Using Technology to Traverse Turbulent Waters with National Aquarium

Nearly every organization in the world today, nonprofit and otherwise, find themselves faced with the task of traversing turbulent waters created by COVID-19.  Workforces are abruptly moving to a virtual environment, our favorite local restaurants are pivoting towards to-go and delivery services, and even cultural institutions like Baltimore’s National Aquarium are closing their doors to the public until the spread of the virus is sufficiently flattened. 

As the largest tourist attraction in the entire state of Marylanddrawing over 1.2M annual visitors, the decision to temporarily close the aquarium to its passionate patrons was a difficult, if not necessary, call to make.  Luckily, the National Aquarium’s progressive utilization of the Salesforce platform and forward-facing technology decisions have allowed them to remain fully functionalcontinuing their fundraising efforts and giving their animals the world-class care the National Aquarium is known for. 

The Preservation of Conservation

VP of Guest and IT Services Samuel Tawiah recently sat down with Cloud for Good to discuss how the renowned aquarium has adjusted to their new reality and how the solutions provided through Salesforce have assisted with that adjustment. The National Aquarium is always one of the first things that come to mind when people visit Baltimore.  We’re almost like an anchor location for the entire Inner Harbor,” said Tawiah when asked about the National Aquarium’s identity as a cultural staple within the city of Baltimore. The importance of the National Aquarium to the local economy is significant, hosting over 51 million guests since their opening in 1981 and consistently ranking as one of the nation’s top aquariums. Featuring state-of-the-art exhibits and facilities for animal rescue and veterinarian services, 20,000+ marine animals call the award-winning aquarium home, all requiring complex, dedicated systems to keep them happy and healthy. While their doors are temporarily closed to the public, the National Aquarium is maintaining business as usual, or as close to it as possible, through a combination of virtual and traditional work. 

Thanks to Salesforce, all employees within the Marketing, Human Resources, Philanthropy, Accounting, Exhibit & Design, and IT teams are able to work from home through an intranet developed specifically for the aquarium powered by Salesforce.  Dubbed “AquaNet,” this single sign-on system connects all employees to an exclusive portal, accessible from any internet-enabled device, providing all the same applications and tech services normally available from their traditional physical workplace.  No special equipment or protective VPN services were required to transition workflows to the virtual environment, aquarium staff simply logged into the very same systems they’ve become accustomed to (from HR to fundraising) using single signon through Salesforce. “With our aquarium temporarily closing its doors and having many people working remotely, our Salesforce intranet has paid considerable dividends,” added Tawiah.  

Cloud-Based Crisis Prevention 

Although the majority of their employees can work from homecritical staff within the security, custodial, and animal care teams have responsibilities simply impossible to attend to virtually.  Luckily, solutions provided through the National Aquarium’s Salesforce instance are adding safety and ease to their new realities.  Typically, aquarium staff and visitors utilize one of the nearby parking garages or park on the adjacent streets when entering the facilities.  With a special parking request app built on Salesforce, the National Aquarium’s critical staff can secure closer parking, minimizing the potential exposure time as they come into workFrom an IT standpoint, the National Aquarium was ready and prepared to address the challenges this pandemic presented.  

Utilizing Salesforce’s Nonprofit Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Community Cloudeach unique team within the organization has been able to minimize the negative effects of COVID-19 on their overall productivity.  Philanthropy and fundraising teams are actively raising money and engaging with donors, the digital marketing teams are rerouting constituent interest to their website and exhibit live streams, even National Aquarium’s group of nearly 150 volunteer SCUBA divers can coordinate their overnight tank cleanings from the safety of Salesforce’s clouds. Any challenges that present themselves have been quickly combatted by the National Aquarium’s cloud-based solutions.  In a moment where so many organizations are scrambling to maintain their processes, the National Aquarium has been able to utilize their standard business practices without the need for additional training or new equipment.  Tawiah reiterates, “Our investment in Salesforce technology has empowered our efforts in response to COVID-19. Cloud for Good is the reason we’re part of the Salesforce ecosystem and we’re incredibly thankful for that.” 

Creating Immersion Through Technology 

Although nothing can replace the feeling of being up close and personal with Blacktip Reef Sharks and Blue Blubber Jellyfish, the National Aquarium is doing everything in their power to recreate the live experience through virtual interactions. Multiple live feeds of popular exhibits perpetually loop on the aquarium’s websitewhile the Marketing team has hosted Facebook Live sessions walking you through exhibits, answering questions, and providing behind-the-scenes looks into areas you wouldn’t be able to access during in-person visits.  For parents looking to keep their children educated and engaged at home, the National Aquarium offers a host of at-home aquatic activities ranging from downloadable word searches to marine animal coloring pages. Find yourself utilizing Zoom for work and virtual happy hours with friends and family?  Utilize one of the National Aquarium’s 4 virtual backgrounds to bring aquatic wonders like the giant pacific octopus to your online meeting. Sheltering in place has presented many unexpected challenges and new ways of life, and the National Aquarium is doing everything in its power to alleviate those challenges and provide educational entertainment to both children and adults alike.   

Turning the Tide 

Looking ahead, the National Aquarium is poised to come out of this experience with an even deeper gratitude for their technology.  Solutions provided by Salesforce have allowed the aquarium to remain responsive and constructive, ensuring they show all affected by the pandemic both compassion and empathy, all the while maintaining momentum and better preparing for a return to normalcy.  “COVID-19 has made us all sit back and evaluate our decisions moving forward.  From the end user’s perspective, I think there is a higher appreciation for IT right now.  Folks have stepped up and made the situation much easier through their technological preparedness,” Tawiah elaborates when asked what lessons can be learned from this historic moment. 

The daily care necessary to maintain the wellbeing of rescued seals, sea turtles, jellyfish, and thousands of other marine species doesn’t simply go away with a temporary closure.  Critical operations continue to be conducted daily to ensure the health and safety of the National Aquarium’s animals, staff, and their community of patrons and constituents.  Various utilizations of the Salesforce platform have placed the National Aquarium in a position to continue running as close to normal as possible.  Their responsiveness during this moment should be looked at as an invaluable learning opportunity for those not as prepared for a transition to virtual work or not equipped with a system like Salesforce to mitigate the issues COVID-19 has created. 

To help protect and preserve the efforts of the National Aquarium, please consider donating to their cause.