Parking Technology – Does it Have a Downside?
Sure, technology is helpful, like airplanes and smartphones, but are we using parking technology properly to receive the commercial results we want? Do we purchase nice-to-haves, without considering the downside? Consider whether the technology you are considering (or just purchased) is going to help, or hurt, your organization.
Airports are highly regulated businesses. They take the introduction of services to their customers very seriously, because the reputational risk of making the wrong decisions has serious implications.
When I see the number of new emerging technologies available today in the parking sector, I often wonder if suppliers talk to one another or, more important, to the customer – “The Airport?”
This may appear a little harsh; I am sure that many suppliers do. But do they speak with the right airport function?
I recall from my sales days that it was crucial to identify firstly who the customer really was. Who was the person in the organization that had a growing need for a solution to their day-in-and-day-out problems – “The Headache?”
At airports, while most solutions are technical developments, the CIO or IT Director is not the person with “The “Headache.” They may have been asked to find a solution to improve the business, but the day-to-day operation lies with the Chief Operations Officer and the Chief Commercial Officer, who are responsible for non-aeronautical revenue.
One has the task of improving the customer experience and keeping costs down and within budget (COO). The other is responsible for making more money and exceeding the revenue targets (CCO).
Without their buy-in, then it is unlikely that a sale will be made. Once the selection is made, the CIO becomes involved.
I often wonder how many parking apps the world will be able to withstand, all claiming to do many things that are often far too similar, and when the sector gets acquisitive, the number will reduce.
Parking operating systems – the cogs that make carparks operate –barriers, entry and exit equipment, and pay-on-foot payment technology. While the barriers change little, the way that the payment machines have adapted is quite significant, or is it?
We have moved from a very simple machine that once you have completed your parking session, entered your parking ticket and paid with cash to a dashboard that requires the customer to have studied a university degree to operate. “Credit Card,” “Apple/Android Pay,” and in many countries, “Touch Pay.” I have even seen offering “PayPal.”
Who was the person in the organization that had a growing need for a solution to their day-in-and-day-out problems – “The Headache?”
Space-finding technology – a series of lights that direct customers to parking spaces with a 90% to 95% degree of accuracy. The customers may have traveled for miles, negotiated the airport infrastructure successfully, but then they take care of the final parking part of their journey with helpful directional signs and lights. I often wonder whether, if we actually designed and laid out carparks with the driver in mind, we would not need space-finding technology. Often the cost of the technology that requires software upgrades and maintenance can be more expensive than making some simple carpark layout changes.
Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) – Definitely a great advancement in parking and security for airports, its accuracy is improving but still creates many issues when license plate numbers are misread going in and then not recognized going out.
Joined-Up Thinking and Supplier Cooperation
Now, I am quite a youngster to parking. I joined the industry in 2005 and started specializing in airports in 2009. But with this came some great experiences. I have worked for three of the largest carpark operating companies. I have been an airport parking practitioner at two of the world’s largest parking operations, and I have consulted for many other airport clients around the world.
During this period, not one supplier or developer has ever approached me or any of my known colleagues to discuss what the airport customer might appreciate as a solution, improvement or new development.
Additionally, airports seem to focus on purchasing emerging technology to a pattern as follows:
We have to upgrade. Our technology no longer complies with legislation or is no longer maintainable or too expensive to maintain.
The airport in the next state has just introduced this new tech. We had better keep up with the Joneses.
We believe that this technology will give us a competitive advantage. We’re not sure, though.
I get all of this new tech; it makes the world of parking more interesting and sustains the business of healthy supply.
What I don’t get, however, is why many of these companies don’t join up and start talking to airports about what they really need, what the customer will appreciate and what will slow down disruption from Uber and Lyft.
Customers don’t choose them based upon price; they are not cheaper. They are, however, simpler to engage with and have joined up to hire pay tech. Now, if we put some thought into this, we can stave off disruption, improve revenue, and make the most of the next 20 years that parking will exist, because, whatever you believe, parking will be gone by then.
Chris Wortley, an International Parking Consultant focusing on airports. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.