Zoo management systems are an integral part of zoos all over the country. This software is used for more than just ticketing functions. It is a great tool to connect the different departments within the organization and it makes the visitor experience the best it can possibly be. Therefore, choosing the right software solution is not something to be taken lightly.
Are you looking for a zoo management solution? Or are you trying to replace an old outdated system? We’ll take a look at the different steps you should take while on the hunt for a new software solution.
In order to choose the best zoo management software for you, follow these steps:
- Decide who will participate on the zoo management software selection team.
- Decide on a software vendor evaluation process.
- Perform an overall needs assessment to determine necessary features.
- Create the RFP document for zoo management software evaluation.
- Distribute the RFP to zoo management software vendors.
- Evaluate responses and request demos of the software.
- Select your new zoo management software.
By following this 7 step guide you can be sure that your zoo management system is the perfect fit for your organization. Let’s take a closer look at these steps!
1. Decide who will participate on the zoo software selection team.
For your software selection team, be sure to include representatives from every department that will be impacted by the software selection. This may include departments such as membership, development, education, marketing, visitor services, operations, finance and any other group who will use the zoo software.
If your zoo is large enough to have dedicated technical staff, be sure to include them. Your technical staff has experience managing your existing infrastructure. They’re also likely to be responsible for implementation and maintenance of the new zoo management system. The expertise of your technical staff will help identify the qualities of a software that will best suit your organization’s needs, and their efforts will be critical to ensuring the success of the zoo management system you eventually choose.
Typically, a zoo software selection committee will include one or more stakeholders from departments with the following responsibilities:
- Ticketing and admissions (including ticket sales, presentation and validation)
- Group visits and field trips
- Donations and fundraising
- Special tours and animal experiences
- Camps, classes and other education programs
- Facility reservations (including birthday party rentals)
- Special events
- Finance and accounting
- IT infrastructure and support
2. Decide on a software vendor evaluation process.
If your zoo is a city- or region-funded organization, you may be required to follow a prescribed RFP (request for proposal) process to evaluate zoo management software vendors.
Most large zoos and mid-sized zoos issue an RFP even if it’s not required because it’s a fair and effective way to ensure you’re evaluating all vendors fairly and according to the same criteria.
An RFP doesn’t have to be onerous to create or to respond to—it just needs to communicate your goals and requirements clearly.
3. Perform an overall needs assessment to determine necessary features.
Presumably, your selection committee includes at least one stakeholder (typically a manager or director) from every operating department. These stakeholders are responsible for gathering input about what elements would be helpful in zoo management software. The stakeholder should ask the staff whose jobs require hands-on usage of the zoo management system.
To make gathering information easier, you might create a short questionnaire for each department whose questions include:
- What tasks do you perform in the current software solution?
- What features of the current zoo management system do you like?
- What features of the current zoo management system do you dislike?
- What additional tasks they’d like to perform with the new software?
- What interoperability, data sharing and communication elements should the new zoo management software support? Interoperability is key to gain the greatest benefits from an integrated zoo management system because data should not be “siloed” in individual departments. They need to have the ability to share visitor, member and donor information with other departments.
- What kinds of data do you have in the current system that must be imported into the selected zoo management software?
- Performing a comprehensive needs assessment that includes input from staff who will actually use the product is the best way to ensure that the needs of every department will be addressed with the new zoo management system. And, implementation and adoption can be easier when daily users feel that their input was valued and considered in the selection process.
Some aspects of an integrated zoo-wide management software solution may not be uncovered in the previous steps. Behind-the-scenes issues such as cloud-based architecture and integration with merchant services providers for payment processing are critical to the software’s success and should be set by a smaller group of stakeholders with organization-wide responsibilities.
4. Create the RFP document for zoo management software evaluation.
When all the stakeholder data is available, it’s time to organize all those requests and requirements into a single document: the RFP. A complete description of how to create an RFP is beyond the scope of this article. However, an RFP will typically include:
- An overview of the desired solution.
- Specific requirements for each department’s functions. Large organizations often provide an overview of each department’s needs in the body of the RFP and attach a lengthy list of individual features in an appendix. Respondents will generally write a narrative description of the zoo management software in the response and complete the appendix by indicating their support for each feature.
- Specific requirements for interoperability and data sharing.
- Hardware and software requirements.
- Installation and implementation process.
- Training and support information.
- Complete cost information including startup fees, subscription fees and credit card processing service fees.
Before you finalize the RFP, make sure that your IT staff has reviewed it to ensure that no important technical details are missing and that requested solutions will be feasible in the current operating environment and infrastructure. Then, submit the RFP for executive and legal review to ensure that the language of the RFP does not commit or obligate your zoo to responding to vendors in any way.
5. Distribute the RFP to zoo management software vendors.
If your zoo must comply with a specific RFP process, follow the required steps to publish the RFP. There are a number of steps you can take to ensure that your RFP reaches the right vendors.
In most cases, staff in each department will already have suggestions for system vendors to include in evaluation. You should also encourage staff to reach out to their peers at other zoos to learn what zoo management software they use, as well as ask for input on professional community forums.
Trade organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) can distribute member organizations’ RFPs to their commercial members.
6. Evaluate responses and request demos of the software.
At this point, you’ve done the hard work of performing a full-scale zoo-wide needs assessment and creating the RFP. Now it’s time to review the submitted responses and determine which zoo management system vendors will proceed to the next step in your evaluation.
To ensure that you can evaluate vendors fairly, you might decide to hold a “bake off,” where you invite selected vendors to configure a demo that uses your zoo’s real requirements, data and procedures.
This allows stakeholders to evaluate the vendors’ actual ability to meet your needs instead of their ability to create a whiz-bang demo.
7. Select your zoo management software.
Congratulations! Your organization can feel confident that you’ve selected the best zoo management software for your needs and budget. Follow your zoo’s established steps for vendor contracts. When the contract is signed, share the decision with all of the staff who’ll be affected by the change (and thank them again for their help identifying the important requirements for the solution). But don’t dissolve the selection committee just yet! Some (or all) of them should participate in the next major phrase of the project: managing implementation, configuration, data transfer and staff training.
By following this 7 step guide, you can be confident that your new zoo management software solution will best suit the needs of your organization. This software is about more than just tickets; your visitors and employees will appreciate a comprehensive solution that makes their zoo experience that much better.
For more information about management software and solutions, check out these additional resources from Doubleknot and other leading websites.
- Membership Applications: 5 Strategies to Boost Enrollment. Are you looking to increase your number of zoo membership signups? Employ the 5 strategies for your membership applications and watch your enrollment numbers skyrocket.
- Member Engagement: The Strategic Guide. Once you get people signed up for memberships with your zoo, museum, or other organization, you’ll need to focus on keeping them engaged. This guide gives a strategic guide to encourage your members to stick around year after year.
- Museum Software Ultimate Guide. Looking for other software solutions? This additional guide will help you find the perfect software solution for your museum.
Elissa Miller, M.Ed. is Doubleknot’s Communications Director. As the former development director for a regional nonprofit, she’s passionate about helping nonprofits and youth-serving organizations effectively harness new technologies to streamline operations and support their missions.