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Data Collection Application Tackles Unique Challenge at Aquarium

Three pregnant dolphins posed a unique challenge for the CIO at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

At the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Hans Keller had an unusual challenge for a chief technology officer: predicting when three pregnant dolphins might give birth. Then again, Keller was tackling an issue his CIO pals can understand: recording real-time data in dynamic settings. For some, the problem is cargo boxes on busy factory floors. For Keller, it's bottlenose dolphins in nursery pools. "You are observing animals that can swim exceedingly fast," he says. "You can't be looking down writing copious notes." The aquarium had 170,000 records related to those three pregnancies, and aquarium medical staff need to monitor dolphins' arches and crunches during seven-month gestation periods to be prepared for the delivery of 30-pound, 3-foot calves.

Keller chose Pendragon Software Corp.'s product (at a cost of $250) to create custom data collection applications for handhelds and deployed it on six Palm Z22s (with a price tag of $99 each). He also spent $24 on a guide to programming a Palm Pilot. "It's a Palm Pilot talking to an Access database on a local machine," says Keller. "Then we use ETL [extraction, transformation and loading] to move the data to a SQL database for use with Crystal reporting tools." Today the real-time tool developed by the aquarium provides data shared by members of the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Breeding Consortium.

An avid scuba diver, Keller once flirted with the idea of a career in marine biology. But he took a different path, working in IT at the U.S. Air Force. The aquarium offered the perfect mix of marine life and mammoth IT projects. "How do you make information actionable?" says Keller. "That's the question for all CIOs everywhere, I think." Problem solved.

Ellen O'Brien, a former senior editor at CIO Decisions, is now a senior editor at Storage magazine. Write to her at

This was last published in June 2007

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