A Newbie Looks at Technology, or the Lack of It
New Vs Old
March 2018 was my first ever foray into the parking and transportation industry, starting with the PIE conference in Chicago. Before that, my career had been exclusively in enterprise software sales, initially in Sydney Australia, until I moved to New York as our business expanded internationally. As I worked in the USA, I was privileged to connect with a set of customers across a spectrum of industries such as finance, manufacturing and mining, an experience that gave me insight into the value of technology in improving their processes.
I learned that parking is a very close-knit community of professionals who love what they do.
My role was to help our customers craft a plan for digital transformation, utilizing the latest technology to optimize all aspects of their businesses. With Microsoft as our major partner, I gained an understanding of what is possible when a strong engineering team is dedicated to achieving a common goal.
Coming from this background, my first observation on parking was that the existing parking management systems were antiquated when compared to the technology leaps being made in other industries.
While other industries were far down the now clichéd path of ‘disruption’, administrators in the parking industry were still utilizing solutions and processes that, in some cases, were implemented 20 years earlier. I couldn’t quite get my head around why this was the case – the budgets were there, and the smart city concept was seeing huge investments into emerging businesses. So why was the parking industry so far behind?
I launched myself into the industry, working with administrators, consultants, and user groups to understand the common problems faced by cities and university campuses in their parking operations. At Spot we had recently built a proprietary parking data platform that I knew could solve a lot of these issues, but we simply needed to understand which ones to focus on.
A common observation I made was that many of the parking executives had been at the same organization for decades - some even close to 40 years – which, from my experience, was something very rare in any industry.
From our conversations, I learned that parking is a very close-knit community of professionals who love what they do, and who are (typically) low-stress people who are surprisingly open in their operations, and happy to share successes with their counterparts from a utilitarian perspective.
It is for this reason that I believe parking to be as ripe for innovation as any industry that I’ve seen. From hundreds of discussions, I learned that parking administrators are not averse to technological innovation – rather, they are ready to embrace it. The consensus across the board is that the need for parking is not going anywhere, so we should work together to perfect our current operations.
Most see the potential to unlock a significant amount of ‘hidden’ revenue from their existing parking assets, though to do so they must first establish detailed insights into the current utilization of their assets. This is a core tenet across almost all industries and one the parking industry has been slow to embrace.
Moving forward, there needs to be a culture shift on the vendor side away from developing products in a vacuum and then forcing customers to adhere to the way they are structured.
Rather, vendors need to build flexible platforms and work in a collaborative partnership with their customers to solve the woes that continue to plague parking – both on the administrative side as well as the customer side.
Vendors must also embrace collaboration between themselves – too many of them ‘play their cards close to their chest’. If we shift the mindset toward collaboration and specialization, we can achieve much better outcomes for our customers.
While Covid-19 has had a dramatic effect on budgets and many innovative projects were shelved, within the last few months I have witnessed the appetite for innovation return with steam. Customer expectations and demands are greater now than they ever have been, and parking administrators that do not appreciate and adopt plans based on these trends will be left behind.
I have regularly witnessed the benefits of well-planned and successful digital transformations across the board, and those in the parking industry are perfectly positioned to benefit. The future is very bright and we are witnessing a changing of the guard from anachronistic solutions developed by a few, to rapid innovation led by emerging technology companies and flexible to the nuanced needs of each of their customers. The one-size-fits-all approach is no longer, and we will all be better off for it.
Mark Frumar is the General Manager of North America for Spot Parking. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org