Technology is Everywhere… So What?
By Colleen Niese
My husband and I recently moved back to Cleveland after a 10-year absence. (The answer to the question “why” is best served over a tall glass of wine.) A frequent traveler, I noted many improvements for both the on- and off-airport parker at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport:
Off-airport shuttle service has gone from “maybe I’ll see a bus in the next 15 minutes” to a shuttle following me as I park my car. The largest garage on property has the latest single-space wayfinding technology, the curbside valet offers 20 different amenities, and the options for online reservations are countless.
This is the same airport that shut down an entire terminal in 2014, saw United Airlines’ daily flights go from 170 to 70, and has experienced a 16% decrease in total passengers from 2013 to 2014.
The airport’s own downsizing measures, juxtaposed against the notable growth of its parking services and technology, intrigued me, so I thought I’d do a little digging and confirm what many readers may have already concluded:
The Cleveland Hopkins parking operation, in spite of the lack of enplanement growth, reflects today’s standards when it comes to the operators’ scope of services going above and beyond revenue control and a smiling cashier.
Today’s operator has to respond to the wide spectrum of airport parking issues by improving access and integrating the various technology options to improve the customer experience before she evens pull onto a lot.
Airports want their passengers in the terminals faster, with lower levels of stress, to shop, dine and spend. The various stakeholders involved with any airport operation may not agree on much, but they come together with their expectation that the operator recommends, implements and then exploits the best tech solutions to meet all of the above and they want it with speed.
Given onsite parking revenue remains a top contributor to any airport, there’s constant pressure on the operator to keep up with the latest and greatest technology to meet their client demands.
While the dynamics of an airport are unique unto themselves and cause for some fairly complex planning and decision-making, the principles and best-practices to identifying the right tech providers to partner with and serve client needs is probably one of the few constants over time.
Is the tail wagging the dog? Once the internal assessment needs are complete and it’s time for the vendor demos, project teams can sometimes be distracted by all the bells and whistles the provider promises.
I once sat on a team where part of the software was designed around a particular customer profile, because we had convinced ourselves that this gizmo could drive a new line of revenue. Needless to say, when it came time for practical application, the functionality actually created “pain points” for the majority of existing customers, and we ultimately shelved a $100k piece of code.
It’s just too easy in today’s world to let the latest shiny object drive decisions and to lose sight on one of the golden truisms of technology: It enables business productivity; it does not dictate it.
To best keep committed to the hard line between requirements and add-ons, we often recommend that the project teams we work with use a vendor analysis to capture their clients’ needs and supporting objectives. The template lists those items with a weighted scoring mechanism so that after the vendor demo, the team can score the vendor against their agreed-upon listing of requirements and remain focused to the mission at hand and expected ROI.
What’s out there? I recently sat through two start-up vendor demos, and I know I’m one of many anymore who are routinely asked to participate in such things. It reminded me of a tech summit I was invited to attend in early 2012, and I realized that of the seven providers we met with that day, three have since closed their doors.
Hand-in-hand with keeping up with the vendors is the technology itself.
Clearly, you can include all sorts of language in the contract to protect your company and client, but that’s only an insurance policy that addresses material issues after they actually happen.
To proactively and independently study up on current technology trends and insight on the providers themselves, look to our industry’s professional resources which have expanded tenfold in this space for the past several years.
Parking Today now issues Parking Technology Today, and hosts Parknews.biz, a website that’s updated daily with the latest trends and submissions on relevant topics by industry leaders. The National Parking Association has been issuing an annual Technology Trends Report since 2012, along with its online newsletters and monthly magazine. Both organizations host annual trade shows with educational tracks filled with technology that matters, where one can participate in the discussions and network with colleagues facing similar challenges and opportunities.
So what? One of the smartest chief information officers I ever worked with was famous for asking this question at the end of any deep-dive discussion regarding technology.
A number of providers sell “data aggregation,” comparative data models built on complex algorithms and big data. But if the operator cannot tie this information to either increasing top line revenue or driving efficiencies for bottom line savings, the overall solution lands in the “so what” bucket.
Operators simply need to press their tech providers on marrying the functionality and output offered to the specifics of the operation through the lens of either or both, ideally, of the client’s drivers to contract an operator in the first place.
For many travelers, the stress of flying starts when they first enter the airport, and with this recognition, airlines and airports themselves have focused a lot of time, money and effort toward mitigating the sources of that stress and expect parking operators to do the same.
While technology will never be the magic pill, it can enable operators to meet this increasing, ever-changing demand on a sustainable basis.
Colleen Niese, a Principal of The Marlyn Group, can be reached at email@example.com.