Waves of Digital Innovation in Parking


Waves of Digital Innovation in Parking

My ParkHub idea 13 years ago was a simple one, and it came from joining my father’s parking operation in high school and learning the business over several years after college. Our operation had a lot of pain points, and I realized that these challenges transcended our operation and were likely issues for operators across the industry. In launching ParkHub in 2010, I set about digitizing every problem I could find, hoping that we could make businesses in this space more efficient and more profitable, while improving the guest experience, too.

I’m not trying to paint a picture of an analog industry in need of a complete digital overhaul. The parking industry had been innovating for generations, in reaction to challenges largely related to available real estate. Street parking expanded to lots, and lots transcended ground-level real estate limitations with decks that leveraged underground space, and of course above-ground, as well.

But parking was still pretty painful upon entering the new millennium, with an operator-centric framework of innovation. Pretty much all innovation was centered on the operator. Thankfully, ParkHub has been accompanied in its innovation journey by companies focused on improving the industry for operators and guests alike. I count companies like SpotHero, ParkWhiz, Passport Parking, Parkmobile, T2 Systems, Flash, and TEZ, just for a start, as deserving of our respect. 

I think that when we study the past, we can inform our view of the future–and that’s the responsibility that disruptors and our aforementioned colleagues in digital parking have taken on board. It’s the cost of market leadership, and it’s the cost of disruption. 

First Wave: Let’s Automate

This wave was marked by the arrival of the first hardware and software, such as barrier gates and fee computers. Operators delivered greater convenience for motorists and reduced their own labor costs. 

Digitization allowed for the integration of electronic payments, diminishing cash management burdens, as well as demanding that guests “feed the meter.”

The Second Wave: Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

While the first wave was simply about pain at transportation centers and offices, the next wave saw a rush to develop mobile payments apps and bring mobile payments along with them. 

These technologies offered users different payment options for credit cards, effectively replacing the old “honor box” where motorists would slip in the required cash. This wave saw open lots join the digitization party in a big way. 

The Third Wave: New Interfaces

The next wave saw the space getting even better for customers and operators. We saw deeper integration with payments, dashboards for vacancy/capacity analysis, and new iterations on the hardware and software fronts. 

In this era, we’ve seen a proliferation of kiosks and interfaces, some paper-ticket driven and others paperless. This wave has also seen the first experiments with contactless parking, a trend accelerated by the pandemic.

The Fourth Wave: Bigger Brains

In the current wave, smart parking is upon us. The convergence of all of these technologies, flowing through business intelligence, is moving businesses to new levels of operational excellence. 

With business intelligence platforms centered on parking management, entities such as sports and entertainment teams and companies can get a 360-degree view of customer behaviors, preferences, and demographics. These platforms express a circulatory system of data derived from a variety of payment and usage streams–everything from parking passes to concessions and merchandise purchases, ticketing, and more. 

The Fifth Wave: Coming Soon to an Operation Near You

Data is getting bigger in the parking world, and that means the insights we can all use to drive our businesses are becoming more profound. We are positioning for a new wave of innovation where we’re not thinking about the host of challenges resolved in the first four waves, but spending more of our time reimagining parking and its purpose.

This means rethinking revenue models and repurposing spaces, as much as possible–this is already happening, of course, with business parking morphing into event parking in downtown areas close to both offices and event venues. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the coming wave, for me, is that we’ll be helping operators more with improving the guest experience. 

Parking had so many problems of its own to solve without regard for what customers experience. It’s great that we can now as an industry focus more clearly on the issues that face municipalities, universities, and sports and entertainment venues in their quest to make parking better for their citizens, students and faculty, and event guests. 

As kiosks, mobile payments, and business intelligence have done previously, this next wave will see the internet of things in the pole position of innovation. The IoT will surely empower an era defined by a completely contactless, frictionless dynamic sooner than later. 

George Baker Sr. | Founder & Chairman parkhub and can be reached at George.baker@parkhub.com

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George Baker
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