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Zoos SA brings people closer to animals with Skype

Off the back of overhauling its IT infrastructure, Zoos South Australia implemented Skype for Business, which has helped the organisation boost membership numbers, visitor engagement, and staff workflow.

The travel between Zoos South Australia's Adelaide Zoo and Monarto Zoo for staff to get to and from meetings was a 90-minute round trip.

But after Zoos SA IT manager Ashlen Naicker decided to roll out Microsoft's Skype for Business -- then known as Lync 2013 -- into the organisation, it meant staff no longer needed to make the long trips, and could instead communicate with each other face-to-face from their desks.

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Wang Wang at Adelaide Zoo (Image: Supplied)

The integration of Skype was part of Zoos SA's unified communication strategy, after the organisation saw the success of implementing Microsoft SharePoint.

But according to Naicker, the installation and introduction of Skype for Business was the easy part of the project; the difficult part was what had to happen beforehand with the overhaul of the organisation's IT infrastructure. While the overhaul eventually led to a significant reduction in running costs, Naicker said the board took a bit of convincing to approve the initial project.

Zoos SA worked in partnership with managed services partner Subnet to establish a completely virtualised environment, including a virtualised disaster recovery centre, and running fibre under the 9 hectares of Adelaide Zoo.

"It was a long process ... eventually the leadership team saw value in what we were going to do, and that's how we went through and got a new datacentre," he said.

"It was a cost-effective environment to establish. We started from the ground up, from the cabling all the way to the host server. Everything had to be changed."

A similar project was carried out at Monarto Zoo, and was completed three months ago.

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(Image: Supplied)

Aside from using Skype for Business for face-to-face communication, Zoos SA has used the software to boost visitor engagement by broadcasting live animal procedures from Monarto Zoo at Adelaide Zoo.

"During our first live surgery procedure, we had the big screen set up at the front of Adelaide Zoo, and then we had people who were from Adelaide coming up to tell us they didn't know Monarto Zoo existed. On that day, we were able to convert a lot of potential visitors into members as well," he said.

"Monarto always felt like they were our 'poor cousin', and since the integration, it brought everything together. We fall under one brand now."

Naicker added that staff are now able to communicate with animal specialists from around the world, such as in Africa and China, something that was not possible before.

"More and more of our ground keeper staff are using it at ground level to show that certain animals have particularly bad days, and to get in contact with vets who may be in China. We're now able get a real-world response on the fly, and there is no waiting," he said.

Off the back of using Skype for Business, Naicker plans to transform the zoo into a third-party host for virtual school excursions.

"The thing I'm very excited about, and where I see Skype for Business, is connecting schools. There are a lot of schools out there that are not privileged, and they do not have the means to see Zoos SA, and the only pandas in the southern hemisphere. So, why not take the only pandas to the schools?" he said.

There are also plans to see Skype for Business eventually replace Zoos SA's telephone system. Currently, the telephone system has been virtualised and integrated with the software, but eventually, Naicker hopes to see it replace the telephones at the desks.

In the past week, Skype has undergone some consolidation after Microsoft recently announced that it will be dumping the modern version of Skype for Windows. Microsoft said the decision is partly due to user feedback around ease of managing multiple conversations and navigation -- primarily by mouse and keyboard users -- as the app was originally intended for touch users.