The Computer Does it for Me, Really!
By Ted Burton
So, you have a computerized revenue control system installed in your garage and you are pretty happy with the results. Revenue increased, as was promised by your supplier, consultant, friend who recommended that you spend the money, and as was expected by you and your investors.
You were probably able to reduce your staff, and you know exactly where you are from the voluminous or simple (your choice) reports that you get on paper, online, whatever. Now you can relax, look away from parking, and find something else to occupy your time.
Perhaps you have fallen into the trap that so many people make: “I don’t even need to audit the system manually anymore; the computer does it for me.” Really!
Although your system may be “lightly,” “medium” or “totally” automated, it’s still a system that serves the needs of that most “unautomatable” (is there such a word?) group of entities – people. These people fall into two groups: those whose role is to override the automation – your employees; and those the automation serves to assist – your customers.
The parking revenue business is, of course, still a largely cash business in spite of the ongoing and huge transformation of the cash receipts into credit card receipts. This undoubtedly eases but in no way eliminates the need for audit. Employees still, over time, tend to become partners. It is not that these people are fundamentally dishonest.
Probably the transition goes something like this. The employee borrows a few dollars for a sandwich because he has only a twenty. Always the money is replaced at the end of the day. Always, that is, until the day at 2 in the morning when he wakes in a cold sweat. He forgot to return the money. No more sleep that night.
In the morning, arriving at work with great trepidation, he was expecting police with handcuffs, but everything is as it was, nobody noticed the missing cash. Welcome to the slippery slope.
Even with your automated system, “black helicopters” will lift cars out of the location. That is to say the number of tickets issued will not be the same as the number of tickets paid. Perhaps your reports indicate that they are the same. If so, you have probably fallen into the trap of looking at Excel type of reports. If that is what you look at, you may have no idea what is really going on.
Customers will lose tickets. Monthly customers will forget cards. Garbage trucks will need access, and on and on. If the tickets issued always equal the tickets collected, “someone” has tried to “help” by “sanitizing” your reports. Another level of activity, on your part, or on that of someone you trust (who does not have access to the physical money) needs to be performed.
A year or so ago, I was exposed to a client introducing a new software package at one of their locations. They are all extremely well-managed with a fine audit department that does a good job. The new package’s “End of Day Closing” required the on-site staff (this is a very busy valet assist location) to justify every irregularity. The audit staff would update the changes, and the day could not be closed until every point was settled to audit’s satisfaction.
The first week presented a daunting picture. There were more than 250 issues. Was this too much of a burden on the on-site staff? The client persisted. Now, a year later, the exceptions are in the single digits, and the effort is reflected in the receipts.
Decades ago, you may remember, time-and-motion experts were often hired to watch people work. The efforts always resulted in increased performance.
Finally, the following tests were performed by skeptics. The temperature of the workplace was raised, performance improved. The temperature was raised some more, performance improved some more. The process continued. Then the temperature was lowered and, you get it, no matter what was done, performance always improved. It was not what was done that was important. It was sending the message that you care.
If you require your staff to explain why the gate was opened, the staff will be more careful about doing it. The results will show in your finances.
Ted Burton, President of Secom International, can be reached at email@example.com.