“Hardware is Secondary, Software is Primary”
“The future is software development. But it’s very expensive; most companies have difficulties sustaining it.” When Steve Haralambiew, Datapark founder and CEO, talks about the parking industry and its relationship with revenue control suppliers, he gets specific.
“Our customers are our developers. They tell us what needs to be done. They want what they need, not what companies happen to sell. Hardware is secondary, its software that’s primary,” he says.
Haralambiew believes in the equipment his company sells, but talks expansively about how the equipment fits into the customer’s business. He speaks strongly about return on investment and the need to ensure that customers receive it.
“Today’s parking operation is not stand alone. When an operator runs multiple garages, they need to have control and information at their fingertips. Not only is this good management, but it also greatly reduces their cost. There is the ROI.”
“Many operators are working to achieve this goal. Large companies like Central Parking and smaller ones like City Park are moving quickly in this direction. It lowers personnel costs, it increases their ability to ensure that controls are properly maintained, reporting is maximized. It can help in customer service. We manufacturers have to be ready and able to support this change.”
“Clouds. Yes, the computing is in the clouds,” Haralambiew smiles at the metaphor. “Unfortunately someone has to create the cloud, and in this case it isn’t Mother Nature.”
Centrally run systems are the future of the parking industry, he goes on. But the vendors have created a vast jumble of different types of equipment that don’t talk easily to each other, and are being asked to do so. So we try to make it work, and often end up in ‘finger pointing’ situations where vendors blame each other for failures and little gets done.
“The only solution I can see is either having a single vendor provide the equipment, one that often requires an expensive replacement of systems, or the development of a ‘black box’ that handles the interface and facilitates the transfer of data between each system. But that, too, can be expensive.”
“We live in an information age. ‘Information Technology’ (IT) departments control the purchases of computerized equipment and let’s face it, that’s what we sell. IT drives the market. Pretty boxes and fancy displays are good for trade shows and necessary for closing sales, but it’s the software, the way the boxes work, that make a difference. IT knows that, and they are always there, sometimes in the background.”
“IT isn’t usually unreasonable in their requirements, but what they want is very expensive. Software done right is more expensive than hardware. Our problem, as an industry, is that we can’t spread our development costs over hundreds of thousands of systems, the market isn’t that large. Manufacturers have taken different approaches including outsourcing software and off shore development. These can save money, but you must keep control over the process.”
“The key to success in this business is customization. Your systems must be developed so they can be easily (and quickly) customized to fit an operator’s or owner’s needs. Parking is not a one size fits all business. Each location has its own particular need and the revenue control system MUST be customized to fit those needs.”
But how do you keep all these systems running? “30 years in the industry, starting as a dealer for Federal and Amano before I began Datapark in 1986, taught me that it’s service and support, not the name on the box, that makes the difference. You must have localized support to keep the equipment running, no matter who makes it. Without support, it means nothing.”
“However, with a software based solution, support does tend to move from the field to the lab. Hardware support in the field, software support from the lab.”
Datapark’s Headquarter office is in San Leandro, CA, a few miles south of Oakland Airport. They have administrative, test labs, assembly and warehousing. Their hardware is manufactured in Europe with software support provided from each of the main market cities across the nation and internationally. “We keep a number of systems on hand so we can support customers who need quick delivery,” Harlambiew noted.
“Support must be our number one goal. We have over 2,500 systems installed in the U.S., with many more in Asia, Australia, Central and South America and Europe. Our support staff are in offices in those areas, with dealers in cities where installations have taken place. You must have boots on the ground to keep complex computer systems working.”