Magazine

Sharing Data...Evolving from "Thick" to "Thin"

Blake Laufer

Campus parking offices are focused on delivering timely and efficient solutions that address on-campus parking needs by creating comprehensive systems that are dynamic enough to be viable today -- and forward-thinking enough to last long into the future.
The Evolution of Campus Parking Operations
The parking industry has experienced dynamic changes since the first parking meter was introduced seventy years ago. But many of the pressing issues remain the same. How can campuses manage limited parking spaces while the number of vehicles continues to increase? What's the most efficient way to process citations? How can we track out-of-state student and visitor plates? What can we do to improve customer service and increase revenue at the same time? How can our understanding of current parking trends improve master planning?
Unifying Systems, Sharing Data and Improving Efficiency
The biggest challenge facing today's campus parking offices is managing multiple tasks through multiple systems. The most pressing need, according to many campuses, is the capability to bring these systems together into one platform. With input from campuses and municipalities, the vendor community needs to develop solutions with common fields for the congruent management of permits, collections, processing, signs, off- and on-street parking and gates.
With common fields, multiple databases can share information making operations more efficient across the board -- because when it comes to sharing data, the buck doesn't stop with the parking office. From small campuses to large universities, most parking departments have much more than parking to worry about. Integration with other departments, P&L, legislative issues, IT, zoning, signage, maintenance, human resources...the list is endless.
In many campus parking offices, integration between databases and operating systems has become a full-time job in itself. It is common for a medium-sized parking department to have a full-time Information Technology professional on staff to build and maintain efficient and seamless interfaces; larger operations may require multiple IT technicians.
Trending Toward Hosted Systems
How else will technology impact the parking industry in the near future? Operationally, it will have a profound effect on how parking management is both structured and accessed. Let's take a look at the evolution from "thick" to "thin" operations and how it might affect the world of campus parking.
Thick systems are those with software loaded onto each PC while Thin systems are typically browser based and allow data and functionality to be accessed from any computer with a browser. Thick systems involve a massive amount of data transfer between the server and individual workstations while Thin systems allow data searches to occur on the host server so that only needed information is transferred to the user's PC interface.
What's more, thin system applications are easier to maintain because any upgrading is done at a system level, not at PC level, which lowers the total cost of ownership over the life of the system.
One main benefit of a thin-system architecture is accessibility. Numerous departments can securely tap into the same backend database with an Internet connection, while remote users (i.e. officers writing citations) can access information via wireless devices or computers with wireless fidelity (WiFi) technology.
In short, new, hosted solutions address the features campus parking offices have been asking for:
Flexibility. Whether you're a huge university or a small community college where all parking is contained within a single parking garage, the parking database nucleus needs to be flexible enough to address each organization's operational rules and goals.
Reliability. Downtime is not an option. Loss of functionality means loss of revenue, not to mention some very unsatisfied students and faculty.
Security. Secure data transfer is a must when managing proprietary customer information.
Interoperability. This is a fancy term for making sure different systems are "open enough" to easily and safely share data without causing undue expense.
Scalability/Extensibility. Parking offices are looking for solutions that grow as they grow and systems that don't have to be replaced every few years. The technical term is "extensibility," which means a system can be modified by changing or adding features.
Parking offices have been asking for a unified platform for parking management for many years, and their day has finally come. With parking managers continuing to juggle multiple tasks, seamless, integrated solutions will bring forward-thinking parking offices to the top of the class.

Blake Laufer is Vice President of Research and Development for T2 Systems, Inc. He can be reached at 800-434-1502

Side Bar

Keeping Up With The Rest of the Class
* Are your registrar and parking office
databases able to talk to one another?
* Better yet, is there any way to streamline databases so there is no duplication of data?
* How easily is information accessed from
the field?
* How user-friendly and intuitive is the user interface for faculty and staff?

Article Abstract from December, 2004




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