The Unknown Consultant
November, 2008This is a compilation of the responses from consultants. They, too, wish to remain unknown. Editor.
“First and foremost, we agree with many of the statements made – with just a few exceptions. I do have a problem with the inclination by many of the vendors you interviewed to paint all consultants with the same brush. I believe that much of what was reported – including specifications that no one can meet, lane geometry that doesn’t work, specification errors, technical errors, unfamiliarity with specific technologies, poor or insufficient operational suggestions, ridiculously technical specifications preferred over clear performance specifications (referred to as operational specification) and even blatant plagiarism – unfortunately exists in our industry. I can even add a few on the consultant side that weren’t mentioned, but that would be piling-on.”
“Let’s be fair: There is more blame on many fronts. Consultants, vendors, manufacturers, owners and operators all have contributed to making parking revenue and access control almost a laughingstock. The vendors have identified only part of the problem.
“I have worked in a parking booth, signed on a cashier terminal, emptied a pay-on-foot terminal, formatted numerous database reports (and actually knew what they said). I have done this on equipment of multiple manufacturers and actually am familiar with what are the strengths and weaknesses of most of the equipment on the market. In fact, I would guess that many of the consultants in my firm have far more ‘booth time’ than many of the vendors installing the equipment. So instead of getting on some silly Dennis Miller-type rant, work to fix the problem by first recognizing we are all to blame.”
“I can’t tell you how often I have been at a service call or installation and some young tech had the manual open on the gate box. Train them properly. The rest of the building trades produce detailed and high-quality professionally engineered shop drawings. Some of the parking technology submittals I have had the privilege of reviewing were terrible. When are vendors going to stop acting like system integrators? Custom systems are always problems; vendors have enough problems with basic systems out of the box. If one of our clients asks for a large amount of customization, we always advise against that strategy.”
“Manufacturer’s load up equipment with features that only a few of my customers will ever use. They often have dealers that are unqualified to represent the company and spend little time supporting the guys in the field. Much of the equipment is not designed with the capabilities of the end-user in mind.
“In the retail world, POS credit card transactions are rock solid (when was the last time you had a bad read at a gas pump?). Pay-on-foot credit card transactions at a parking facility I use often work about half the time. The big difference is the quality and frequency of maintenance.
“Manufacturers of parking technology know how often the equipment must be maintained, but do they tell the customer? No chance. That would put them at a competitive disadvantage. At some point, they will understand that reliability is far more important than the bells and whistles they are selling.”
“The owners also are a problem; they see a bunch of ‘features’ at a parking show and demand that the consultant produce a patchwork quilt of a specification so they can get all the ‘neat stuff’ out there.”
“Parking operators seldom invest in equipment and training. When Hilton takes over a Marriott flag, the entire POS system is replaced. Hilton managers are trained on specific systems with specific procedures. If operators would commit to a system and commit to a training program, it would make us all look better.
“By the way, we are not lawyers; we don’t make $400 per hour.”
“Last week. I purchased a new computer after the motherboard of my old computer died. I had my choice of processor, memory, hard-drive capacity, operating system, and even the color of the case. I had my old hard drive installed in the new computer, along with my Zip drive, 3-1/2” drive, an extra DVD/CD player/recorder, and even my trusty 5-1/4” drive. Once (it was) running, I was also able to use my existing speakers.
“All of these components were from different manufacturers, yet they all worked together, thanks to industry standards. My new computer even comes with a warranty that is valid regardless of the manufacturer of the other components in my system.
“Furthermore, if it breaks after the warranty period, I have a choice of repair locations. Ever try to read the data from an electronic parking meter from one vendor with a handheld unit from another vendor? Ever replace a damaged cashier terminal purchased from one vendor to an existing PARCS supplied by another vendor? Without standards, equipment manufacturers have created a forest of incompatible, often proprietary, assortment of hardware and software.”
“For the parking operator, the purchase of parking equipment is often a once-in-a-career experience. It usually occurs for one or more of the following reasons:
• Existing equipment does not provide the level of control needed for an operation.
• The equipment is no longer serviceable (due to obsolescence or lack of manufacturer support).
• Existing equipment has been damaged.
• Renovation or expansion of facility provides ideal time to upgrade equipment.
“The parking operator is faced with trying to look at each tree in that forest to discover the best match for his/her needs. Not only must the operator consider the tree itself, but also the maintenance of that tree over the next decade. It is not an easy task. Many parking operators are better trained in management issues than in parking equipment. That is why many operators hire a consultant to assist in this process.
“The fact that parking operators need to hire a consultant to assist with the acquisition of parking equipment is an indication of the failure of the parking industry to provide standards for equipment and adequate training for those who manage parking facilities. So until such time as those shortcomings are corrected, the consultant will continue to participate in the process of equipment acquisition.”
Nearly every complaint listed against consultants is also made by operators against equipment manufacturers. “Vendors don’t listen to my needs. They promise a ‘complete installation’ but don’t include wiring. They make $2,000 profit on every gate they sell. They lack objectivity. They say their equipment transmits data in ‘real-time’ but in fact, only certain data are transmitted immediately. They have never been responsible for managing a parking operation.”
“They say service is always available, but when you call for service in Cleveland, the technician is in Denver.”
Some of these complaints are based in reality. (Look at ORD and DFW.) Others are completely unfounded. The operator and consultant must take steps to avoid potential pitfalls and ensure that the equipment purchased meets his/her requirements. Listing only operational requirements is, unfortunately, no longer possible in an industry with no real standards for equipment.
So without standards, how does the consultant help protect the operator from getting the wrong equipment? The consultant writes specifications.
Not every set of specifications is perfect. In fact, few are. That is why there are site visits, pre-bid meetings, corrections and addendums. Could the system be improved? Certainly.
Operators must realize that the purchase of new equipment will not solve all issues related to revenue diversion, and it will not make your operation fully PCI-compliant. Instead of creating 20 new customized reports, operators should attempt to use the reports provided by the equipment manufacturer. This will save money initially and help prevent software problems in the future when upgrades are installed.
Consultants can do a better job of researching equipment. They also can take advantage of opportunities to learn from equipment vendors. Finally, consultants should avoid using the same specs for every new project.
Equipment manufacturers can offer training, not sales promotions, to consultants. Over the past five years, I am aware of only one equipment vendor who has provided informational training sessions on parking technology during one of the national conferences. Only a few vendors have taken the opportunity to make an informational presentation at a meeting of the Parking Consultants Council.
Vendors can adapt standards. All barrier gates are designed to perform one function – go up and go down on command. All ticket-issuing machines are designed to issue tickets. Why not have a standard set of specs (call them PEM for Parking Equipment Manufacturer) for those basic pieces of parking equipment. Then, any operator could simply state that they want five gates that are PEM-compliant. The need for specs is now gone, along with the need to hire a consultant. The equipment vendor can then concentrate on software and service.
It is not a perfect world, but the consultant didn’t write the specs for it.