Questions for Revenue Control Vendors
The Readers Ask – The Vendors Reply
Parking Today reached out to more than 7,000 of our readers by e-mail and asked what they would like to know from revenue control manufacturers. We then edited those questions and sent them out to 25 different companies. The 12 companies below responded to our request.
We discovered that our readers wanted to know a lot, and that our respondents wanted to say a lot. So we have divided this response into a number of parts. What follows is Part I, with Part 2 – including questions about parking meters, the cost of parking equipment, delivery time, service agreements, lane counting systems, and cash vs. credit – in future issues.
Note that we have edited some of the responses for length; however, we did not change the answer or the tone. If a company is not listed as a responder, they either elected not to respond or felt the question not appropriate for their product line. Editor.
1. How does your company approach obsolesce? I have a system that is going to cost me a lot to replace because I’m told that it will not be supported in two years. I certainly won’t replace it with the manufacturer I have now.
Digital Payment Technologies – Our company attempts to make products “backward compatible” as long as possible. However, when discontinuation is inevitable, we attempt to present a long-term plan to clients so they can continue to receive support for as long as possible and then have a migration path to a newer technology.
Federal APD – We design our hardware and software components to be backward compatible with our existing technologies so to maximize our clients’ investment. As facility and operational requirements change, our solutions provide a migration path that allows for system upgrades without having to “forklift” the entire existing parking control system.
Hamilton – We currently support the majority of our equipment, even products 15 years or older.
Integra Park – Telling someone that you just won’t support an old version anymore is a non-starter. They need to at least have the option of purchasing a stock of spare parts. Or, as in our case, so long as they pay the annual maintenance fee, we support them regardless.
Mackay Meters – We use modular technology wherever possible, allowing for the integration of new technology. Where upgrade is not possible, we often offer trade-in value on old meters.
Metric Parking – We notify the customer in writing when we project a two-year life on parts available and guarantee that for two years they will be available. And after that, it will be first-come, first served on the parts left. We also offer a trade in on our new models of equipment in an attempt to keep that customer.
POM – Over the past six years, we have gravitated to off-the-shelf handheld devices and Microsoft Access-based software to make them more easily upgradeable. We work to make our software backward compatible with previous versions of POM meters, and our current and future meters more easily integrated with that system. We support more than one handheld device in case one is discontinued, such as was the case with the Dell PDA. Electronic components, however, often become obsolete in five to- eight years. And that is totally out of our control, so we recommend that our customers purchase a good supply of spares.
Scheidt & Bachmann – The design of our software is backward and forward compatible, but to be completely open, much of the software component is a derivative of the operating platform and database configuration available on the market. A good example of this was the last transition from NT-platformed systems to XP-platformed systems. The migration from NT to XP had an impact not only on the PARCS software component but the CPU hardware as well. Depending on where you fall from an equipment age perspective, there could have been a substantial additional investment on a system less than three to four years old.
Hardware, especially CPUs, is in constant flux. Our recommendation is to consider not only the price of a new system, but to anticipate a dollar amount necessary to cover the system life cycle. It is not unusual for a system to have an overall site life of 10 to 15 years with proper planning and engineering, but this will require a level of system updates throughout the 15-year time span.
Skidata – We try to protect the investment a customer makes when purchasing a Skidata revenue control system with annual software releases, which introduce new features and functionality demanded by the market. When new hardware is introduced, the older hardware compatibility is maintained in the new software releases. This allows customers to add new hardware to their existing system whenever their budget allows, while at the same time taking advantage of the latest software features.
Standard Parking Systems – We will try to work through the obsolescence with direct replacement parts or offer a discounted/credit-back price for the discontinued equipment.
T2 Systems – (We) provide our software T2 Flex to customers on a subscription basis. The subscription includes access to all additional features within the software pack that the customer originally subscribed to for the duration of the contract. It also keeps us on our toes and providing good customer care. After all, at the end of the subscription contract, if they are not happy, the customers could walk away.
WPS – Our system has had upward compatibility since 1991 … therefore eliminating this problem. It has made new system releases more complicated and expensive, while also risking certain “complete” technological advances.. The only expense was the software application and very inexpensive costs for hardware upgrades. In addition, the complexity already faced by most owners and operators using PC-style applications and terminals adds some operational challenges.
Zeag – We understand the importance of maintaining the best possible technology on a site and the balance of acquiring updated equipment and the site’s profitability. At Zeag, the production life cycle of new equipment is seven years, and we continue to make parts available for eight years following the end of production. If, therefore, you purchased equipment at the end of its production cycle, that equipment would be supported for an additional eight years. Our equipment is also designed to be backward compatible, meaning that major components of new equipment are designed to function in existing equipment with little or no modification to the
2. Talk about solar power and battery life on meters, pay-and-display and pay-by-space equipment. What is the expectation of the battery life on P and D vs. P by S? Also, isn’t used-battery disposal an environmental problem? How should I deal with it?
Digital Payment Technologies – In theory, P and D should last longer on battery-only power than P by S, given that P by S often requires an extra step to generate a receipt and they also can require online communications when operating multiple machines servicing common spaces. However, P by S meters also can save potential battery life by making printing a receipt optional, which can save power and paper. There are so many factors that can influence battery life that each situation must be looked at individually to estimate exact battery life. For the disposal of old batteries, numerous recycling centers will take used batteries and recycle them. Gel cells and sealed lead-acid batteries are commonly used in multi-space parking meters, and virtually any place that sells batteries will take them back. In fact, most state laws require it, and many recyclers will pay you to take them as the lead in the battery is a valued commodity. The same recycling process applies to gel cell batteries as with automotive batteries, but not all retailers will understand this fact. To find a recycling depot for your parking batteries, contact the Battery Council International at (312) 664-6610 or your local waste agency.
Mackay Meters – Our P and D and P by S machines have the same expectation of the battery life in solar configuration. We do have a “green” battery option.
Metric – Depending on the environment, machine placement, preventive maintenance and usage will vary the battery life. In general, you should expect a two- to three-year life expectancy. Pay-by-space machines use more power since they communicate more often than a P and D machine. Battery disposal is an environmental issue only if they are not properly disposed. Many places take old batteries and disposes of them properly and re-use the lead (check the yellow pages or Google).
POM – We found that having a solar pack made the meter more expensive and did not completely do away with the need for a battery. We have had the best experience with a 6V (4 AA) battery pack, which has 2850 mAhours of life, which equals roughly double the battery life for half the cost of a 9V lithium. We have customers reporting two to 2.5 years on-street battery life in their POM single-space meters using these battery packs. Because these are alkaline batteries, there are no toxic waste issues as there are with lithium batteries.
3. What questions do you suggest I ask when I check your references?
Digital Payment Technologies – What changes has the vendor made in their products over the past three years that have added value to the original purchase? Does the vendor have proven installation examples of the feature capabilities they claim to support? What has the vendor done to take advantage of advances in technology and deliver integration with other technologies in the parking operation? How would you rate the company’s response to product problems? What options does the company provide with regard to obtaining service? Is it restricted to the telephone, or do they offer on-site service, web-based training, knowledge-based articles, and/or e-mail support?
Federal APD – In addition to the standard functionality questions, it is essential that you focus on system performance. Locally available service and technical support, the availability of spare parts and loaners, what kind of response time can be anticipated during downtimes, how knowledgeable and capable is the local service staff. Is after-hours service available? How is training facilitated? Can I attend training classes; can I attend follow-up classes? ...
Hamilton – Ask for locations where you can view the equipment and speak with the current owner/operator.
Integra Park – Ask about responsiveness to problems, requests for new features, training before cutover, and support during cutover. The amount of “real world” time to fix a problem, not just what’s called for in the agreement, is the important thing.
MacKay Meters – How well is the equipment running? How responsive is the company if you are having problems?
Metric Parking – Quality of sales and service support. Did the machine meet your expectations? How well does the solar work (how many battery issues did they have in the first year)? How long have the machines been installed? What environment are they operating in?
POM – Ask about our quality and service. Ask if we return our customers’ calls promptly. Ask if they are glad they chose POM meters, if their revenues increased, if the software and handheld devices are easy to use.
Scheidt & Bachmann – What are the skill sets of the vendor’s staff that assisted in the “application” planning component of the solution? What has been the experience of the installation / transition segment of the project? Did the installed solution meet your operational and revenue expectations? How is the system currently supported and serviced? What is the long-term stability of your PARCS partner? Would you do it again with the same vendor?
Skidata – Has the system exceeded your expectations? Have you experienced a significant increase in revenue since installing the new system? Have you lowered your operating expenses? From a service perspective, is the system more reliable? Are you utilizing all of the features available with the system?
Standard Parking Systems – Does the equipment work as it was explained during the sale? Is there prompt and adequate support for any problems? Are you happy with the purchase, and has it helped your business succeed. How?
T2 Systems – When checking reference for any vendor, I ask about the customer service or product experience first. Establishing that the product or service meets my needs is the price of entry for the vendor to do business with my company. Then I spend the majority of the call digging into the vendor’s service and customer relationship philosophy, to make sure it aligns with my approach to business and my company’s needs. Another simple question to ask: “Would you recommend this product / service to your friends and colleagues?” If the answer is not a confident “Yes,” then there are obviously issues … then you can start digging for specifics.
Zeag – Inquire about the reliability of the equipment, ease of service, quality of installation, quality of training and after-the-sale support from the company providing the product or service. It is also important to inquire about the provider’s direct or indirect relationship with the manufacturer and to obtain a reference from the manufacturer and, when possible, involve the manufacturer in the process.
4. Everyone is talking about PCI (payment card industry) compliance. How can I be sure you are certified as compliant, and is there a cost for this feature? What are you doing to keep that cost down?
Digital Payment Technologies – The only way to be assured that a manufacturer is compliant is for the manufacturer to provide letters from Visa stating that the manufacturer has completed a third-party audit of their products to confirm they are validated under the Payment Applications Data Security Standard (PA-DSS). Self assessments are still valid, but they depend on the manufacturer fully understanding the specification requirements, which can lead to inaccurate responses to self-assessment questionnaires. If a manufacturer has done only a self-assessment, the manufacturer should still be required to provide a PA-DSS or PABP Implementation Guide that outlines exactly how the equipment addresses each PCI requirement.
For manufacturers that also provide online credit card processing services on their equipment for multiple clients, they must also provide a letter from Visa stating that they have completed a third-party audit of their company and servers to confirm they are PCI Compliant as a Level 1 Service Provider. This third party assessment is mandatory under PCI for Level 1 Service Providers. At this time, our company absorbs the costs for PCI compliance and builds in these costs as part of our standard development costs in on-going product sales and extended warranty pricing.
Federal APD – As a manufacturer, if you have received an independent certification as recognized by Visa, then you will be listed on Visa’s web page. If you have a Federal APD system purchased prior to the CISP rules, you can easily and inexpensively upgrade your software and firmware to CISP certified software and firmware (available from your local distributor). If you are purchasing a new system, it will come to you already certified and there will be no additional cost. Federal APD is keeping the cost reasonable to existing customers even though there are annual costs to keeping the certification. (It) recognizes the importance of being CISP compliant and therefore is making this available to existing customers for a nominal charge.
Hamilton – To be sure an application is certified, visit www.Visa.com/CISP.
Integrapark – There seems to be some confusion about who needs to be PCI-certified, mostly because of the number of acronyms floating around. Basically, it’s the parking operator that needs to be PCI-compliant, if they take credit cards. For them to be compliant, the applications they use (revenue control, billing, etc.) need to be certified as PA-DSS compliant (Payment Application Data Security Standard) if those apps touch credit card data. PA-DSS has replaced PABP as the standard for applications.
MacKay Meters – MacKay provides a PCI certificate of compliance for its credit card transaction process. There is no additional cost for this feature.
Metric Parking – Check the vendor’s or service provider’s PCI certification certificate. There is a cost for this service, and we just pass it on without a markup. We as a manufacturer have no control of this cost.
Scheidt & Bachmann – The target established by the credit card consortium is dynamic and fluid. What you need to check on is if the solution is currently successfully assessed (easy to check in that the Visa website lists the approved applications). What are the plans for future assessment should the requirement change? And based on the company’s financial health, will there be resources allocated to manage this proposition? The only thing we can do at this time is to stay current as to the requirements to remain properly assessed.
Skidata – You can check the Visa website to determine if the Payment Application is certified or not. You can also request a copy of the letter from the authorized agent who conducted the testing to assure compliance. Skidata does not charge an itemized fee for the PCI compliance. (It) has been proactive and has made a significant development investment in PCI. Make sure your solution meets the latest PCI requirements, as PCI is not a one-time purchase. The best practices and requirements are constantly changing. These costs have been built into the standard product and distributed between new system software sales and software updates.
Standard Parking Systems – PCI compliance requires certification by an outside source / auditor. This is something that the developer needs to pay for and supply as a feature of the system.
WPS – We have been involved in credit card payment transactions since 1989. ... There is a simple way to check online for PCI “certified” and PCI “recognized” partners. The PCI police are adding more regulatory control every year and forcing fees associated with annual licensing via specific credit card agents (leeches) that are not controlled by the parking vendors or end users. Welcome to Capitalism in Parking.
Zeag – Request a copy of the certification letter that ensures that the system is compliant. Ensure that the manufacturer certifies that both the hardware and software are compliant and that the software version(s) are compliant. To a large degree, the cost(s) associated with compliance are not controlled by the system provider, but by the requirements of the standard. Zeag software including the credit card security component is modular by design, allowing enhancements to non-credit-related functions without requiring costly resubmissions.
To be continued …
Article Abstract from October, 2008