Just a decade or two ago, nearly every sophisticated parking facility sported a software-heavy Facility Management System (FMS) mounted on a desktop computer. From that desktop, a facility manager could track facility revenue and occupancy.
This was made possible by harnessing input from fee computers, access card readers and in-lane, vehicle detection systems powered by old-fashioned, magnetic induction.
Behind the Closed Door
These inputs were usually captured in a “closed architecture” environment. In this paradigm, the FMS manufacturer coded all data exchanges between input devices and the FMS via proprietary encryption.
Unless an individual device spoke the language of the FMS, it simply could not communicate with the software platform. FMS providers zealously guarded these data exchange “protocols” and with good reason.
Foremost, they sought to ensure the system worked as promised by ensuring the compatibility of all peripheral devices and subsystems. Of course, providers also aspired to charge a premium for their software and sell those peripheral devices and subsystems.
After all, a closed ecosystem is usually more profitable than an open one.
FMS Still Rules the Roost
Make no mistake, the FMS still rules the roost today. A new generation of computing power stokes a late-model FMS into doing more and faster, at a lower price point. A modern FMS, originally designed to support a facility manager via a desktop PC in a central location like parking office, now may feature some mobile attributes, such as push alerts.
“But FMS has a legacy steeped in control and enforcement,” says Scott DuBois, Vice President of Product Management for Parking Guidance System (PGS) solutions provider Park Assist.
Today’s generation of customers still need to be enforced, but they also need to be enticed. “In this changing world, we have to provide parking solutions that are painless, frictionless and can entice repeat, loyal behavior,” he says. “And that data needs to be available to others, across multiple platforms,” DuBois adds.
Next Gen: When Less is More
In some cases, facilities don’t really need the complexity of an expensive FMS to perform their core missions. Instead, these facilities may need additional, specific analytics to support certain aspects of their operation that an FMS may not provide.
So while an FMS can still perform a key management role, some of these Next Gen systems are now beginning to overlap in function with the traditional roles of an FMS. Plus, there are other consumers of facility data now, such as parking reservations systems.
And, the manager—and the data—must now be mobile. Information can’t be limited to the parking office.
For the modern manager-on-the-go, analytics need to be pre-scripted to track Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and results must be graphically presented for rapid consumption on a “dashboard”.
Digging into Data
In this arena, the Next Gen systems are adding benefits. “Parking data management has moved beyond just a macro view of occupancy counts and transactional summaries,” says DuBois.
“For example, with video-based, individual parking bay monitoring that includes Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR), an operator now has access to far more granular information than rudimentary counts,” says DuBois.
Using Next Gen data, the manager can know who is parking, where they are parking and why.
Welcome to Open Architecture
Of course, the traditional data inputs from ticket dispensers, card readers and the like are still important. But layering these new inputs facilitates a more mobile and agile management approach to the needs of a particular facility.
The demise of many closed, proprietary manufacturer protocols and the advent of open architecture software design promotes innovation and free exchanges of data between systems.
Indeed, insisting on “open architecture” software design is a state-of-the-art requirement for many Parking Access and Revenue Control Systems (PARCS) solicitations in recent years.
License Plate as Credential
“The trend is toward a frictionless parking model,” says Michael Bradner, Product Line Manager, for Automatic License Plate Recognition (ALPR) solutions provider Genetec AutoVu. “The challenge is to do so without losing control of who’s parking where, and for how long,” he adds.
“Consequently, ALPR has moved beyond just reading license plates and comparing them to a list,” Bradner says. “With ALPR, the plate becomes the credential.”
“ALPR systems allow a facility manager to understand who’s on site, how long they’ve been on site and when they left,” he says. “This information can be used live or for investigation after the transaction.”
Bradner adds, “ALPR data can also be used for occupancy counts, calculating usage fees, and for access control to certain areas. Thus, the benefit to facility managers is not the license place information itself, but the unique insights this information can provide.”
The Car as Credential
With a traditional FMS, the focus was on what “type” of customer was patronizing the facility, e.g., monthly, transient, event, etc. New inputs enable facility owners and managers to focus on “who” the customer is, their specific needs and desires.
“The Park Assist software platform offers the system functionality and data reporting and tailored insights that is just not feasible with an FMS,” DuBois observes.
This is accomplished not by tracking the media a patron uses, such as a ticket or access card, as an FMS does. Instead, the customer’s car becomes the credential.
Tracking the car upon entry to where it parks opens up enormous possibilities for implementing zone-based pricing tiers, establishing preferred parking spaces or creating loyalty programs, DuBois says.
Building Brand Loyalty
“This permits the operator to identify positive parking ‘behaviors’ and then best segment or zone the garage to reward those behaviors,” DuBois explains.
“By using ALPR in combination with video-based parking guidance,” DuBois says, “you might tie these zones into the tariff structure, reservations and revenue control solutions, by whatever means they choose.”
An operator can statistically parse out the areas of the facility that are busiest and when. “You can then look for repeat negative or positive behavior,” DuBois says. “For example, look at the times when spaces fill up,” he says. “Perhaps the same plates are in the same spaces day after day. That may be a sign of a negative behavior you wish to discourage, such as staff taking the best spaces that could be used for your preferred, higher-rate customers.”
Smartphone as Credential
You can create a parking ecosystem based solely on smartphones as well.
“Using your smartphone and our app, we create a hands-free, frictionless parking experience for the customer,” says Brook Ellis, President of ZipBy USA. “For the operator, we provide a standalone system with our robust cloud management platform,” he says.
Ellis explains that ZipBy’s portal allows clients to utilize various modules to optimize their facility’s performance, such as:
• Permit parking,
• Reservations, and
• Real-time yield management.
None of these require an FMS.
Check Your Dashboard
Whether the input is the license plate, a video or smartphone-based, some of these new “bolt-ons” have their own dashboards which offer analytics that may not available in an FMS.
Brooks Ellis points out ZipBy’s dashboard supplies, “…strong data analytics capabilities, including user demographics that may be used for targeted marketing efforts.”
Michael Bradner offers this example: “The Genetec Freeflow Dashboard features facility mangers information on the flow of vehicles, including graphical data, such as average vehicle speeds, time of stay and occupancy trends.”
Likewise, Park Assist has a dashboard for PGS insights. Says Scott DuBois, “A user-personalized dashboard and our ability to integrate with nearly any solution on the market enable operators to customize their parking offerings to the needs of their environment and clientele.”
Replacing the FMS?
The FMS continues as an industry mainstay. However, it is now possible to match the appropriate system—or combination of systems— with the operational requirements for each facility. An FMS may or may not be part of that equation.
“For example,” Scott DuBois says, “video-based PGS, for example, can be easily coupled not only with an FMS. But you can also pair it with any of the plethora of ‘pay by app’ providers. In tandem with pay-by-app, an operator can charge for parking, provide a streamlined experience and enhance loyalty unlike any standalone FMS solution on the market,” he says.
Goal: Add, Not Subtract, Capabilities
Thus, the questions now can be more customer-centric: Who are your customers and what type of experience do you want for them? If you can answer these questions, you can find solutions from open architecture providers who willingly partner with other providers.
DuBois concludes, “We at Park Assist stay true to our motto of ‘do what you do well, and leave the rest for others’. To achieve this, we work with multiple industry partners to meet the specific needs of the customer for tariff calculation and transaction handling.”
By defining your facility’s needs and asking questions of prospective solution providers, those blurred lines will come into focus.
(Want More Information? Contact Scott DuBois at email@example.com; Michael Bradner at firstname.lastname@example.org; and Brooks Ellis at email@example.com. Please check out our forums. If you have comments or suggestions for improvements to our content, please share your experiences with us and other professionals visiting our site. Add your comments below – if Comments are “on” – or by contacting us directly here. This post was adapted from an article previously published in magazine or website format. The author retains all second serial and electronic rights. This work has been updated, edited and is distributed by the H2H2H Foundation with the express permission of the author.)