Does it Work? Does it Add Value?
It has been said that the only thing that is constant is change. This is especially true when it comes to new technologies in the parking industry. While there is no shortage of new products and services, not all of them end up sticking around — maturing, as it were. Those that do share similar qualities: Not only do they improve parking operations in a measurable way but they also include stellar customer service, a full integration with other technologies, usable data and the flexibility to work within the bigger mobility space.
Will It Work?
Brandy Stanley, parking services manager for the City of Las Vegas, is often assessing new technologies to improve the operations and services for the city’s paid parking assets. “I’m open to new innovation if it adds value to our operations and our customers,” said Stanley, “but that can be difficult to find.”
When evaluating a new product or service, “first and foremost, we’re looking for something that actually works,” said Stanley. “Finding that is more challenging than you might think.”
It’s important that new technologies are able to communicate easily
with other systems.
Stanley said she then looks for a solid value proposition. “A lot of stuff is very cool but doesn’t add value.”
“Parking equals revenue so you can’t have an agency risk that revenue on an unproven concept or unproven technology,” said Julie Dixon, principal consultant with Dixon Resources Unlimited. Dixon said she spends a lot of time evaluating new technologies and providers for her clients and even brings companies to her office once a week to demonstrate their products.
“A lot of great ideas get capital, but you have to really look at what the goals and objectives are at these companies and, more importantly, how they are planning to make money,” said Dixon.
That support is important to Stanley. “We are looking for a long-term partner instead of companies that are looking to sell and move on,” said Stanley, who mentioned a lesson learned when purchasing a gate-arm system from a new company that was sold two weeks before the installation.
“They had a really neat product and idea but they didn’t deliver,” said Stanley.
“The companies that are successful and do well are the ones that support their product and have good customer service,” said Dixon, who said she looks for longevity when visiting technology booths at industry conferences. With the newer technologies, “I tell them to see me in six months to a year when they’ve gotten a reality check,” said Dixon.
Kevin Uhlenhaker, co-founder of NuPark (which was recently acquired by Passport), said that a number of people said the same thing to him when he was launching his license plate recognition technology. “They’d say this looks amazing and if you’re still here next year we’ll talk to you,” said Uhlenhaker.
Integrating the Operation
The next issue is how to integrate a new technology with other parts of the operation. “There is a lot of silo-ing going on when it comes to technology,” said Uhlenhaker. “Part of that is because of the RFP process. Operators and municipalities purchase things at different times from different vendors and then expect them all to work together.”
Uhlenhaker said that he has seen things change in this regard — and that’s because the customers are demanding it. Dixon agrees: “Integration will continue to be a critical requirement of tech providers."
“There is an increasing emphasis on the integration,” said Scot Delancey, senior vice-president at T2 Systems, which provides parking automation solutions and support. “We’re continually working to create platforms that make it more seamless.”
“There is no one technology that does a good job on everything,” said Blake Laufer, founder of Mistall Insight, which manufactures camera hardware and software that provide real-time statistics on lot occupancy. “Most operations go with two or three and then merge data from solutions to give a full picture of what’s going on.”
Laufer said it’s important that new technologies are able to communicate easily with other systems. “No system is an island anymore,” said Laufer. “You need to make it easy to get data out of the system or get data from other systems.”
Drowning in Data
All that data — yes, Big Data — is something a lot of people are still getting a handle on. “Systems today generate massive amounts of data, so the challenge is finding ways to distill it down and present it to the operators,” said Laufer. “Data is the new currency.”
This can be a challenge for parking operators. “We are presented with all this data,” said Stanley. “But the question is: How do you integrate it into your organization? There is a learning curve in the industry.”
“Many of the tech providers have really incredible management systems and capabilities, but a lot of municipalities don’t have a full-time analyst to look at all that data,” said Dixon.
Providing clear-cut analytics then is key. “We have been working to get from data drowning to providing actionable intelligence,” said Delancey.
That actionable intelligence increasingly lies within the larger mobility picture. “We’re not just managing a parking facility, but all these other modes of transportation,” said Delancey. “It’s becoming more about mobility management."
According to Bob Youakim, CEO and founder of Passport, which creates mobility platforms, this sort of big picture management didn’t used to be something his clients thought about. “They were looking for individual solutions to specific problems,” said Youakim, “but we’ve seen a big shift and a need for more integration.”
Because of this, when bringing a new technology to the table, it’s become important to know how it will fit into the larger transportation ecosystem. “Building an open flexible platform is important because we can’t predict the future,” said Delancey.
Uhlenhaker agrees. “Who could have predicted the scooters?” he said. “And there will be something else. Change is the name of the game here.”
“Our focus is to create solutions that have an immediate impact and address today’s challenges and also be set up to integrate with what’s coming next,” said Youakim.
And, of course, it also has to appear seamless to the consumer. “Consumers like it when transportation just works,” said Uhlenhaker. “It should be easy.”
“It’s all about how to get people from Point A to Point B,” said Delancey. “You’re not just managing a parking facility but all these other modes of transportation, all of which is growing and expanding the role of the parking professional.”
Ann Shepphird is a technical writer for Parking Today. She can be reached at email@example.com
Real World Experience
The increase in new technologies has brought a lot of new (read: younger) faces into the parking industry. “There are a lot of innovative people in parking,” said Blake Laufer. “Parking operations are looking to hire in the technical space and that’s bringing in a younger generation.”
While youthful energy, enthusiasm and tech savviness are obviously good things, it’s also important not to lose sight of the wisdom found in those who have been working in the industry for a while.
“It’s great that we have this young generation — and essential to be current and effective,” said Julie Dixon. “But we also can’t disregard the legacy and experience that comes with the folks that have been in the industry a long time.”
Dixon, who worked in enforcement and operations before starting her consulting company, pointed out that those who understand the physical and operational aspects involved in parking operations will continue to have an important role in informing the new technology.
“The question I always ask of providers is how will it work in the real world,” said Dixon.