IT Department Adjusting & Evolving In 2020

Tye Chandler :
Posted July 30, 2020

July 31 is System Administrator Appreciation Day, and it is a time to show gratitude for system administrators and other IT workers.

Fossil Rim Director of Information Technology Scott Hughes and his staff have understandably had to do some adjusting and adapting this year with the global pandemic looming large.

“COVID-19 changed the way people have to do business,” Hughes said. “Last September, I went to the AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) Conference in New Orleans. One of the things I was looking for was a replacement for our point-of-sale system.”

Fossil Rim IT Director Scott Hughes is shown setting up a refurbished laptop for a girl and her family at the Somervell County Food Bank as part of a Christmas gift. Hughes said the decision made in fall 2019 to utilize the RocketRez operating system paid dividends when adversity struck this past spring in the form of a global pandemic.

Having that thought in 2019 really made life easier on his department this past spring.

“It took us until the end of March to get everything worked out, but we went with an operating system called ‘RocketRez,’” he said. “Knowing that RocketRez would allow us to move to online ticketing, and more specifically timed ticketing, it is crucial for now when COVID-19 remains a threat because we are the perfect social-distancing destination. You can buy your ticket online, stay in your car, pull up to get your ticket scanned, and then drive through the park while being away from everybody else. People no longer have to go inside and be closer to other people just to buy a ticket.

“Had we not planned in advance to change our point-of-sale system and instead waited until March 20 when we closed to the public before trying to find an alternative, it would’ve been nearly impossible to find the right system for our needs. I say that because we had to get it implemented less than two months later for the May 11 reopening.”

For Fossil Rim, timed ticketing has been helpful as we attempt to spread guests out over the course of a day. We know to expect most guests to arrive in the early portion of each of the four arrival windows each day, as opposed to it being totally random when guests will arrive.

“Now, we avoid the majority of the guests on a given day showing up at the same time,” Hughes said. “We can sell tickets up to three weeks in advance so people can book and plan their trip here. Technology has changed the way the Front Gate area and our admissions process functions. We would never have been able to handle the amount of guest vehicles we get now without online, timed ticketing.”

The IT staff currently consists of Hughes, Curt Decker, and Dawn Green.

Curt Decker climbs one of the 18 network towers that the Fossil Rim IT Department is responsible for. In the photo from ground level, he is working alongside Scott Hughes.

“I probably need to add a (technician) in the department, because there are a lot of important aspects we could use help with,” Hughes said. “Two years ago, my staff had three more people than it does now, so I anticipate hiring someone.”

Hughes explained why the small staff is currently able to navigate turbulent times.

“A key reason we are able to run with such a small department right now is because we have a really good infrastructure,” he said. “We network 2,400 acres via 18 towers, when you include the 600 acres and five towers at (adjacent) High Hope Ranch. All of that is running well, and it is because of the members of this department – past and present – who have worked hard and done quality work.”

Looking ahead, Hughes discussed some exciting projects that will help Fossil Rim continue to improve what it can offer customers.

Dawn Green is pictured with IT department coworker Curt Decker back in the relatively smooth-sailing times of 2019.

“We are going to create an online store for the Nature Store using RocketRez,” he said. “We are going to open online bookings for lodging. We will eventually begin selling gift cards online.

“We may even set up online orders for Overlook Café customers so they can order while driving through the park and the food will be ready by the time they get to the café. Even something simple like sending follow-up emails to recent guests with specific content about educational opportunities or other topics they may be interested in is a step forward in what we can offer people who appreciate Fossil Rim.”

-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate 

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