Convinced That New Technology Will Solve Your Problems? Think Again …
By Barbara Chance
You’ve been watching all the new technological developments at the trade shows for years. You’ve spoken to your colleagues in other parking organizations about what they bought and how they like it. Now, finally, you have been approved to acquire new technology for your organization – PARCS equipment, parking management software, pay-by-cell, LPR, RFID – you name it.
But is getting new technology the answer? Will it bring the results you want?
Technology is a tool – nothing more, nothing less. How you define the tool and how you and your organization will use it are the really important issues.
What Do You Want, and Why Do You Want It?
Technology should be a tool you use to move your parking and transportation programs to higher levels of achievement: improved customer service, better reporting to monitor progress, more efficient operations, improved revenue security, enhanced support for staff activities, or other improvements. Have you and your key staff spent sufficient time defining what doesn’t work well in your program, and whether technology could actually improve the deficient parts of your program? Or are you leaping to a technology solution simply because it’s popular, well-advertised or seems “sexy?”
Are You Solving Past Problems or Getting a Solution for the Future?
Never assume that the future will be the same as the past. And don’t try to solve a past problem that should not even extend into your future. As Peter F. Drucker, the management expert, wrote: “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”
A large part of considering new technology should be anticipating how you want to manage processes in the future. What will the future needs and customer desires be in your environment? What kind of solutions, technological and otherwise, will be needed to meet those future needs?
Don’t assume all the solutions lie in technology – at times, they can be found in better standard operating procedures, policies, training or management. Figuring out the real causes of your problems requires being honest about staff capabilities, your education program, and the abilities of your managers (including you!) – as well as how your existing technology is working.
How Do You Decide What to Purchase?
When considering technology purchases, there is no greater need than to clearly define understandable and realistic performance specifications. How do you want the processes to work? What kind of outcomes do you expect to be delivered? What information should be reported and for what purpose? How quickly do you want results? What is the return on your investment?
In prior times, owners of parking systems would hire consultants to write detailed specifications. Technology advances and multiple vendors soon outran that process, which was a good thing. Vendors have different ways to obtain desired performance, and they should be able to tell you how they will achieve the performance you require – regardless of how they are going to do it (assuming competence and expertise).
Your job is to be able to succinctly, effectively and professionally describe what you need the technology to do (its functionality) and how you want it to support your programs (the results). Don’t take the lazy way out and just buy what is being “pushed” to you by advertising and salespeople. Define what you need, and “pull” in the right vendors and products.
Are You Prepared to Manage Change, Internally and Externally?
Hopefully you involved staff members in the discussion and later specification of how you want your new technology to perform. Their input to desired performance specifications is crucial, since they are typically the folks who know the shortfalls of your previous equipment or programs, and they will be the ones living with the new technology.
But what happens after the new technology arrives? Staff members who will use it need training – at the beginning and periodically thereafter (the amount and timing of which should have been part of your specification and selection process). Learning new systems is not a one-time thing – not all the questions and answers can be dealt with in initial training. However, many organizations skimp on training, thinking that it’s an unnecessary expense.
This leads to the following condition, described by a PARCS expert: “Only 40% of those organizations that purchase new PARCS equipment actually learn how to use it effectively. Technology is advancing at a faster pace than the ability to implement and understand it, or to manage the processes associated with it.”
So one of your requirements when planning and implementing new technology will be to ensure that your staff members understand what it will do and why it has been acquired. Have the effects on their jobs been thought out and explained? Does the organization understand that there will be a learning period, with frustrations and some amount of confusion? If you hear, “I don’t know why we got this – it’s worse than what we had before,” your management of change is not working.
Your plan to explain the new technology and processes to your customers and to other colleagues in your environment will go a long way to assist in the implementation and avoid discontent. As you waited for the new technology to arrive, did you develop a strategy for public information?
Think Again …
Recent technological advances in the parking and transportation industries have been as impressive as the amount of time and effort needed to maximize their effectiveness has been under-appreciated. The greatest risk to not obtaining the biggest “bang for the buck” from technology lies in the failure of managers to recognize that technology alone cannot guarantee success, nor can it be a substitute for executing the fundamentals that truly make an organization great.
Barbara Chance, PhD, CEO of Chance Management Advisors, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from January, 2012