Local Problems Can Have Local Solutions
Parking Today asked a number of Industry Veterans to discuss revenue control. This is the first in a series of commentaries presenting their responses. Editor
When I heard about the 10th anniversary of Parking Today a few weeks ago, I took a walk down my personal memory lane. I know that for most readers the memories of someone who has been involved in the design, manufacturing and marketing of parking and revenue control systems can't be very exciting. Well, they'd be half-right anyway, but for me, it was an exercise in ultimately trying to figure out where we are exactly and how did we get here -- "we" being the Parking Access Revenue Control manufacturers.
In January 1996, we were hell bent on transitioning from the Microsoft DOS operating system to Windows. Can you believe it? It seemed to me at the time that transitioning was the alpha and omega, the solution to all our needs, wants and desires. How silly, looking back.
I really did not understand how that transition was only removing the impediments from realizing even more. Multitasking was changing everything -- new rules and new ways of thinking about what can and cannot be done. And oh my goodness, what it took to just figure out what tools to choose from out of so many -- which one would work, which one would be around to support what we decide on today?
I'll never forget how all the PARC manufacturers were posturing and preparing for the big airport and municipal projects! Boy, that was one of the most significant catalysts that changed the very basic business model. PARC manufacturers became project engineers, managers and contract managers -- and most of all, technology integrators.
And you know something? It's been great, except for those who heretofore were all but ignored. Yes, you know those small segments of the off-street parking and revenue control market. Who are they? You know, the hotel and restaurant complexes, all the commercial Class A buildings with all those special needs. Their problem was that they were never seen as a segment that can be addressed on an economy of scale. So they have just had to adapt what was available and overcome the gaps with more people and higher cost of operations. That is, until now.
Where are we today? Well, today, tools have been developed and made available and easily deployable for those "darker" regions of the market not necessarily large enough to justify a product line that interests a PARC manufacturer. Locals working with locals seems to be one of the new up-and-coming paradigms.
Take for example Tim and Frank Flanagan of Sentry Control Systems using a tool called Host Communication II to provide an alternative to the old way of offering and managing parking voucher and validations. Called eValidation, its main target is Class A commercial buildings. You know, the urban center or high-rise with all kinds of tenants who want that personal touch.
It appears to offer something for everyone. For the professional operating company, there is no need to order stock of physical validation stamps, yet it can still collect for validations in advance of their use. It keeps record keeping simple and totally integrated with the individual's records and, yes, even moves all the necessary bits and pieces right up to the general ledger. All the tenant needs is a Web browser.
For the patron, from what I see, it's technology without complexity! It really helps make the patron's parking experience a "non-event" in that they don't have to get a voucher, stamp or second ticket to exit and still get the validation. Just one ticket operation. And for the tenant, they no longer are losing validations. They receive data about usage (especially for those lovely lawyers who bill back everything to their client) that's simply available on anyone of the client's PCs.
From the property management's perspective, eValidation positions their property as a high-tech environment giving more value to the tenants for less.
The crazy thing is this product is so well-defined, focused and hits such a broad base of stakeholders within its targeted segment that you would think it was coming from one of the major PARC players!
Another example of how the tools and talents have moved down to the grass-roots level of our industry is the integration of one of the well-known valet systems with the off-airport parking revenue control system just outside Atlanta. Once again the creative talents of Innovative Parking Concepts' Jeff Vendeford and his client have developed a fully seamless integration between two different systems, where the parking patron deals with one and only one ticket, readable in either system, regardless of whether the ticket was generated by the parking or valet system.
The apparent easy of operation at the patron level is immediately realized, and the cost of running the operations is less. Host Communication II is what makes the integration seamless. It's a simple add-on software module that allows for the data exchange in real-time between the PARC system and other computers connected via TCP/IP, just as it does for eValidation.
The time has come where so many needs can be addressed and satisfied by so many local and talented people who service their local clients. The two examples above make it clear (to me, anyway) that everything driving our business the past 10 years has brought us to a point where the means to satisfy these segments have been internalized by the local independents, resulting in more and more local grass-roots development for clients that previously had been all but forgotten.
Interesting enough, this trend will facilitate these clients to differentiate their offerings, operations and competitive advantages. As many see all PARC manufacturers, operators and property management companies as the same, where little seems to differentiate them from one another, we are about to see a proliferation of differentiators facilitated by technology and local integration.
I guess I went off on some tangents. I was just reminiscing and got caught up with the same problem I was dealing with 10 years ago. Hmmm! It seems as if I'm still hell bent on figuring out how and what the next transition will be. I guess transition is and will always be, a way of life in this business.