Technology, Friend or Foe


Technology, Friend or Foe

In the past week I have met with a number of experts in technology.  And not a vendor or consultant in sight. They are actual users, people who slog every day trying to get the numbers right, cars parked, money collected, citations issued, and statistics published. And I detected a hint of frustration.

In one case, I was discussing License Plate Recognition. It seems that when it is used ‘on street’, say for enforcement there is no real way to tell if you are getting good reads unless you manually check every one.  Let’s face it, if the LPR system logs a plate and it mis reads it, if the plate if on a ‘boot list’ it won’t show up and who will know? that may not be a problem, but what if the opposite occurs? Whoops.

However if you run a license plate recognition system at an airport and you run a manual license plate inventory system at the same airport, you know immediately how many misreads you get. Want to guess the number (I won’t embarrass anyone by telling you the airport.)  25% misread.

And how about in street sensors.  Its the same issue — how do you know if you get misreads? You have to go out there with a clipboard and a stopwatch and compare the actual visual activity with the data received by the system. Just who does that?

However, if the system is used to generate citations and it makes mistakes, the folks that get the bogus tickets will be standing on your desk. What happens if you issue 500 such citations a day and there is a 2% error rate — that’s 50 complaints a week. Can you handle that? Well I think a 98% ‘good’ read rate is pretty good, but its not good enough for one city I spoke to.

What happens when a system goes ‘off line’ but continues to collect credit card data at the Pay on Foot or Exit lane and then downloads that data when it is ‘up’ again.  Is any of that data lost? What about verifying if the cards are valid? How often does it happen? Do we know when it does?  How would we know? They only way is when a system goes ‘down’ is to shut down and not let the gates open. Do we do that?

In every case, we are relying on technology, and often broken technology to tell us if it is broken.

Look at it this way — Bill Gates spends billions to debug Windows 8. tens of thousands beta test it. When its released its full of bugs and almost daily we get an update from Seattle telling us that a patch has been installed to fix this or that problem.  Even then, we know that when we do certain things it doesn’t work but quietly the system teaches us that when we do a particular command it doesn’t work so we simply don’t do that any more. We know that “ctrl alt delete” will bring up a screen that can get us out of almost anything.

The technology we use in parking is beta tested at what, 10 sites.  Then its put in the field and debugged on the fly.  Its the life we in the parking world live when dealing with technology.

My discussion with the airport brought out a scary thought. “I really don’t want to go down that path,” my airport friend said. “I really don’t want to know.”

He was referring to the administrative problems it would cause him if he truly investigated the problems in his system and had to take the action necessary to ‘fix’ them.

All of my discussions led to a conclusion – Technology problems can be minimized with attention in three areas.

First, the user must want it to work and constantly strive to make the system work.  You would be surprised how many users just don’t care. They know the “ctl alt delete” for their system and use work arounds.

Second the system must be right for the job. Don’t expect to shoot “Star Wars” on your $350 video camera.

Third, the technology must be installed and maintained by organizations who know what they are doing. Don’t expect the average journeyman electrician to be able to get your $2MM technological marvel up and running, and don’t expect the local Geek Squad to keep it running.

Then, you might get to the 2% we discussed above. It that’s not good enough, then perhaps you need to reevaluate your expectations, or perhaps you need to look into something different to keep your business running well.


PS — There is technology that works right.  But it often runs up against one of the three requirements listed above.



Picture of John Van Horn

John Van Horn

2 Responses

  1. Having moved into this space recently from other critical infrastructure / tech backgrounds……….I was amazed at the confusion that exists between customers and suppliers with parking.
    You have written this article very well – and your correct about those 3 points. You are also correct about there being tech out there that does the job correctly and well. But you pay for it, and sometimes the need does not have the $ behind it.
    Look at other industries have have similar tech. Control, monitoring. A piece of equipment for power systems or water purification might have a price tag 100 times that of an off the shelf unit…….but it will have six sigma design, testing and installation (99.8% success).
    “Slapping” a bit of tech into a carpark does not solve anything or make anything more efficient. You have to add intelligence (of any kind) to a system to make any form of improvement.
    While I understand the frustration (we all get it). People (on both sides) need to sit down and seriously think about things like technology and its application before committing energy to a system that will never work.
    Contrary to what Apple says, there isn’t an app for everything, and a machine is only as bright as the combined intelligence of the designer, installer and user. If one of them is thick – the machine will be just a stupid.

    This IS the same as every other industry out there.

  2. I see cases on a regular basis where an operator or owner installs the “latest and greatest” technology but they have no idea of how to properly use it. When I ask them “why” they went with this technology they say they bought it because their old system was on its last legs, and this is what everyone told them was the best way to go. They install the new technology but go on about their business using the same old procedures and practices as they always have.

    The other big problem is almost the exact opposite of that scenario. We have a whole generation of “experts” who have never done it the “old way”, and are fully reliant on the new technology. They don’t fully grasp what the technology is actually doing because they’ve never seen it done any other way. These systems will generate reports and data in a matter of seconds that would require hours of manual work under the “old way” of doing things. The problem with a lot of it is that the people getting these reports and all that data have no idea what they’re looking at. They don’t understand “how” the numbers were calculated or “what” the data actually represents.

    The technology that is available to the parking industry is amazing when you compare it to what we had 10 years ago. If it is “applied” and “managed” correctly it can produce amazing results. If it’s simply “installed” and allowed to “operate” then all it does is cut down on some labor, although that is most likely offset by lost income and missed opportunities.

    Just because you buy a pair of Air Jordans doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dunk from the foul line, you still have to put in the work. The new technology is a tool and the results it generates are up to the ones using it.

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