Just Who Is in Charge of Parking?
I had dinner the other day with a friend, a longtime parking consultant, and he told me that, among other things, over the past few weeks his LinkedIn page had been viewed by about 30 people, and a third of them, the largest single group, were IT professionals. What is that all about?
When I visit my doctor, I park in a garage attached to his office building. There is no one in the lane and no facility for taking money. You have to pay by credit card in the exit lane. So when I left, I inserted my ticket in the exit reader, and it said please swipe credit card. I did so, and two seconds later, the gate opened and if I wanted I got a receipt, if not I left. All in all a very satisfying parking experience.
On a recent weekend, I visited one of the most prestigious shopping centers in LA. I had lunch, went to a movie and bought some items in the shops. When I left, I approached the POF machine, put in my ticket, and it said pay $4. I inserted my credit card and waited, and waited, and waited – fully eight seconds before the “amount paid” was displayed and my card returned. I then waited another eight seconds before my ticket was returned, and I left for the exit lane. When I put the ticket into the exit reader, it was fully five seconds before the gate opened.
In the first case, I went to the manufacturer and asked if perhaps the thing was running off-line. I was told that it was fully online and worked in real-time. In the second case, I thought the less said the better.
So, what was the difference – one system worked extremely fast, the other not so much. Both companies were well-known names in the industry.
After researching this issue, I’m told that a lot has to do with how the systems are connected to the Internet, the speed of the line used, and even the way that the system tries to get an answer when it reaches out for an OK for the card.
We don’t need to go into the technology here, but suffice it to say that few really understand how this works, and, therefore, you get varying speeds, varying responses and sometimes long queues at the POF/exit lanes.
This response time is something we don’t think a lot about when we purchase technology. We expect everything to work as well as it does when we buy a book from Amazon or a new PC from Microsoft online.
But sometimes, in fact most times, it doesn’t. By then it’s too late. You can’t simply decide to use eBay instead. Machines are bolted to the ground. You have bought the farm.
My consultant-dinner companion noted that more and more IT departments are getting involved in the purchase of technology. Often that is a good thing, but sometimes, he said, it can be not so good.
Just because someone has “IT” in their title doesn’t mean that they really know about the vagaries of the Internet or how communications really work. They have an expectation that hardware works like it does on their desk. And they are furious when it doesn’t. But, then again, it’s often too late.
My dinner companion said he thought one of the problems is that the installing company often doesn’t have the IT chops to handle the technology required to make these marvels actually work. His experience has been that there is usually one “little thing” they don’t know that makes a tremendous difference.
He listed a number of companies that get it right, but a larger number that have failed. Oh, the systems sort of work, but maybe instead of two seconds, it’s eight seconds or longer.
Some claim that this isn’t an installation issue, but a larger one dealing with the very core of the equipment itself.
Often, IT folks are bound up in PCI audits and the like, and when they are talking about liability, IT becomes king. Since no one really knows what IT is doing, how can you complain; you just grin and bear it, and usually write a larger check.
One wag mentioned to me that true techies celebrated the end to the data center, but, in reality, IT simply morphed into something different. It’s still there, maybe in a “cloud,” on the ’Net, or on thousands of desks, but IT is still there, and the folks that run it are still there, too.
The solution – find an IT guy that you trust, that has no dog in your fight. Have him or her look over your shoulder and whisper in your ear when you know that decisions have to be made. Pay them what it costs.
And remember: It’s not the wear and tear on the ballpeen hammer, or the dry-cleaning cost of your overalls that’s expensive. It’s knowing where to hit. (If you don’t know this story, check JVH”s blog entry for Nov. 8, 2013.)