Why Universities Need to See Full Picture of Their Parking Data
By Susan Knight
With more than 17 million college studentsheading back to campuses across the U.S. this month, you can be assured that “predictive analytics,” the process of studying data and predicting future probabilities and trends, have shaped many of the decisions for the upcoming school year.
More than ever, student data are providing actionable metrics, allowing colleges and universities to review statistics and implement solutions that impact educational success and student retention.
For example, if indicators reveal that students who live in university housing are more likely to succeed and graduate than those who live off-campus, administrators can explore ideas to create more options to live on-campus.
Data analytics help guide better decision-making in all areas and on many levels. They allow for better enrollment forecasting, staffing adjustments, and can even impact the financial aid decisions a university makes, to name just a few of its influences. Yet it’s not only the business of educating students that drives a need for collecting and analyzing data on campus.
Along with identifying at-risk students, data analytics allow for better enrollment forecasting and staffing adjustments, and can even impact the financial aid decisions a university makes, to name just a few of its influences.
Yet it’s not only the business of educating students that drives a need for collecting and analyzing data on campus.
Innovative parking operators at colleges and universities nationwide are also recognizing the importance of business intelligence, which allows them to better able see the full picture of their operations. A technology-driven process for analyzing data and mining valuable information has been greatly anticipated in the industry, according to Blake Laufer, Vice President of Research for T2 Systems.
“We embarked on a ‘business intelligence and benchmarking’ project to get a sense of whether our customers were interested in data collection and utilization. Overwhelmingly, they told us, yes,” said Laufer, leading to development of PathFinder, the industry’s first business intelligence and benchmarking tool that’s soon to be released by the company.
A parking industry leader who shares that interest is Seamus Wilmot, CAPP, Director of Parking and Transportation for the University of California, Berkeley.
He has been responsible for bringing considerable innovation to the parking operations during his tenure there, including adding credit card pay kiosks and pay-by-phone capabilities; permit by license plate; license plate recognition enforcement; real-time parking occupancy with in-space sensors and entrance vehicle counts; and online citation appeals – all of which have had a significant impact on customer service on his campus.
So it’s no surprise that Wilmot was intrigued by the opportunity to help develop a data visualization tool that would allow users to easily interpret and act on centralized, integrated information.
“I was interested in being able to influence the data that were being collected, along with the benchmarks that would be developed into the product,” Wilmot said of joining the charter group that was tasked with testing and implementing PathFinder.
“Our customers see data analytics as a path to better decision making, and this helps them collect a lot of data; this is one more tool in their parking management toolbox,” added Laufer, who was instrumental in PathFinder’s development and has directed the charter group from its inception.
“The group held regular meetings, which were checkpoints in the iterative process to develop the application,” Laufer added. “We were always eager to share what we’d heard and show the adjustments along the way – the process gave everyone the opportunity to redirect and make improvements.”
The inaugural group first came together in May 2015, and has been using the application ever since. Along with UC Berkeley, members of the charter group include eight other universities across the U.S. and one municipality.
It’s been a collaborative effort that has paid off, Laufer said, especially as the members use the data they’re gathering to compare their operations with one another.
And why not, asks Wilmot? Universities have long been benchmarking against one another with regard to academic metrics. Therefore, he believes it only makes sense to be able to provide correlations to similar universities when he’s asked by campus administration about parking permit rates or the revenue that’s generated per space, for example.
“This really helps me know if we are on the right track or not. If our citation rates or our revenue numbers are very different from a like university, I would dig deeper into the data and our operation to see why this might be,” he explained.
“If it is truly easier for customers to pay for parking, then we should see an increase in permit and public parking revenue, and we may see a decrease in citation revenue. Pathfinder helps me test that hypothesis,” Wilmot added.
PathFinder currently tracks 27 different key performance indicators (KPIs), as selected by customers. Benchmarking reports detail seven of those KPIs: average revenue per full-time employee, average revenue per space, citation payment rate, unresolved citation rate, average days to appeal, and permits per full-time employee. From these, operators can then compare their organization with their peers’ to determine operational similarity: parking type, density, staff size and number of spaces.
“It takes just a couple of clicks to see what’s going on,” Wilmot said of using the data tool. “It’s great to be able to show staff – both front-line and management – that you’re doing better than the industry. With the profile filters, I can compare against similar businesses.”
Like most university parking and transportation operations, UC Berkeley is an auxiliary service that covers its own expenses and many times must also pay for additional alternative transportation programs, such as shuttles, transit subsidies and discounted carpool programs. All while feeling pressured to keep permit costs low to a customer base of their own faculty, staff and students.
“We must continue to be more efficient with the resources we have and be creative with how we use those resources,” Wilmot said. “Really knowing the full picture helps us make informed decisions.
“Having a tool like Pathfinder shows us, in an easy-to-digest visual format, what’s going on with our operation. Knowing where we are writing the most citations, for example, helps us figure out if maybe we are not providing proper guidance to our parkers.”
A good illustration of this, Wilmot said, would be a highly traveled visitor’s parking area. When staff members realize they’re issuing a higher number of citations than expected, they can step back and determine if they’re doing a good enough job communicating with parkers.
For instance, is better signage needed? Should they find better methods of directing visitors to available parking? Wilmot said that having readily available data allows them to address issues more quickly and provide a better customer experience when they realize they’re issuing a ticket instead of letting visitors know where to park – information, he said, that helps drive change.
“Maybe we need to do a better job of showing them how to pay or when – all of which allows us to make changes and improve the customer experience. This in turn may improve our parking revenue, but more important, it improves the customer’s perception of parking.” And that, Wilmot said, is the ultimate goal.
As with many universities today, another ongoing opportunity for UC Berkeley and Wilmot to address is balancing growing student enrollments and an expanding campus at the expense of parking spaces.
All too often, new buildings take shape on former parking lots. And with fewer parking spaces, the need to maximize revenue per space becomes more of a factor. Easy-to-access data allow for better decision-making and adjustments, letting them quickly know if the changes they make are achieving the desired effect.
“During the day, the lots are nearly full with permit parkers,” he noted. “The challenge is to be able to evaluate whether changes you’ve made have the kind of impact you were expecting. It helps us roll out decisions across campus.”
And better decision-making ultimately means that universities are better equipped to serve their customers.
Today, more states than ever are scrutinizing student success and graduation rates, while holding institutions of higher learning more accountable for public funding.In a similar vein, as analytics drive an increasing number of parking decisions, more operators are recognizing the importance of better demonstrating cost containment to university administration and showing how they, too, are best serving the students in their charge.
Susan Knight, Marketing Communications Manager for T2 Systems, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.