Automate and Solve All Your Problems – Not!
July, 2008My master has been gallivanting around the world, and I have had a few days lying under the tree in the back yard and chatting with Joyce, who comes over to walk with me twice a day. She’s cute, but that’s another story for another time.
I have had time to consider the issue of installing automated equipment and its effect on the revenue in a parking facility. I’m talking about fully automated – pay on foot or pay at exit (with credit card). This takes the money almost completely out of the hands of employees – well, almost, but I’ll get to that later.
The question came up when my master got a call from a builder in South Florida. He was going for a loan and wanted some numbers on the increase in revenue when automated equipment was installed. Seemed it would help him with his cost justification.
We talked about it and realized that there was no actual “study” that had been done (you out there, NPA or IPI). We checked the morgue files from Parking Today and found dozens of stories on automated revenue control. Virtually all talked about cost savings in personnel expenses, but few mentioned the benefits to cutting error and theft.
So I drew on my personal experience, and here’s the result: There’s no question that equipment where the ticket and money are untouched by human hands has a much higher level of accuracy than the alternative. Think about it. If there is no cashier, there is no human error, and no possibility of someone stealing from the drawer, palming or switching tickets, or diddling the validation.
But, you say, the person who collects the money from the POF can dip into it.
That’s more difficult than it seems. When those vaults are opened in the office, there are a number of people around and printouts that say how much money should be in the box. Not only that, most of them tell you how many ones, fives, tens, and twenties should be there.
An auditor can simply compare the amount deposited in the bank with the amount that the equipment says should have been deposited. Bingo, the theft is exposed. It’s quick, easy, and no special training is needed to check it out.
You can get even more particular if you have an armored car service pick up the money. That takes your staff completely out of the loop.
But, you say, couldn’t the manager simply alter the reports so the dollar figures match?
Well, in fact, on some systems this is possible. It means I’m not completely out of a job. See, some of the less advanced systems have so much “open architecture” that someone with just a little bit of knowledge can go into the system’s database and change the numbers to fit their nefarious needs.
That’s where I come in. As an auditor, I still need to check out the security of your system’s software. And I have my ways of finding out whether the system is secure. One of the easiest is to simply ask the manager. Often they will tell me that, yes, they can go in to correct “errors” that the system makes in totaling the cashier reports. You see, they tell me, sometimes the cashier’s totals don’t match the equipment totals, so we “fix” the reports. Yeah, right.
If an auditor tells you your reports aren’t right and can show you where, then call the manufacturer and have it fixed. I have seen cases where the software skipped every tenth transaction. Or where odd-numbered transaction totals were rounded to the next even number. But that started only when a software upgrade was done.
Your system is made by the hands of man, and just because it’s a computer, that doesn’t mean it can’t make mistakes. You still need guys like me to find them.
And remember, just because your daily revenue system is automated, that doesn’t mean your monthly system is perfect. If your staff can manually turn on and off monthly permits at will, you have a problem and audits are needed frequently.
I walked into a customer who told me that his monthly parkers were completely under control. I asked him how many monthlies he had; “775,” he said proudly, after checking a report. And they are all paid current. He knew it was correct; it was a computer printout.
I walked into his outer office, went to a terminal and started an active card list on the office printer. A few minutes later, I took the printout to the boss. It showed 1,495 active cards in his system, and because the systems showed the last use of the card, proved that 1,251 were being used every day.
To prevent this problem, I told him, you should pay a bit more and have a “positive posting” system for your monthlies. It doesn’t concern itself with cards but with accounts. Each person or company is assigned an account. And each account is assigned cards that are assigned values (monthly rates).
Now, the trick is this: As individuals or companies pay their monthly parking, the amounts are “posted” to the system. Cards assigned to the account that are paid by a certain day each month will work. Those that aren’t paid will be turned off by the machine.
Each day a report is generated that tells how much monthly money was collected so you can compare that with the bank. You know it will be posted because, if it isn’t, you will have parkers in your office complaining their cards don’t work. Once again, a simple audit will show the problem.
Your equipment doesn’t have that feature? Well, you can simply run a card list on the 15th of every month and compare it with the number of cards that are supposed to be “active.” It’s a good place to start.
Yes, automated systems can solve a lot of problems, but you have to keep an eye on them, too.