The Unknown Vendor
November, 2008Parking Today sat down with a number of vendors over the past few months and talked about equipment, specifications and consultants. The only way they would speak was on the condition of anonymity. What follows comes from the “unknown vendors.” Editor.
“(Consultants) write specifications that no one can meet, and then criticize us when we can’t or won’t meet them.”
“They have little in-depth understanding of the PARCs system, but the owners follow their advice, often to the detriment of the operations of the garage.”
“We try to educate them on our systems and the technology behind them, but they seem uninterested.”
Frustration is rampant among the revenue control manufacturers when they talk about trying to bid specifications. Some of the issues are highly technical; others are mind-boggling simple.
“We were bidding a job in an existing garage, replacing existing equipment. I walked the garage and saw that the existing equipment was scratched and banged up. Some of the lanes were closed because the equipment was so beat up it didn’t work,” said one unknown vendor. “I got in my car and drove through the lanes. The turning radiuses were all off. There was no way a driver could maneuver through those lanes without potentially hitting the equipment. This is Parking 101. The design was awful.”
The vendor went on to note that the worst part was that the consulting firm that specified the new equipment hadn’t noticed the obvious problem and hadn’t recommended any solution for it. “Sure, it would have cost a bit more to change the lane configuration, but then the main equipment problem in the garage would go away. The reason the owner was replacing five-year-old equipment was that it was so trashed it couldn’t be repaired. Without changing the lanes layout, ours would have looked the same in a few months.”
The problem, said another unknown vendor, is that the owner hires the expert to come in and fix a problem or write a specification for equipment. This is the guy getting $400 an hour. He talks to the owner and creates an expectation.
Then the vendors come in and look at the specification and offer alternatives. It puts the vendor in a defensive position. The owner says to himself, “They are just saying that because their stuff won’t do what the consultant asked for.” It’s a lose-lose for the vendor.
‘I’m not talking about differences of opinion here,” noted another. “I’m talking about objective errors in a specification. “We had a spec that required fiber to be pulled throughout an entire facility. Fair enough. However, this was an IP-based system and there were already numerous fiber backbones throughout the garage. It would have saved a large amount of money and time if we just used the existing communications network. The consultant who specified the job, first, didn’t know that the technology existed to use existing fiber and, second, didn’t know that it existed.
“What are we vendors supposed to do in that case? Anything we say will make either us or the consultant look bad, and we have to keep the consultants on our side or we simply won’t get any more work.”
“Want to know the biggest problem? I’ll tell you the biggest problem from my point of view, said yet another vendor, cowering in the corner behind a potted plant. “The consultants just don’t know how this equipment works. I was actually asked by a consultant to describe how one audits our system. Isn’t that something a consultant should know? Aren’t they selling that knowledge to their owners?
“It’s like this: There are tons of features on our systems and my competitors’ systems. Most of those features are never used by the operator, the owner, or are even known about by consultants, except through reading our literature. They don’t seem to understand how those features can be used in the operation of a garage. They just say “Gee, that’s a good idea,” and write it in the spec.
“Of course, when you write a specification from the point of view of what features are available on the market and not on how the feature is going to be actually used, a problem is created.
“I had a case where we were at a pre-bid conference. One of the bidders asked the consultant just how a certain requirement of the spec was to work. The consultant looked puzzled, and then looked at me and said, ‘Can you handle this one? It’s from your brochure.’ As I started to mumble something, half the vendors in the room got up and walked out.
“Many consultants have never worked in a parking booth, never signed on a cashier terminal, never changed the cash vault in a POF, never looked at a report, or worse, understood what it means. Yet they specify features willy-nilly, blend one from one vendor with one from another, and then expect them to work flawlessly.
“And by the way, 90% of the features purchased on these systems are never used. Why is that? From my point of view, the consultant built a grandiose system, but the operator and owner weren’t on board. These complex systems require ‘high-end’ people to run them. Do the consultants consider that fact when they specify? I doubt it.”
The room was in stitches with this one:
“How many times have you received a specification and thought it looked familiar, only to compare it with one you received a few months before and find it was word for word the same, even down to mistakes in lane configurations. It’s as if one size fits all.”
PT asked the group of vendors what they would recommend to consultants writing specifications. The general agreement was that specifications shouldn’t be technical, but operational. If a company has a track record of success, why do you care what the clock time is on the microprocessor? The question in this case should be how fast is the transaction time? If you are satisfied with the answer, that should be all that’s important.
If the spec is operational, it means that the owner and operator have sat down with the consultant and with his or her guidance discussed each issue and reviewed how the garage is to be run. Then those requirements can be written into the specification and the vendors can describe how they are going to meet those requirements.
There may be four or five valid approaches. However, if a technical spec is written down to the way paint is applied to the gate, many valid bidders may be excluded to the detriment of the bidding process.
It was generally agreed that it was not possible for a single person to be an expert in all revenue control vendors. Why not designate a person to become an expert on one vendor, really an expert? Visit the factory, work in a location where the system is installed, learn the good and the bad. Understand how it works and why it works that way.
Then when a spec is written and before it’s released, let each have a look from the point of view of the bidders. The chaos that reigns at many pre-bid conferences might be lessened or eliminated.