National Aquarium in Baltimore: A Case of Marine Life Online

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Article ImageNATIONAL AQUARIUM IN BALTIMORE
A city-owned nonprofit dedicated to environmental education and stewardship, the 265,000-square-foot National Aquarium in Baltimore (NAIB) houses more than 15,000 animals representing some 650 species of amphibians, birds, fish, invertebrates, marine mammals, and reptiles. More than 1.6 million tourists and locals visit NAIB each year to explore re-created habitats and exhibits on topics both local and exotic. Often credited with helping to transform Baltimore's Inner Harbor from a blight-stricken port area into one of Maryland's most popular attractions, NAIB will celebrate its 25th anniversary in August.
www.aqua.org

BUSINESS CHALLENGE
NAIB has had a Web presence for just over a decade, but until 2002, Aqua.org operated without a formal information architecture or an internal means of supporting it. All content management-related tasks were outsourced, forcing the aquarium's content contributors—including PR and marketing representatives, sales personnel, and marine biologists—to communicate tweaks or new content to IT staff, who then forwarded the information to the service provider. Once changes were made, IT staff asked contributors, known internally as business owners, to review and approve the changes or request additional edits. "We have plenty of horror stories from the days of updating our Web content without a CMS," recalls CTO Hans Keller, describing a "constant back-and-forth process" that taxed financial and staff resources, as well as the patience of everyone involved. By 2001, NAIB's ten-person IT team had resolved that the site needed a new skeleton—one that would permit aquarium staff to take control of the site's content once and for all.

VENDOR OF CHOICE: REDDOT SOLUTIONS CORPORATION
A Hummingbird, Ltd., subsidiary since June 2005, New York City-based RedDot delivers Web and enterprise CM solutions—including XCMS (Extended Content Management Solution), RedDot CMS, and RedDot LiveServer—to more than 1,600 customers. Although the company's history dates to August 1993, with the founding of INFOTIP Informationssyteme GmbH & Co. KG in Oldenburg, Germany, it didn't adopt the RedDot moniker until April 2001. According to director of business development and technology Darren Guarnaccia, RedDot's niche is mid-market companies that have "all of the same problems of bigger companies without the big IT budgets and manpower."
www.reddot.com


THE PROBLEM IN DEPTH

Aqua.org visitors are told that the site "seeks to create lasting connections between people and the aquatic world, to set the stage for a visit to the aquarium, and to foster knowledge about the aquatic world and its interrelationship with all of us." But the Aqua.org of 2006 is very different from the site that debuted ten years ago. Regular surfers surely have noticed the aesthetic changes—the graphic redesign launched last December; the addition of fun, Web-only content; the structural streamlining that created a text-based navigation system. What they probably couldn't

"By the time they came to us, they were looking for a way out," Guarnaccia says of the circumstances that brought NAIB and RedDot together. "They had a fairly large problem. As a nonprofit, NAIB runs lean in terms of its IT staff, who must manage the aquarium's intranet and Internet properties in addition to all of the other applications that keep things running."

Keller says the go-between role IT was forced to play took its toll over time. Contributors were frustrated by the pace at which changes were implemented, IT personnel were pulled in multiple directions, and staff had no control over how or when the site was managed. "We definitely needed a CMS," Keller says. Adds Guarnaccia, "They needed to manage content in a more meaningful way."

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