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SP Polar BearBy Donna Powell

As summer 2014 kicks in, so too does a season of great events at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. The operation, which covers 29-acres in Tacoma, Wash., attracts about 700,000 visitors each year, each of whom comes to observe a wide range of animals and exhibits ranging from the Asian Forest Sanctuary to the Arctic Tundra.

In the past, the zoo used intuition for staffing and running its 24/7/365 operations. Then the zoo teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to combine real-time weather data from NOAA with ticket sales, mobile check-ins, and past attendance data. With the help of IBM, the zoo added Cognos 10 to connect the data in their point-of-sale and admissions control systems.

Now the zoo is using data and analytics to guide decisions such as how to staff if it’s sunny in the morning, but will rain in the afternoon.

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Donna Powell, Business and Administrative Service Manager, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

Donna Powell, Business and Administrative Service Manager, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park

As Point Defiance Zoo adds more mobile systems, it will begin to offer things like mobile ticketing to better track the routes that people are taking through the zoo. One day it hopes to analyze how long visitors spend at different exhibits, such as the Asian Forest Sanctuary or RockyShores, to gauge how long it will take people to get through the front gate and reach that particular section.More granular, real-time data about attendance and how long visitors spend in any one area of the zoo can also be used to manage utility costs by adjusting HVAC systems based on actual usage.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is using big data and analytics to help pursue its passion of protecting threatened species and their habitats, from the jungles of Borneo to the wetlands of Western Washington.

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