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pt the auditor

Mining Data from your Revenue Control System

Data mining ... now there's a term that is very descriptive. You know, drilling down through a mass of data on your PC to get the bit that proves your point, or backs up your argument, or simply fills out the report. For those of you who use the Internet, you do it every day.
Huh? You say. I don't manage or mine for data, I just like to browse around the Net and find interesting stuff, or check the weather in Maui, or sell my great uncle Charlie's fishing pole on eBay. Well, when you select and click, select and click, select and click you are drilling down through a database somewhere, and in a sense, mining for that bit of data you want.
I have found that as a new generation of managers move into the parking (and ownership) business, the need for statistical information is more and more important. We all know that with a couple of clicks on an Internet browser you can find almost anything. Why can't you then get the data about your garage just as easily?
From reading the other articles in this issue of PT before my nephew used it for, well never mind, this old dog has come to realize that customers want (and a few may actually need) good solid statistical data so they can make educated decisions about how to run their parking business. The days of the cigar box are long gone.
Data needs to be able to be moved across different computers and different programs. If you are familiar with Excel, Access, Filemaker, Crystal Reports, or any of the tons of other data management tools, then you know you should be able to easily drop in the raw data from your revenue control system and then search or organize or manipulate it any way you like.
From what I have seen, more and more manufacturers are allowing you to do this, quickly and seamlessly. If you can do it with mailing lists, accounting data, and the number of bids on that fishing pole, you should be able to do it with the data from your parking lot.
I used a word earlier that put my tail right between my legs. That word was "manipulate." And with all this "cross platform" and "open architecture" talk the problem is that someone can very easily manipulate the information... to your peril.
This auditor is very concerned that a shift is taking place in the industry, away from revenue control and into data management. You want to manage the data, but the very tools that allow you to do it also allow you (or someone on your staff, shudder) to change it. Sometimes in subtle ways, but change it nevertheless. If the change is to make the data look a bit better, or clean up a confusing report, so be it. However if the change is to alter the numbers to cover a theft, you are in big trouble.
I have a suggestion. When you purchase your revenue control system, look at all the reports and data management tools and the other whistles and bells carefully. Once you have gotten yourself back under control, take a look at the source of the data. Is the system still a revenue control system with good data management, or is it a data management system with no revenue control?
Is there a record of each and every transaction, timed and numbered, that cannot be altered? Don't believe the manufacturer on this last piece of the pie. Have a third party you trust look at the system. Is there a source document on each bit of data, whether it is a hard copy print out or a ticket or register tape? Is there something that a third-party auditor can sniff around and prove what the numbers on the reports say?
Summary reports are just that, summary reports. And its soooo easy to place little formulas in Excel or Crystal Reports and remove a buck or two here or there.
And one more thing. You have five systems running in five garages all reporting their data back to central. One of the great features of your system is that if one of the systems in the garages goes down, the gates and spitters and pay on foot machines will continue to operate so your customers won't be inconvenienced. How will you know back at central if that system is down? Sure, there is a printout out and your bookkeeper will notice that there is no data coming from that garage, but how long will it be before you notice. Your cashier in the garage might notice, but will you? Think about it.
What is our goal -- customer convenience at all cost? And how much is that cost?
Woof!

Article Abstract from January, 2003




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