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Chester Zoo streamlines site maintenance using ShireSystem


Over two million people visit Chester Zoo each year, expecting a first-class experience. As the UK’s most popular conservation zoo, its facilities management team relies on ShireSystem to ensure every part of the 128-acre site – from the animal habitats to shops and restaurants – is maintained to the highest standard.

Managing the maintenance of any major estate is challenging. But when you’re responsible for the wellbeing of both wild animals and members of the public, the need to run an efficient, safe operation is mission-critical.

Since October 2020, Chester Zoo has been using ShireSystem by Elecosoft to coordinate all its maintenance requests. By moving to a unified approach, the facilities management team can work quickly and flexibly to balance priority jobs with planned preventative maintenance.

ShireSystem’s key achievements at Chester Zoo:

  • Unified all maintenance requests to provide complete visibility of live tasks (and their status)
  • Given engineers the flexibility to check jobs on the go via the Mobile Pro app
  • Generated data insights needed to track KPIs such as response times and first fix rates
  • Facilities management team has recommended ShireSystem to other UK zoos

Centralising facilities management for smoother working processes

Chester Zoo is England’s most visited attraction outside London. It’s home to more than 20,000 animals, whose exploits are watched by millions of people across the UK on the popular Channel 4 television programme, The Secret Life of the Zoo.

Over 500 permanent staff members are responsible for the zoo’s day-to-day running, with an additional 500 temporary staff recruited during the busy summer months. This includes a skilled facilities management department, which oversees the upkeep of animal habitats, plant rooms, restaurants, retail outlets and residential properties, along with a fleet of site vehicles and a large agricultural estate.

Chester Zoo’s maintenance operation is divided into three teams – mechanical, building and electrical – who collectively receive 400-500 work requests each month. Until 2020, these teams had no cohesive system for collating, assigning and tracking work requests, as data was stored across multiple spreadsheets or in people’s heads.

To centralise maintenance workload and provide complete visibility over all live tasks, Chester Zoo’s Facilities Manager, Carl Askew, and Deputy Facilities Manager, Nick Farrell, decided to invest in ShireSystem. CMMS/CAFM software that both of them had used successfully in previous roles.

“We wanted to bring all the different systems we had for managing maintenance into one platform to give us full visibility over workload and plan for the future.”
– Nick Farrell, Deputy Facilities Manager, Chester Zoo

Asian elephant calves

Finding user-friendly CMMS software

ShireSystem’s user-friendliness was critical to Carl and Nick’s choice of software, as work requests are submitted by hundreds of staff members across Chester Zoo. Many people are in non-technical roles, so they needed technology with an intuitive interface that their colleagues could get to grips with quickly.

“ShireSystem is the easiest, most user-friendly facilities management software I’ve used in my career, so I was confident that it would be the best-fit technology for the zoo.”

Despite the company’s complex maintenance requirements – and rolling the software out during a pandemic – Chester Zoo found implementing ShireSystem a straightforward process.

First, the ShireSystem support team created a template that facilities management staff populated with information on equipment, tasks, contractors and staff, which was uploaded to the software to create an online asset registry.

“You can modify ShireSystem to your own categorisation systems, terms and language, which is really helpful.”

Second, to make sure employees hit the ground running, the zoo launched a peer-to-peer training programme. Carl and Nick trained as ShireSystem super users before upskilling team managers, who then trained their respective teams and other staff members.

Balancing PPM alongside urgent work requests

From day one, ShireSystem has delivered a much clearer, cohesive system for managing maintenance requirements across Chester Zoo.

When someone in the organisation submits a work request, facilities management staff can approve it, assign it to the right team and set a deadline. In addition, task progress can be tracked at every stage to provide a real-time overview of the status of each request.

Staff members also receive email updates when a job status changes, to streamline communications and allow them to focus on the next priority. And the email recipient list can be tailored for each request, so engineers only receive updates that are relevant to their role.

“Our maintenance team can see so much more information than they could before. We can see the status of every request – whether it’s been started, if it’s on hold for any reason, or if it’s been approved.”

A unified facilities management system also makes it simpler for Chester Zoo to schedule planned preventative maintenance (PPM) alongside priority requests. And to create digital compliance checklists for other departments to maintain safety standards across the site.


Managing maintenance requests on the move

Accessibility was another key reason that Chester Zoo chose ShireSystem.

As the software is cloud-based, facilities management staff can use it on desktop computer, laptop, tablet and smartphone, to check and update information wherever they are. Team members can even make requests and assign tasks when working remotely – increasing productivity and shortening response times.

ShireSystem’s Mobile Pro app has proved particularly useful, as there are parts of the zoo with limited signal. Staff can use the mobile app offline, synchronising data when they return to an area with Wi-Fi or 4G reception. This is helping the facilities management team to increase workflow; a recent FMI report revealed that using mobile site management systems like ShireSystem can increase productivity by up to 40%.

“With ShireSystem, we can send work requests straight to our engineers’ smartphones so they can pick up jobs instantly. And they can see other live tasks in that area of the zoo, so they can complete two or three jobs in one burst rather than having to tackle tasks one at a time.”

Tracking performance through facilities management KPIs

While Chester Zoo’s initial aim has been to unify its maintenance operation, there are bigger goals for ShireSystem now maintenance staff have embedded the software in their business.

The next objective is to better use the software’s management KPIs and reporting feature to benchmark and measure performance. Tracking metrics such as response times and first fix rates, to acknowledge all work requests within two days and complete them within five.

KPI tracking will also help to plan resources; targeting areas of the organisation that require the most upkeep – such as the site’s offices and restaurants – and creating more robust cases for investing in new assets and skilled staff.

“With ShireSystem, we can analyse workload against our current capacity and use that data to build a case for increasing maintenance resources.”

The facilities management team are already reporting key statistics internally. The longer-term aim is to create quarterly reports for the team of directors, and to give other staff across the site the capacity to check essential metrics.

Coming soon to a zoo near you?

It’s still early days for Chester Zoo, but already ShireSystem has improved work request management and given the facilities management team visibility over their full scope of work.

Staff are so impressed by how well ShireSystem supports the zoo environment that they have recommended the software to several other UK conservation zoos.

While further zoos consider ShireSystem, Chester Zoo is focusing on next steps: deepening their online asset registry to component level, to capture more information on the condition of all equipment. And launching an online documentation manager for storing manuals, risk assessments and other important equipment information digitally, to make engineers’ jobs easier.

“We want every engineer to have the information they need in the palm of their hands. It doesn’t matter who is picking up that job, they have all the details they need to get on with it. One stop for everything, accessible to everyone. That’s our goal.”

Book your free ShireSystem demo to discover the benefits of combined CMMS and CAFM software.

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