Rugged PDAs Tame Crowds

— January 14, 2014

On an average day at the Denver Zoo, over 4,000 people visit entering and exiting over several hours. The Zoo is a wildlife refuge focused on education and conservation, but also serves as the site for several benefits, exhibits and other special events.

These happenings take place after the zoo is closed, but can draw this same number of people, who instead of arriving throughout the day, arrive all at once. Admitting eight hours’ worth of visitors all within about an hour was quite a challenge.

The oganization needed an effective system for managing guest entry for large crowds. With the help of rugged mobile devices with barcode-scanning capabilities, the Zoo has transformed the admission process. It went from a logistical nightmare to a smooth and manageable operation, saving time and significantly improving customer service and experience.

Solution Requirements
About 90% of daytime visitors pay entry fees after they arrive, at six points of sale at the park’s front entry. However, during special events, the majority buy their tickets in advance and so the tickets need only to be verified upon arrival.

The Zoo’s director of information technology, Dean Paulson, realized that setting up mobile ticketing checkpoints — where guest services personnel could use mobile devices to scan printed tickets and admit visitors anywhere — had the potential to save a lot of time for both staff and event attendees.

Paulson knew the right technology for the job would have to feature a fast, reliable barcode scanner,  but also be rugged enough to handle outdoor use, compact enough to hold and operate with one hand, able to run Windows Mobile 6.0 to accommodate the Zoo’s custom software program and capable of easy and consistent Wi-Fi connectivity. With these specifications in mind, he reached out to the Zoo’s IT systems supplier — Canada-based Vantix Systems, Inc. — about finding a solution.

Mobile Tool
David Cheung, senior analyst of IT systems at Vantix, came up with the Nautiz X5, a versatile, rugged PDA from Handheld. The tool features
robust scanning capabilities and a high-speed processor.

Its daylight-readable screen and long-lasting battery make it ideal for use outdoors, and the Windows OS is compatible with the Zoo’s ticketing software. The integrated Bluetooth, 802.11 b/g and 3G capabilities offer the connectivity for real-time ticket validation.

“It was a straightforward solution,” said Paulson. “The device would end up in multiple people’s hands, so there’s the potential for it to be dropped. It is lightweight enough to carry in hand, with a nice strap on the back that allows people to hold it. It’s really rugged, so it worked for us.”

Vantix wrote a mobile app for the device that enables the Zoo to use the same program on its desktop computers, in order to quickly verify ticket data.

That data is sent in real time to the desktop application, and can be viewed and analyzed immediately on the backend.

Learning to use the units is easy, according to Leslie Chenaille, the Zoo’s guest services logistics manager. “We can even train staff on the same day they’ll be using the device,” she said.

Through the solution, the park’s exit can be turned into a second entrance for special events, dividing large crowds and speeding up the entry process. The devices can scan barcodes on both printed tickets and zoo membership cards.

Chenaille noted, “Being able to use the units while walking around is great. We can use our plaza area as a queuing area, because we can go farther from our main gates and start scanning tickets — which is very helpful when we have large events.”


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