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Driving Change: Navigating the Transition in Parking Industry Dynamics

Introduction: Understanding Industry Transition

What does “industry in transition” mean? For me, with 36 years in the business, it means I had to wait 31 years to see this! At least I can say I was behind it all the way, pushing it to this point as hard as I could.

Settling Into Familiarity: Reaching a Plateau

At about the 25-year mark, I was fairly sure (even though we are always learning) I pretty much had the industry figured out. As the owner of an audit company, new tricks came along from time to time, but basically, I had a good understanding of what was happening and how it was happening.

The Turning Point: An Influx of Innovations

Then, five years ago, came ParkMe, ParkYou, ParkWhere; 3M purchased Federal, and then dropped them overboard in the ocean; now PCI and EMV. Five years ago, the industry became flooded with people who came in saying that they knew more about parking than I did. How can we park cars without Central Parking’s Founder Monroe Carell Jr. and without Federal APD? That is an industry in transition.

Facing the Future: Questions and Reflections

As I look at this “new” industry that is slowly emerging before us, I am asked questions about where it is going. Bob Harkins asked that question of us at the Temecula meeting in October. I think the answer I gave was not what he was looking for. However, it was a great question, because it made me think so hard about how I had let Bob down on my answer.

Industry Challenges: Debates and Skepticism

There was a lot of discussion about Uber causing a decline in parking income (I was not one of the believers), and of driverless cars making parking irrelevant (also not a believer, at least in the near term). Bob’s question really has taken me back to my first days in the parking business when Monroe said to me (not necessarily in these terms) that all we do is rent a parking space for time, and our job is to accurately calculate the fee, charge the customer, and get the money in the bank. Funny thing is, that is still our job today. It has not changed at all, and this will continue to be our job for the next large number of years into the future. The difference — and the correct answer to Bob’s question — is how we are going to continue doing the same thing we were doing 36 years ago with some exciting, new, more efficient tools?

The Challenge Ahead: Preparing for the Next Five Years

With that in mind, here is our challenge: If you look at our industry as one in transition, doing the same thing we did 36 years ago, but with a potential of a lot more efficient tools, how do we end up five years from now (this is really the answer to Bob’s question) with the right tools? The answer is that the managers of today have to make the right purchasing decisions. As I said at the beginning of the “boot camp” session at PIE this year, “Where the industry will be five years from now really depends on you, the parking manager of the University of Somewhere, the City of Overthere, MyAirport, YourHospital, and so on. It is you who will make the purchase decisions that will decide the direction the parking industry will go in terms of new or emerging technology.

Shaping the Future: The Power of Technology Decisions

The technology purchase decisions you make today will shape the technology that is created and delivered tomorrow. The parking industry of five years from now is actually being created today, and it is being created so fast that five years from now, we will have to stop and think to remember how hard it was five years before.

Lessons from Other Industries: Technology's Broad Impact

Just for fun, let’s look at a few examples of where far-reaching technology decisions changed an industry. I am absolutely sure that someone in the airline business 15 years ago said that “people are not going to get on the Internet and make their own reservations; they want to talk to a person.” Last Thursday, in a plane somewhere over Oklahoma, I scheduled and purchased the ticket for the flight I am on tomorrow. Even if I wanted to, there was no one I could have talked with to purchase this ticket. Someone decided that person was wrong and made the decision to move down the technology path of having the customer handle the entire transaction online, pay online, and print their own ticket. We in the parking industry have to make those decisions also.

Adapting to Change: The Airline Industry Case Study

Let’s look at how this one decision impacted the airline industry: The reservation system had to be recreated, so that an inexperienced customer could find their flights and complete the transaction. Call center representatives had to move from being travel agents to understanding the website and how to help customers who were having online issues. SOPs had to be created and agents trained to handle the customer such as me who was planning a trip for, say, Jan. 4 and accidently booked it for the 14th. Marketing people who understand web-purchasing had to be hired and trained to take advantage of this newly acquired ability to communicate deals to the customer. New positions had to be created to bring in people who could understand the massive amounts of customer purchasing decisions and use this mountain of data to compete. The airport ticket agent went from a very important customer service position of helping customers book flights that met their schedules and connection requirements, handling large payments with responsibilities for balancing at the end of the day, to a shift report with tens of thousands of dollars in transactions, to a job in transition. Today, 90% of their job is tagging luggage, but they still have to be able to help some people book a flight and handle a limited amount of cash transactions. The job description of the manager of FlyMe Airlines office in OK City has changed. The people who work for them have changed, the job descriptions have changed, the technology of baggage handling, ticket processing, accountability of passengers have all changed, so the manager’s skills had to change.

Conclusion: Moving Forward: Decisions and Divisions

In almost every industry, we are seeing those changes make the difference between companies that are able to move forward and those that are not. The parking industry is no different. At this point, as you look at the technology facing our industry, it is no different from other transportation-related industries. The real dividing point is how our purchasing decisions are made and how they will impact the companies that supply us in the future. Who is going to make the decision to buy or not buy a technology because they do not understand how it will affect their current staff or their customers? Where we go as an industry will really be dependent on how you, the parking managers, handle the following four crossroads: Human (customer) interface. Current staffing requirements. Information processing. Payment processing. (I will discuss these requirements in detail in next month’s Parking Today.)

Final Thoughts: The Role of Leaders in Technological Transformation

I hear so much noise about technology and what it is doing to or for our industry, how much it is changing our industry, and finally, is it good or bad for us. All of the technology that we are seeing is already out there in other customer-facing industries. The real discussion is not so much about the technology, but about the managers who are leading and will lead the parking industry down the path to the future. The absolutely most important steps our industry can take to get us to that place in the future (Bob Harkins’ question) is to provide the infrastructure of training and information, through this magazine and PIE, required to help the future leaders of the parking management decision-making world. If we continue to provide them with the most current information using the four requirements listed above, then the parking industry will move through the technology curve smiling.

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