It boils down to one word…

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It boils down to one word…

What do manufacturers do when they want to come up with a new product? It seems easy enough. They go out and talk to the people who will use it. They form focus groups and ask questions about what is needed and how it is to be used. They then make mock ups and models and have users come in and try it out. Then after they find exactly what the market needs, they come up with “Betamax,” electric cars, ethanol, or an “Edsel” or “New Coke or ” Parking Reservation Systems.” In every case, the product, may in itself, be great, but it didn’t fill a need that the users had. The designers missed the target.

In all those cases, my guess is that a technocrat sat in a office, decided they had a problem that needed fixing, and then sat about to fix it. They did an admirable job. In most cases the product was better than the competition’s. But it never caught on, They created a solution in search of a problem.

We find this, I think, in our industry. When we walk through the IPI exhibition in Denver month after next, we will see a lot of systems, paradigms, solutions, and esoteric discussions of ways to solve problems. Owners and senior managers will be wowed by the wonders of it all and order books will be filled with solutions, mostly high tech, that are intended to solve problems that these managers see daily. But they won’t.

I think that the issues these technical marvels are to solve come from the top down. Owners think that if they install a revenue control system, with all the whistles and bells, their revenue will increase. They think that if the machines can spew out reports they will have the knowledge they need to make decisions on the future of their businesses. They think that if they have Brand X in one garage and Brand Y in another, that these new technologies will make them all live in harmony and provide similar information and reports.

I sat with senior managers of one of the largest and most respected parking equipment manufacturers this week and I asked what was the most important thing that they could provide. This manager, who comes from the marketing and not engineering side of the company, was spot on. He said one word – “Training.”

He understood the problem. Although senior managers in parking operations and in parking ownership are looking for technical solutions, they may miss the fact that their front line people are sorely in need to technical training. Simply plopping someone down in front of a PC and showing them how to use a mouse doesn’t do it.

Many front line managers in our business come from the rank and file. They are promoted from within, or they don’t have deep backgrounds in day to day computer operations. They don’t know a spreadsheet from a word processor. To them a GUI is a toffy that has been sitting in the sun. Often they cut their teeth on PCs that came over with the Pilgrims and in many garages that’s what is sitting on the desk today.

They have to worry about scratched cars, monthly permits, an owner that has issues with attendants, maintenance, lighting, financial issues, bank deposits, daily reports, personnel, and really don’t have time to teach themselves about an extremely complex piece of technology that has been dropped into their office.

The fellow I spoke to was worried that no matter how easy they make their equipment to use, and how few choices they give the front line personnel, they wouldn’t be able to make it work.

His sales manager, sitting next to me, laughed. “It’s just like the old mechanical counters we had years ago in garages. They didn’t work well and required a lot of attention to detail. Most of them were simply turned off. No one had the time to deal with them.”

So here it is. We have a technical solution to our problems. But do we have the people in place to use it? Of course in some major operations there are people there who know how to use these marvels. But is that true across the board? In the small 450 car garages that produce a million bucks a year? Does that manager have the personal tools to make it happen? Or will they simply be “turned off” and left to lie fallow?

We have a lot of work to do and those in operations need to start with training and education before the technology is dropped in place.

JVH

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John Van Horn

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