Monday, December 17, 2012

Does Parking Have a Future? Hell Yes!

The Future of Parking

Oh, wouldn’t it be a great tool to be able to predict what might happen in the future and what a great fool you would be to think you can actually do it.  To see coming proceedings as mere connections of the extrapolation of current thoughts, information and events, then put them all together into some kind of sense, would rank you along side ancient elderly fortune tellers and wealthy card players.  Neither exists as randomness tends to catch up with you.  Having said that, there is some enjoyment to be had playing the lottery and imagining that you might win.

Predicting what car parking might look like in the future is also an exercise in futility as there are so many functions and disciplines that touch parking.  All of these functions and disciplines have their own champions to push the boundaries of the accepted frontier and the discoveries of technology and methodology in all of these disciplines will radiate an enlightened knowledge for parking to bathe in.  Who would have thought that the cordless vacuum cleaner, light emitting diodes and infrared ear thermometers would have come from the space program? The future of parking can be anything.

Being the time of year of year it is, it is timely to look into a crystal ball and see what might be on the horizon.  What are the harbingers of things to come?  There tends to be two different types of future products or themes to keep an eye on, work place trends and global trends that touch parking.

Workplace trends that will affect the parking industry are related to what our customers will be doing in the future.  The rise of the female worker, longer working lives (but from home), the appearance of increased processing power in mobile phones, global climate change pressures, economic crises of various sorts, rise and resistance to social media (what’s the next big thing?), working from home, increased PT use and cloud computing, are all themes occurring now and affect the parking industry directly.  Expectations change as the latest widget that gets sold via the television at home, is expected to start to pervade the parking industry, by demand of the customer.  I have confidence that we will keep up with customer demands to be engaged in different ways because if you don’t, someone else will. 

Global trends will always overtake an industry, if it is not exposed to better, faster ways of doing things.  Some new ideas appear like a tidal wave rather than an image of a cowboy slowly moseying his way into the foreground from the horizon. 

The explosion in communications equipment and its increased processing power has been phenomenal.  Quad-core mobile phones are now the norm, a similar amount of computing power to what NASA used to land Apollo 13 on the moon!  You can get an App for anything now.  It almost appears that app-creators have run out of stuff to invent in cool businesses and have started to look around at a business like parking. 

Self driven cars are here.  The results of having these machines about require deep reflection by the parking industry.  Get alongside these developments or get left behind.  I still have some confidence that the mum and dad user will still require a space to park their oil powered old clunker.  The gradual pervasion of the electric and hybrid car, into the national vehicle fleet, will speed up to a fast jog, before moving at a bolt-like pace in the years to come.  Its how soon that will occur that should occupy minds more immediately.  A change over must occur as climate change pressures mount.  I know my mum will be driving her old car for many more years yet.  There will still be millions of these cars around for some time.  I would be more worried if I was a taxi driver than a car park operator as companies can afford to replace fleets of taxis before fleets of mums and dads, replace theirs.

Micromanagement of parking is here now.  With the advent of the ‘cloud’ and the increased database and processing power that it provides, means that we can now search for information and calculate results on a giant computer stuck somewhere in a air-condition warehouse in the middle of a desert, and have the results piped to our mobile phones or tablets in milliseconds.  It means we are able to run calculations on occupancies and prices almost instantaneously.  City and private operations managers can now offer greater ROI by pushing occupancies to a much more intense level.  85% occupancy might already be a thing of the past, as we aim for higher levels.

Another example of technology making headway into parking and a battle I am looking forward to is the NFC versus Pay by Widget battle.  I am already hearing people saying they are coming down on one side or another, or even skipping one technology altogether to wait for the other to triumph.  I suspect there will be a shake out in the industry but there will be room for both.  It won’t be solved next year but it will be bare-knuckled fight to watch.

The entry into the market of technology giants has been a major move in the last couple of years.  3M, Xerox and Morgan Stanley are huge names in technology and finance and more related to other, more glamorous industries.  They are infiltrating the parking business and bringing with them an intelligence that can cross-pollinate into an industry that is not fallow of good ideas, but limited in their ability to apply them and limited by a lack of vision to buy them.  A side affect of this entry into the market by global giants is the assortment of ivy leaguers they bring with them.  All of a sudden, parking is sexy.  Then again, I always thought it was.

There are three more challenges for all parties in parking. Firstly, the one challenge for the parking practitioner is to push the boundaries of technology to create a monster that extends knowledge and more intensely improves utilization.  The response being increased ROI.  It is the job of the client and the customer to tell the practitioner that the monster you have created is what they want.  Never diminish the ability to envision new ideas.

The one challenge for the parking client is to get the mix of parking methodology and technology right, to suit the parking plan, then it won’t matter what your technology looks like, it will always fit the bill.  The response is to increase ROI, although this wont be from parking but from the activity that parking supports.

The one challenge for parking customers is to rely on the practitioners and clients to get it right, to keep up to date with changes and respond to changes made by practitioners to send the parking world in a new direction.

Being at the cutting edge of change is an exciting place to be.  The buzz is palpable.  The New Year will hold some surprises, challenges and some cork popping moments I am sure.  I want to wish you and your families the very best for the season.

Kevin Warwood

Please note: Views expressed in this blog are personal.

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