How to Stay Ahead and Win More Business
By Wen Sang
When I first moved to the United States to do my doctorial studies at MIT, I was excited to be the owner of my first car. Back in China, the cost of a car and its associated registration made it very difficult for the average citizen to get ahold of one.
In the summer of 2011, after earning my license, there it was — a golden Saturn sedan with my name on it. I got in the car, put the windows down, and took a joyride from my apartment in Cambridge, MA, to Downtown Boston.
My joy was quickly deflated upon realizing the difficulty in finding a parking space. Drivers circled around city blocks — holding up traffic and burning unnecessary fuel — looking for a parking space. Meanwhile, many vacant spaces existed in garages. My first thought was, “With all the emerging technologies, why can’t we make this easier for everybody?”
I came to the U.S.A. for an education, not to start a company, but the market’s need for a good information solution led me to launch one. However, while many other technology ventures in the parking industry focus exclusively on the consumer side of the problem (web/mobile apps for information sharing/reservation), I found a major opportunity in leveraging existing parking access and revenue control system (PARCS) data to solve problems on the supply side.
Parking garages the world over have decades of data stored in their own PARCS and many other IT systems (inventory devices, payment systems/apps, even space sensors), waiting to reveal valuable information about their parking operations.
Using advanced data science in conjunction with historical and real-time occupancy and payment data, parking garages can make effective operational decisions with visualized real-time data, organize promotions and staff schedules with predictive demand, and share current and future parking availability with customers remotely.
Make effective operational decisions with visualized real-time data.
Operational decisions are always dependent on data to back them up. However, the current state of data collection does not allow the owner or operator to leverage their data effectively. Typical parking operations rely on manually counting spaces multiple times a day to track occupancy, and producing monthly reports in conjunction with PARCS data.
At best, some parking garages can produce daily reports at the cost of countless hours of labor. Regardless, the data are never presented in real-time. In addition, parking data are from diversified sources and require different interfaces to access the data from each source.
At its current state, some parking managers require up to 24 steps to take the data out of server to a usable form, because the current software tools do not provide humanized data. Meanwhile, PARCS data are updated by transactions in real-time, meaning that there is a possibility of providing these data in a readable form in real-time to owners and managers.
Imagine a world in which a “cloud” solution exists to analyze the information real-time and provide owners and operators with the data that they need to make decisions. Such technologies are ubiquitous in the finance, airline, and retail world. Why not in parking?
Organize promotions and staff schedules with predictive demand by combining parking data with weather, events, holidays, etc.
The parking industry has been operating based on intuition and experience for years, despite decades of stored data sitting in databases doing nothing. Why not let the data help managers make data-driven decisions on the best staffing schedule?
For example, during seasons when there is heavy rain, people will drive more. Combining weather data with real-time and historical PARCS data can help form models that can accurately predict parking demand during inclement weather and staff sufficient to help provide customer satisfaction during times of heavier traffic.
The key is to use data science to understand demand on a quantitative level in real-time. Without this piece of information, it is almost impossible to apply a dynamic pricing system. On the other hand, much can be done with a parking garage’s existing equipment once these data become available. Implementation of a couponing system, for example, can be much smarter, allowing empty spaces in garages to be sold more effectively based on your own data.
Share current and future parking availabilities with your customers remotely.
The world of parking from the consumer’s point of view is filled with uncertainty — how long until one finds parking, occupancy information, and pricing information.
A key to elevating customer satisfaction is to get rid of the uncertainty behind the parking planning process. Imagine how much better a
person’s travel plans could become if they are informed beforehand of parking availability.
Any parking business owner has the capability of unlocking this customer satisfaction factor by leveraging the data that their PARCS already collects on a daily basis. Garages could share their information with consumers, so they can check their website (or use an app if they offer one) and see what demand is like at the time of searching.
Within five years, it is possible that all parking information will be available in the cloud. Do not be the ones left behind. Prove your value to customers early; be an early adopter and win more business by leveraging the power of your existing parking data.
Wen Sang is CEO of Smarking Inc., which specializes in data analytics for parking. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.