When most industries refer to supporting their field workers with technology, it’s about providing mobile-driven ways to submit orders, run tests, order parts, or complete customer service tasks. For Taronga Conservation Society Australia, its field workers are feeding and caring for its resident animals. This presented a very unique challenge for the IT team charged with designing and building a staff experience app. Because when you’re in an enclosure with a giraffe, you need to be able to complete your supply order quickly with one hand on a mobile device.

Flying into the SAP S/4HANA Cloud

This was an ambitious digital transformation that involved a move from SAP ECC 6.0 on-premise where the team relied on spreadsheets to do analytics, all the way to SAP S/4HANA Cloud. The employee mobile app would connect with the new cloud-based ERP system, as well as with a new SAP SuccessFactors implementation to help employees complete HR-based tasks. And all of this work would take a digital-first and mobile-first approach as it aimed to help employees complete self-serve business processes more efficiently than they could before.

Manager of IT Operations Cassandra Long explained to ASUG how the organization relies on technology to achieve its mission, as well as how she and her team accomplished the first phases of their digital transformation. The goal was to reinvent frictionless business processes so employees could stay focused on the real reasons why they’re there—to care for the resident animals and educate guests about how they can personally take part in conservation efforts.

Ann Marie: Tell us a bit about Taronga Conservation Society Australia. What’s your history and how have you evolved today?

Cassandra: Taronga Conservation Society Australia is a not-for-profit organization that primarily conducts research and conservation work through education. We offer kindergarten to master’s-level education, and we also deliver transformational guest experiences at our zoos in Sydney and Dubbo. In 2008, we welcomed more than 1.9 million guests. We want their experiences with us to change their attitudes and behaviors toward positive outcomes for wildlife. We’re more than a hundred years old. In that time, we’ve moved from being a zoo to a conservation society. We now aim to be a leader in conservation with a global impact that influences human decisions, supply chains, and government policy.

Ann Marie: How do you rely on technology to support your mission?

Cassandra: About two years ago, Taronga adopted a digital-first approach for all our business-facing applications and the way we do business from an operational perspective. That approach is all about looking to technology to help us achieve cost savings for our infrastructure, to be able to rapidly respond to changes, and to contribute to sustainability goals like our on-site carbon footprint. When it comes to our conservation and educational mission, we use technology to create real transformation.

Ann Marie: How do the guests at your zoos engage with your digital-first approach?

Cassandra: One of our great success stories is our Tiger Trek supermarket. For this experience, our guests enter through an airplane simulating a flight to Sumatra. Then they come out into a Sumatran village to see the tigers. The messaging on the exhibit is around sustainable palm oil and what actions to take to stop deforestation. When the guests exit the exhibit, they come into the Tiger Trek supermarket. The technology there lets the guests—and ultimately the decision-makers of the family—look up their favorite products that they buy and see how that product rates in terms of sustainable palm oil content in the supply chain.

Then we give the guest the opportunity to email the big supermarkets to tell them, “Hey, keep stocking this product,” or “Maybe you could stock a different brand that has more sustainable palm oil content?” Our guests have sent more than 100,000 emails to the supermarkets where they shop. And those supermarkets are engaging with us. So, we’re actually influencing the supply chain through driving consumer decisions. That’s one bright success story of how we’re using technology.

Ann Marie: What other tech-driven experiences do you offer guests?

Cassandra: We’ve got a new Savannah exhibit opening soon, featuring giraffes, zebras, and lions. And we have engaged with a group of people in Kenya that we’re working with to prevent poaching by providing another income stream. We’re calling it “Beads for Wildlife.” We have a virtual reality (VR) setup where people can buy the beads from the craftspeople in Kenya and can send a message of encouragement to them. The guests can put VR lions or giraffes over their faces, take a photo, and send a postcard to the craftspeople. Technology like this can really ramp up our educational experiences and make them memorable for our guests.

Ann Marie: What types of intelligent technologies are you using or planning to use?

Cassandra: From a conservation perspective, machine learning offers a great opportunity for us to monitor animal behavior and breeding activities, particularly for animals living in large environments. For example, we have a site at Dubbo called the sanctuary that’s 110 hectares of predator-proofed space that’s designed to house mammals, endangered species, and species that are already extinct in the wild. Machine learning helps us map the movements of these animals to make sure that our management decisions like the introduction of new cohorts of animals are supported based on the data we are collecting and analyzing.

Ann Marie: It sounds like technology is very interwoven with your mission. How does SAP technology support your core operations such as finance, procurement, payroll, and HR?

Cassandra: SAP platforms are absolutely a mission-enabler for us. Just recently, we moved to SAP S/4HANA Cloud for our financials. That helps us work from anywhere, gain operational efficiencies, and digitize our processes—especially the tricky ones around purchasing, for example. We use SAP Analytics Cloud purely for our financials at this stage. But we really want to open that tool up to be able to track our conservation efforts. Taronga spends between $14 and $15 million on conservation work. Our SAP platforms and SAP Analytics Cloud will allow us to calculate our spend and determine our conservation ROI, for instance. Our goal is to help the conservation team spend more time in the field and not pushing around paper or spreadsheets.

Ann Marie: What other SAP solutions do you use?

Cassandra: We are in phase one of our SAP Success Factors launch. We’re hoping to go live with SAP ECC payroll by November 2020, which is a very audacious goal. That will give us efficiencies around the way we manage our HR onboarding and offboarding. Once again, we are looking at transforming everything that we’ve been doing that, up until now, has been paper-based.

Ann Marie: How do these solutions help your staff?

Cassandra: Being able to really tighten our operations and make them really efficient means that we can direct our funds into our conservation and education work. The biggest example for us in how we’ve used SAP products was in 2019 when we launched what we call Stax, our staff experience application. This is an SAP Cloud Platform and SAPUI5 project that we partnered with Bourne Digital to build.

We have some corporate staff, but we’ve got so many other employees working in the environment we call “in-grounds.” For example, our keepers and our horticulturalists. These people are scientists out in the field. They just want to do a food order or a requisition for a product. Before we had the app, they had to fill out pieces of paper and then take that paper somewhere else to get signed. And then it would go to purchasing.

We digitized that whole process. Staff can now raise purchase requisitions, log leave requests, and more from their mobile. And if they happen to be on their break, then they can do it from a computer. We also included some emergency codes and alerts in the app, along with instructions on what to do if they see those alerts.

We’re using the app to not only digitize more forms, but we’re also integrating it with SAP S/4HANA Cloud and, eventually, SAP SuccessFactors. It has become our digital staff portal.

We’ve received about 3,500 purchasing requisitions since it launched. Now it takes about four or five minutes, and you will have a requisition sitting in your approvals inbox. Before, it was a paper-based process that required physically walking pieces of paper to your supervisors who could be on the other side of the zoo.

Ann Marie: How did you gain some of the insights you needed to better understand the staff experience and where it needed optimizing before you built this solution?

Cassandra: For our partner, Bourne Digital, their whole way of approaching projects like our Stax project is by using Design Thinking and Agile development. We basically started by identifying the one or two biggest things that are a struggle for our employees to manage. And the two that came up were making purchases and requesting leaves through HR.

We have an intranet, but it’s not very dynamic. So, we also looked at how we could bring some of this type of information into our Stax project.

There were a lot of workflow workshops with the stakeholders. We formed a champion user group. And we made sure that the design matched the Taronga branding.

Ann Marie: The move from an on-premise SAP ECC system to SAP S/4HANA Cloud is a big one. What kind of change management efforts were required to make this switch?

Cassandra: We ended up with an MVP [minimum viable product] and we decided just to release it to see what the interest would be like. Rather than doing a huge change-management piece across the organization, we were interested to see what the uptake would be and how quickly it would evolve through the organization.

And it really did blow up all of a sudden. We had this influx of requests from users—could we put this form on? Could we look at this process? The engagement was really, really great. Those comments ended up becoming part of the phase two deployment of the Stax app. We added in a number of forms and workflows based on that initial user feedback.

We did the actual development sprint in about six weeks—it took only six weeks to release an MVP of an app to an organization that didn’t have any training and didn’t know how to use it.

Ann Marie: It’s an interesting experiment because if you’re building an app that’s intuitive—if you do your job right—you don’t really need a ton of change management.

Cassandra: Yeah, that’s right.

Ann Marie: You skipped over the step of broad user testing by putting the solution out in the wild to see what would happen.

Cassandra: Exactly. We had a very small group of testers just to make sure that the workflows were functioning. But after that, we basically told the staff—here are the tiles you can use, and now off you go. And we know that the uptake is working because we’ve processed just under 4,000 leave requests and we have received 110,000 page views since we launched the app.

Ann Marie: What factors did you have to consider, given this was a mobile user experience? What should other SAP customers pay close attention to when developing mobile apps?

Cassandra: The whole thing was designed from a mobile perspective to start. Having it on a desktop was just a bonus, really. We were concentrating on helping the people who don’t have access to a computer to get these tasks done. It was always about the person in the field. All the UX design was based on someone who was outside with a hat on, using a thumb with one hand, because they have a bucket in the other. That was the user story.

Ann Marie: How has moving to the cloud helped you achieve your technology goals?

Cassandra: Being able to respond rapidly is definitely the best benefit that we’ve had from going to cloud computing. With SAP S/4HANA Cloud, we’ve been able to transform our paper-based processes quickly into digital because of the workflows within SAP S/4HANA Cloud, such as for purchases, purchase orders, goods receipts, and invoice receiving. We’ve taken very lengthy processes and put the end user in control where they are more responsible and accountable for what they do rather than just signing a piece of paper and pushing it off to somebody else to do the work. It was really about empowering the staff to do things themselves.

With SAP S/4HANA Cloud, it’s a very intuitive product. Even though we needed to do some training, it’s nothing like the old SAP ECC. There is no way I could have used that product without proper training.

Ann Marie: It must have been radically different for your team to shift to maintaining a cloud-based ERP versus an on-premise system.

Cassandra: You spend less money on training people and worrying that any maintenance upgrade is going to break something. It just takes all the effort out from an IT operations perspective. We’re not worrying about things going down. We’re not worried that capacity is being reached. We’re not worried about having to do maintenance. All of those sorts of things have gone away and now we’re concentrating on business improvements and process improvements—the things that actually create value.

The cloud computing and the predictive analytics pieces are critical for us to have an understanding across our business about what’s going on with our conservation efforts and how we’re spending our money. Going forward, we are going to be looking at the planning module for SAP Analytics Cloud. That will allow us to have predictive analytics and forecasting functionality. It gives us that ease of modeling and planning that will help us be more flexible. Before, we had just spreadsheets which will only take us so far. We can go so much farther with predictive analytics.

Ann Marie: True. When you have the power of your ERP platform behind what you are analyzing, that’s far beyond what you can do with spreadsheets.

Cassandra: It’s also about the sharing of that information and making that information available at all levels, rather than just at the executive level. It allows us to be even more collaborative and deliver the analysis across the business rather than just to one area, which I think is super-important. We haven’t had that kind of analytics at Taronga before. This is totally new and exciting for us.

Ann Marie: What benefits or ROI have you seen since launching these solutions?

Cassandra: Operational efficiencies is one. Also being able to redirect effort to the work that creates real value for us—moving away from just keeping the lights on to empowering our staff to be able to concentrate our efforts elsewhere, rather than having to work to keep the servers running or spending money on on-premise data centers. It alleviates some of that so that we can do what we do best, which is conservation, looking after the animals, and being out there on the grounds, giving our guests the best experience.

Ann Marie: One bonus question for you: What’s your favorite animal in residence at the conservation society?

Cassandra: At the moment? It’s the red panda. It’s endangered and it lives in the Himalayas. It’s got a real cute face, and I was lucky enough to have a nice birthday experience with one. They’re really shy and they just have got the best tail.

Ann Marie: That sounds fun. I would enjoy that, as well. Well, thank you so much for sharing such a great story with us, Cassandra. Keep up the great work for the animals.

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