When we think about parking, our mind goes to different physical constructions and items: garages, parking meters, gates, receipts, tickets. Some of them are necessary, but some of them are just a remainder of a time when we didn’t have software to cover all that, and do it better.

We come back to the question of why we are still using parking meters, when other physical machines like phone booths have already disappeared. In a previous post we focused on the bad user experience of parking meters, in this post we’ll talk about the provider side – why it’s not financially wise or sustainable to maintain everything about your business with hardware. Parking professionals need to move past machinery to navigate in the digital reality of parking.

Parking providers are in a rut with machinery

When we had our chat with John, the CEO of a successful parking company, about parking brokers and competition in the transport industry, the third thing he wanted to address was how parking professionals still tend to be dependent on hardware. “When we talk about the issues and potential changes in the parking industry, this is a topic that cannot be overlooked. The industry is caught up on using hardware for everything, because that’s how it’s always been. But technology has developed past that.”

John wanted us to understand why parking is still hardware-oriented. “Parking businesses have been buying in machinery forever, and still do it without thinking about it twice. Of course hardware is needed for certain things, and even software doesn’t work without supporting hardware. But when it comes to those things that could be gone, there’s no ‘hey, this could be done better in another way.’ Although when you really stop to think, you realize that everything else now works with software, so why not parking?”

There’s more than one reason why he sees the reluctance to embrace new technology as an issue. “To understand the whole problem with machine-only-dependency, we first have to paint a picture of what the reality of running a hardware-heavy parking business is,” he said.

Hardware is expensive and stiff – and that doesn’t stop when a purchase is made

In parking, every piece of equipment is bought in. Although they are one-time purchases, the relationship with the manufacturer is fixed for the next several years. Machines need regular maintenance, and more often than not, the vendors have a monopoly on maintaining and fixing their own devices, so they can also regulate the prices that are charged. Consequently, the buyer is locked into a continuous relationship with the same supplier. Of course, there are often service deals that cover maintenance to a certain extent, but that doesn’t remove the fact that it ends up being costly. Even more so, joinnt deals prevent buyers from moving on to another vendor.

“When you buy from a parking hardware supplier, it’s not like buying a sofa,” said John, “it’s like buying a sofa that you need to upholster, dry-clean and dust every two months, and the only person who can do those things is the person you bought it from, so that person will have you as a customer for an infinite amount of time. And if you want to buy matching living room furniture, you need to go to that same supplier.”

When hardware fails, or gets broken or damaged or outdated, it has to be replaced with new hardware. That in itself is a huge cost to a parking business, because that includes installation, move of data, setup, and of course the work hours that go in. Price of which, again, is defined by the original provider.

“It’s not a case of making a one-time investment in a given asset” said John, “the asset – which is the hardware – becomes a burden, because it needs attention and fixing and replacing, and all that takes a lot of resources over time. Even if it’s a working solution, there’s no way of getting around spending money on maintenance. When a parking garage gets rid of unnecessary hardware, it gets rid of forced payments related to those machines. It may not seem like a big deal, but they accumulate over time and end up being a huge expenditure.”

Hardware can be replaced with software in parking

With software, handling data is easier and more reliable, and changing providers is easy

The setup and maintenance costs are just one part of the problem. The reason we use digitally transmittable and accessible data so much these days is because it’s better than any previous way of moving information. “This is a thing that we tend to take for granted now in a lot of aspects in our lives, because it’s such a no-brainer. It becomes evident when you imagine something in your daily routine. Like, instead of searching and queuing songs on Spotify, you’d have to go through a stack of CDs after each song just to have a playlist in the background. No one does that anymore because it’s timely and clumsy and just makes no sense. Using hardware for parking management tasks that software can do is kind of like that,” John demonstrated.

With a good software solution, transporting data is easy, and it can be accessed from anywhere, whenever. In short, it’s more automation and less manual labor, which saves monetary, physical and temporal resources. It’s also a lot safer with automatic backup copies that make sure none of the information gets lost.

“One huge difference that software makes comes evident if you want to switch partners” John explained. “The flexibility is on another level compared to hardware. Getting back to the provider-dependence, relying more on software also makes the situation much easier on you if you want to switch to another provider for any given reason. You can just take your Excel sheets and go.”

Being able to trade for a modern-day digital solution in lieu of an inflexible hardware agreement also gives your partner the motivation to deliver very good products, because otherwise you can, like John said, easily switch your data to the system of the next provider.

John doesn’t believe that the go-to solution should be integrating software created by traditional hardware companies. “When looking into software solutions, parking professionals should keep in mind that software-only companies were born to solve those problems, whereas for traditional hardware companies they are merely an extension of their existing services. They should go for a company that’s 100 % committed to digital parking solutions.”

Find out what hardware you can replace with software, and do it

“In addition to the obvious – moving data around and accessing it is easier and storing it is more secure, I think the biggest difference is the benefit of relieving oneself from the running costs and dependency on a hardware provider. Parking companies are in a rut with the manufacturers of parking hardware” John explained.

“Being too dependent on hardware has all the potential to slow the parking industry down and trump the digital evolution. If parking providers started to question the need for hardware more, they’d realize that having the information digitally is not just better for them but better for their customers,” John concluded. “Of course the transformation can’t be done overnight, and I want to underline that not every piece of hardware is a nuisance at all. But gradually moving towards a system that works, updates and maintains itself more effectively is something each and every parking business owner should think about.”

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Main photo by “Gary J. Wood from Flickr/CC