I watched a panel discussion about smart parking some time ago, and while it was very interesting and insightful, it also revealed the segmentation of the industry. There was talk about silos, polarization and misunderstandings between different stakeholders. How could the dialogue be improved?

Of course, an industry with little centralized power will have some sort of fragmentation. More than anything, however, what I noticed were different parties that need each other, but have a hard time finding common ground. There is potential to harness all that expertise together: hardware suppliers, operators, software developers and consumers all have their own role in the change of the parking industry.

Hardware suppliers provide the devices parking needs

Suppliers are the ones that provide parking meters, gates and everything else that is needed to have a functioning parking facility. Hardware is too often put up against digital solutions as an either-or. A more software-oriented future doesn’t mean that hardware becomes obsolete or that the vendors don’t have a place in the future. Of course, some of it will be replaced with digital solutions but after all, what else is software used on if not hardware?

Because software at its best is created by a party that is solely focused on it, hardware suppliers need not worry about competing by developing their own tech as an extension of existing machinery. They can focus on integration: for example, gates can be connected to API that automates them. The gates will still be needed, they will just work even better than before.

Parking providers manage the yield, and aggregate the solutions and users

In the discussion I watched, operators who run parking facilities raised concerns about automation coming at the cost of proper customer service – the one thing that in their view can separate them from each other in terms of business. Also, when something goes wrong with software or hardware or a customer is unable to use them, the parking companies are the ones who will deal with the displeased customer.

At the same time, operators have the great opportunity to introduce new solutions to the car-driving population – and they also get to enjoy the pleased customer. Operators are in the crucial position between the products and the consumers. Instead of thinking that they are being robbed of their expertise when a more automated solution comes into action, being open to new alternatives can be seen as beneficial, because having them available is great customer service in itself.

Software developers enable digitalization

Those developing parking software are at an intersection of expectations, demands and reality. Any sort of solution can be called revolutionary or cutting-edge, but without proven usability and the ability to attract the critical mass, those terms have little substance. The trap that tech developers can fall into is getting excited about their own product too much to see the forest for the trees – the forest being the user base that needs to adopt the product. The product also needs to be adopted and integratable by hardware providers and operators.

At the same time, tech companies are the ones that can develop solutions that can automate so much of what the other stakeholders are doing. Their mindset is digital, and all about streamlining tasks to make processes more effective. And that’s exactly what the industry needs, not to override existing systems, but to improve and compliment them.

Consumers choose what is good enough and what isn’t

Now we’re talking about the critical mass that vote on their feet (and with their wallets). On one hand, the car-driving population is seen as the victim of the ineffective parking industry, who just have to submit to available solutions. On the other hand, they are anything but a passive player – in fact, they are the ones that will eventually make the call on new services. What the car drivers are also responsible for is generating the data that is needed to make decisions be it in marketing, parking apps or developing machinery.

In the end it’s the users that have to adopt the new solution, because if they hate it, they don’t use it and then any efforts made along the process of getting it to the consumer have all been in vain. There is no overlooking the user perspective.

Smart parking is the outcome of different stakeholders working together

…And there are many more factors in play

Of course, this is just a simplification of the factors at work: there is the real-estate owner, the governmental parties deciding on infrastructure, and the car manufacturers who will either integrate or not integrate new solutions into dashboards. There’s the transport industry with multimodal mobility, there’s traffic control, land use architects and downtown businesses.

No one alone will save the parking industry. Nor is anyone an enemy who is in the way of that change. There are simply many different components that can all bring something valuable to the table.

Cooperation = shared responsibility = shared opportunity

Understanding the value of each stakeholder that you come across when navigating smart parking is the key of a working dialogue. This post doesn’t intend to give a magical solution for the matter, but simply provoke some thought. In the end, the general consensus seems to be that smart parking is good, can bring added revenue, and will make consumers happier.

A situation where all the above stakeholders share expertise gives a combined, wide perspective on the industry instead of several narrower ones. Finding that common ground is absolutely crucial, because as the industry is made up of all of these parties, none of them can change it on their own.

Cooperation does not decrease the value of any separate agent, but potentially brings about new value in itself.

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Main photo by “Hendrik Morkel from Unsplash/CC