that by giving them a certificate at one of our staff meetings,” says Kara. “It’s a small gesture, but it means a lot to people, and it’s another way of showing our appreciation for our amazing staff who care for animals and visitors 24 hours-a-day, 365 days a year.”

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