Call of the Wild Series Part 3: Igniting a passion for technology at the zoo with Power Platform

 |   Singapore News Center

Image: Mandai Wildlife Group

The term “developer” usually suggests an image of a software engineering professional huddled over his or her desktop, frantically typing out reams of programming code in Java or Python speak, testing and re-testing to ensure the application is fit for purpose and user-friendly.

This definition has been upended by a rugged, weather-beaten technical problem solver whose day job is spent outdoors keeping over 200 vehicles including buggies and trams across four wildlife parks running at tip top standard. His side job? Developing an app to improve efficiency and take the drudgery out of his day to day.

Meet Alex Che, Senior Manager, Technical Service at Mandai Wildlife Group (MWG). Traditionally in charge of MWG’s retail operations, he was tasked with overseeing logistics and warehouse operations as an interim role for a couple of years. During this time, he seized the opportunity to be a pioneer in integrating digital deeply into operations to transform routine processes.

It all started with the trees

Alex was walking around the parks one day when he realized that some trees had a QR code tied around their trunks. With his interest piqued, he started to dig deeper and found out that these codes were activated by an app which reflected useful information tagged to each tree including whether it’s been pruned and what needs to be done to maintain the tree’s health.

Drawing a parallel between the trees and the park buggies, Alex was inspired to create a similar app to keep a team of 118 updated on the statuses of the 200 vehicles that are used across the four parks.

Unleashing the power of Power Platform

Going in with nothing but a vociferous hunger to learn more and a modicum of knowledge on Java programming, Alex dove deep into Microsoft Power Platform, devouring tutorials, painstakingly pausing videos many times, and posting on GitHub forums to seek help from communities. There came a fanboy moment when a YouTuber influencer that Alex follows assiduously, took the time to answer his questions patiently and offer advice.

The Transformation Office team also played a pivotal role throughout the app development process, giving Alex the support needed to unlock the full potential of Microsoft Power Platform.

A crowning achievement

After a full year of building, troubleshooting, gathering feedback, copious testing, Alex’s unwavering determination led to triumph when the app was officially activated. The result was a revolution in facilities management through an app that streamlined processes in management of the parks’ vehicles and equipments.

Prior to the app, the team had to lug a logbook around the parks to manually record details of each vehicle inspection, before conducting calls to sync up on the latest updates. With the app, the statuses of each vehicle – faulty, needs repair, awaiting approval to be in use, minor breakdown but can still be used, are all reflected in real time at one glance.

The app was positively received by the Facilities Management team after a couple of training sessions, with technicians, managers, drivers to supervisors using it to oversee and run operations smoothly. With the app serving as a repository for all breakdown issues, the team can now easily pull data out into an excel and use the information for requisition of spare parts.

The impact on the team’s productivity has been significant, as it eliminated the need for less secure texting platforms and the hassle of dealing with piles of paper to log vehicle issues, transforming collaboration across the parks and supporting MWG’s sustainability drive with the reduction in waste.

Digital transformation never stands still

The journey doesn’t stop here – although Alex has resumed his original role of overseeing MWG’s retail operations, he continues to work closely with the Facilities Management team to upgrade the app with more features. This includes extending its capabilities to include other vehicles like the boats used in the Amazon River Quest boat ride and tracking new tranches of status updates on vehicles like the expiry date of road taxes and certificates of entitlement. Additionally, he is also exploring building a retail-specific application to track warehouse inventory across the different parks and provide an e-signing function for deliveries.

Beyond shadow of a doubt, Alex’s pioneering attitude and passion for technology is now an inspiration to others at MWG who’ve now seen for themselves how someone with little background or knowledge about app development can create one to improve the organizations’ productivity or solve problems.