The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest aquarium in terms of gallons of water and number of animals. The Aquarium has 450 employees and over 2,000 volunteers, who in 2009 helped the organization bring in more than 2.3 million visitors. The Georgia Aquarium is the world’s largest aquarium in terms of gallons of water and number of animals. The Aquarium has 450 employees and over 2,000 volunteers, who in 2009 helped the organization bring in more than 2.3 million visitors.
To support operations, the Georgia Aquarium maintains a complex IT environment, spanning from ticketing and e-commerce to financial and donor management. This evolving environment is only a few years old. Before the Aquarium could open its doors in 2005, Beach Clark, Vice President of IT for the Georgia Aquarium, had to make a series of key decisions around the strategic role that technology would play for the growing organization.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to start with what not many IT people get—a clean slate,” reflects Clark. Among the many crucial buying decisions that the Aquarium needed to make before it could open, Clark needed to find a financial management solution that would help the organization make the data-driven decisions needed to drive increasing revenues.
Meet Changing Business Requirements Cost Effectively
Through Business Ready Licensing, the Aquarium has been able to begin projects to bring the requisition management functionality of Microsoft Dynamics® to its organization, without adding cost. And the Georgia Aquarium can now embrace a potential deployment of the human resources management functionality. “We are a very young business,” notes Clark. “And as we grow, expand, and change, it is nice to know we have a solution in place that grows with us as our needs change.”
Plan Strategically with Enhanced Business Insight
With the comprehensive financial information the Georgia Aquarium captures with Microsoft Dynamics®, the organization is able to strategically plan for the future. Most recently, the Aquarium took advantage of such information to carefully analyze the cost and benefits of adding a $110 million dolphin expansion before moving forward with the project. “We evaluate the financial impact of all decisions by using Microsoft Dynamics®,” says Clark. “We review data on how popular our exhibits are and then prioritize our changes by looking at guest feedback and our financial data, such as budget estimates, cash flow, and projections.”
Increase Revenue in a Down Economy
With the enhanced business insight the organization has gained, Clark notes that the Aquarium has even managed to increase its revenues during a time when other similar attractions have faced decline. “Despite a bad economy where attendance at other large attractions is down as much as 8 percent, we are up 2 to 3 percent,” says Clark. “Having our information available on a daily basis to employees across the Aquarium is absolutely key to our success
Although the Georgia Aquarium initially only needed core financial management functionality, including accounts payable, accounts receivable, and general ledger, Clark thought it would be strategic to the Aquarium’s future to look for a solution that was robust enough to handle a broader range of business functions. He found such a solution with Microsoft Dynamics®. Says Clark, “We felt that because Microsoft Dynamics® GP covered a broad range of business functionality, it would give us the flexibility to meet future business requirements should they change.”
To get the most from Microsoft Dynamics®, Clark engaged Socius, and transitioned to Business Ready Licensing. Through this licensing model, the Georgia Aquarium gained access to a broader range of modules, but it only pays to use the solution on a per-user basis. Thanks to this model, the Aquarium was able to deploy only the core modules it needed initially and can affordably implement others as business requirements change. Currently, the Aquarium is in the process of deploying the requisition management module of Microsoft Dynamics® and is looking to take advantage of the human resources functionality in the near future.
Aside from its flexibility, Microsoft Dynamics® plays well to the Georgia Aquarium’s overall integration strategy as it works with several key systems. For example, when a or over the Web through the Aquarium’s ecommerce site, a Galaxy ticketing system kicks in and shares all financial information with Microsoft Dynamics® through a common Microsoft SQL Server database. Microsoft Dynamics® GP also works with the Aquarium’s Raiser’s Edge solution for managing gifts, donations, and sponsorships and with the Aquarium’s outsourced ADP payroll service, helping to provide a single repository for all of the Aquarium’s financial information.
In the back office, five accountants work with Microsoft Dynamics® every day, yet 100 of the Aquarium’s employees need to use such information to make data-driven decisions. To achieve this, the Aquarium worked with Socius to build a business intelligence solution that extends the reach of insight across its organization with key performance indicators and other information. This information is delivered through dashboards based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server that aggregate data from Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services, and Microsoft Dynamics® Analysis Cubes for Excel. Through one dashboard, which the Georgia Aquarium has presented on its intranet home page, those same 100 employees can view the Aquarium’s overall success as a business as they view two critical metrics: attendance and net income from operations. It is from these two metrics that the Aquarium determines employee bonuses. “By sharing this information with employees, we can create a proactive work environment where people maintain focused on our mission,” says Clark.