Your RC System Software Upgrade
It can be difficult to wade through proposals, system design documents, technical schematics and so forth when planning your next Parking Revenue Control System (PRCS) update or upgrade. Hey, I do it for a living. The problem is, if you don't hammer out the computer and technical details, you and your contractor may be at odds at the end. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind next time the technical documents come your way:
Know the Technology
It pays to know the technology that's being implemented. We are implementing so many new technologies in such a fast-paced world of innovation. Sometimes we can get lost in the marketing materials and excitement over what the technology does for us, rather than what technology is being used. Thoroughly understand every product that will be purchased for use in your system. If they're using Microsoft Windows, make sure you know which version. If they will provide "remote control software," who makes it? Many times you may find there are free versions of technologies that only a few years ago you had to pay for -- saving your bottom line for more important things. Knowing each product that will be implemented and its full details, such as version, proven compatibility with all other products being purchased, data sheets, number of copies and number of licenses, can save you tens to hundreds of lost hours when your implementation and test phases come around.
Check the Versions and Third-Party Product Life Cycles
Remember, your contractors aren't from the future. They have to develop with the technologies at hand and often can deliver a better, more reliable product by enhancing older tried and true products, rather than redoing their software package every time Microsoft issues a new version of Windows. But you are going to have that operating system installed on computers, and even in the embedded systems (such as exit gates, handheld computers and network equipment) and you'll want the product to work reliably for at least seven to 10 years. And in many projects, you won't "flip the switch" for daily use for at least one year, if not two. All software (and your hardware, too) has a product life cycle. All too often I've seen an already obsolete version of certain software packages be included in a system design document. As with "Know the Technology," go to each third-party manufacturer's Web site and check product life cycles. You may find that the software and devices you are about to install are based on software that isn't going to be supported by the manufacturer much longer. It can be pretty expensive, if not downright impossible, for your contractor to support a product they don't make and the original manufacturer doesn't support. On the other hand, upgrading to a newer operating system will almost always result in some bugs that the PRCS manufacturer has to work out ... with you as the beta-tester.
Make Sure You Have Upgrade Guarantees
Your contractor will be issuing new software releases during the time you're waiting for your system to turn on. However, they may be contractually obligated to give you only the software versions from when they bid the project -- years ago! Before signing on the dotted line, ask your PRCS manufacturer how soon they plan to upgrade to newer software; discuss and weigh the risks of older software with your contractor; and get any promises regarding support of older products or upgrades in writing in your contract.
Determine What You Can and Can't Do Under Warranty
Many owners want custom reports and software modifications (maybe Web interfaces from other providers, custom database modifications, and so forth). Make sure the changes you want to do are reflected in your warranty as allowable or you may find yourself in violation of your warranty, or at least give your contractor an excuse to charge you for additional work.
Define 'Generic' Terms
Having read through many technical documents, I've seen many seemingly innocent yet dangerous terms. I call these "generic" terms, such as real-time and instant. Real-time is very subjective -- define it. "Instant results" needs to be defined. "Reasonably" and "fault-tolerant" -- more gotcha terms. If a term implies a performance rubric is assigned to it, make sure you have the details written down.
Hire a Consultant
Oftentimes your I.T. department doesn't have the time to pour through all of the technical details of your project, especially as to how it relates to parking operations. They need to make sure software and hardware work, but they don't usually see it from your angle. Rather, they do their job and give you the technical details. Outside consultants can perform assessments and participate in meetings and be a helpful resource when planning and implementing your next PRCS. They have seen many sides of the equation and can bring that experience to light to benefit all.
Auri Rahimzadeh is president of TAG, an Indiana-based Parking Revenue Control System I.T. consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.