Smart Parking blog

The great car parking design makeover

If you’ve ever bought a home, you’ll appreciate how important it is to make sure that your new surroundings reflect your personality and how you want to use that space.

Across the last few years, interior design has captured the imagination of consumers, and with more TV shows, more magazines, and more online and social media presence, many of us are increasingly confident in how we want our homes to look. We are also more able to share and learn from others’ ideas.

This evolution has been mirrored by the adoption of new levels of investment in interior design by the retail industry. Think Apple store, and you will know exactly what you’re going to experience. Think Starbucks, think Cineworld, think Lush, and it’s the same – brands strive to ensure that their customers are welcomed with a consistently high standard of appeal.

This is, of course, no accident. The brief to an interior designer is to listen to and interpret their needs and desires, create the right atmosphere, and personalise the space on behalf of consumers. The designers then form the store around the customer’s journey, which all, of course, helps to maximise their spending.

Unfortunately, the retailers’ passion and attention to detail for design can often stop at their shop door – and it’s frequently the car parking that suffers by comparison.

This is what Sir Stuart Rose, former CEO of Marks & Spencer and one of the UK’s leading experts on the retail industry said recently.

“If you go to the average shopping centre these days, and you’re driving in, mostly the car park is pretty grotty. It’s difficult to get round, it’s poorly lit, it’s often a bit damp, and often it’s expensive. Until you get to the theatre upstairs, nothing actually happens. It’s all about giving customers what they want. It’s all about investment.”

That’s pretty damning stuff, isn’t it? Even if Sir Stuart is perhaps generalising to make a point, it’s a view that’s likely to reflect what a lot of drivers think whenever they go shopping.

It could be argued that Sir Stuart is provoking the providers of retail car parking – whether that is the retailers themselves, or the owners and managers of car parking linked to a retail location – to understand the critical importance, not just of the aesthetic appeal of a car park, but also the functionality of the space.

When retailers are competing with online for shoppers’ business, it’s vital that the theatre of the experience, as Sir Stuart puts it, is extended into the car park. It needs to be seen as of equal importance to the interior design within the retail or entertainment space. The car park is the customer’s first impression and, especially if they are spending money to park, they want to know that they are paying for something that will enhance their experience every time they visit.

Smart Parking is playing its part by developing solutions such as Pay & Walk and SmartGuide, which make car parking much simpler, quicker and easier to use, alongside clearer, easier to understand signage – so drivers are positively encouraged to return and recommend others. As Sir Stuart says, it is all about investment – and we look forward to talking to decision makers about how we can help them maximise the return on their investment in their car parking facilities.

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That winning feeling

March is the time of year when the UK parking and civil enforcement sector stages its very own awards ceremony – the British Parking Awards.

The Awards have become an important date in the diary for many professionals within the industry, as a panel of expert judges seek to recognise and reward excellence across a broad range of categories.

This year’s event was no exception. Staged at the Lancaster Hotel in London, and hosted by Iranian comedienne Shappi Khorsandi, the awards lunch saw almost 600 attendees from across the private and public sectors eager to find out who had been successful.

While it’s always interesting to see who wins which category and how the judges make their selection, there is more edge to it when you are involved in an entry submission.  Win, and you are elated.  Lose, and you have to wear a brave face!

Smart Parking was in this position as our client Westminster City Council was a nominee in the prestigious Parking Technology category for our deployment of SmartPark, our solution that helps drivers find a parking space quickly and conveniently.

While we were all cautiously confident, we were also aware that this was the event’s most competitive category.  To win, we would need to beat off nine other entries shortlisted from 15 entries.

It was with baited breath that we waited while the winner was announced.  You can imagine the delight when we heard that we had won.

It’s worth remembering that our project with Westminster is seeing us deploy up to 10,000 SmartEye sensors in two phases across the city, with an initial phase of over 3,400 bay sensors installed in spaces across the West End.  The scheme will take the stress out of searching for a parking space for millions of motorists in some of the busiest parts of Central London.

Our client was, of course absolutely thrilled that the scheme won, underlining their confidence in how SmartPark will make a genuine difference to motorists searching for a parking space in Westminster.  For us, it was more vindication that the solution is receiving recognition from experts, and that it is the Smart Parking system that is now becoming the blueprint for how every large city will be managing parking in the future.

We will certainly be shouting long and loud about this success at InterTraffic and at Parkex later this year, as it further reinforces our message that SmartPark is now the number one choice for municipal authorities around the world where cutting congestion, lowering pollution and managing access to parking more cost-efficiently are high priorities.

http://www.britishparkingawards.co.uk/2014/home2014.php

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When imagination and engineering come together

If you’re ever persuaded by family or friends to visit one of Disney’s theme parks, you can’t help but be struck by the mind-boggling amount of detail that they have gone into to make your visit just about as perfect as it can be.

From the moment your car comes within the park’s vicinity, right up to when, some twelve hours later, you head wearily for the exit gates, there’s an overwhelming sense that everything that could have been thought of has been thought of. It’s accurate second-guessing, but on an incredible level.

And actually, it’s not necessarily just the rides or the set piece attractions where this comes out most. It’s often in the smallest element where you stand back and admire the care that’s been taken. The joys of the Fast Pass system; the way litter disappears before you notice it’s there; and how thousands depart from and return to enormous parking lots swiftly, efficiently, and with no sign of a lost guest in sight.

What’s underpinning all this is something that The Walt Disney Company call Imagineering. Disney trains its teams to conceive the boldest idea and then develop it in absolutely convincing detail. While clearly this approach is at its most vibrant when it comes to creating the next attraction, it also ensures that Disney people are alive with thinking through, clearly and vividly, all aspects of the customer journey – big or small – and then challenging themselves to ask, “well, can we make that any better?”

The challenge to live in a customer’s world and use Imagineering to make an experience a better one should not just be the preserve of a company like Disney. It’s just as important that businesses like Smart Parking, together with our consumer-facing clients, adopt this way of working to enhance the service we provide in the world of car parking.

By continuing to ask “how do we make their experience better?” we will really make progress – with the real prize for our clients of maximising loyalty and nurturing advocacy amongst consumers.

One of the other characteristics of Disney’s approach is that they are restless, relentless improvers. It’s a bit of positive paranoia, if you like, which, if applied sensibly, is a very strong attribute to possess within our market too.

So, how could the world of parking management services take a leaf out of Disney’s Imagineering book?

Here are some ideas:

  • Signs that encourage drivers to use quieter parts of car park at busier times
  • Rewarding an extra 30 minutes parking further away from central locations
  • Creating VIP premium parking spaces, pre-bookable for regular/loyal shoppers, or simply for those who want to pay a little extra
  • Establishing extra-wide spaces for larger cars/light vans/caravans/motor homes away from central locations
  • Signage using bespoke language to add personality and friendliness to messaging
  • Allocating and publicising a proportion of store fines revenue to charity

While Disney has their Imagineering, Smart Parking is developing its own flavour of this approach: the Human Touch. It’s a way of working that harnesses our technology lead with our experience as providers of managed services to car parking clients to develop new solutions – but they are solutions that are built round the premise that it’s the human dimension to our business methods that make the difference.

By also adopting the habit of restless, relentless improvers, we can work with our customers proactively to suggest new ways of making the guest experience special. After all, the prize of consumer loyalty and advocacy is one that’s definitely worth securing.

To find out more about Smart Parking’s Human Touch programme contact Gavin Mullen at gavin.mullen@smartparking.com

 

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The differentiation game

Almost every market that you can think of has its heroes. They’re the people that lead by example; the professionals that their peers and even their competitors look up to. They might have created or led their business onwards and upwards to greatness. Or, they could be the latest to head up an organisation that, from generation to generation, performs in an exceptional way.

One leader who fits this description is Andy Street. Street is the managing director of the John Lewis Partnership, an employee-owned business that has for decades set new standards in excellence in UK retail. Whether it is their department stores, or their Waitrose food supermarkets, JLP continues to be the benchmark by which the retail industry is judged, and the standard that most of the rest of the market aspires to achieve.

So, when Andy Street says, “sexy car parks will be coming”, it’s vital that the specialists in the parking industry sit up and take notice.

This is the full detail of what Mr Street said on a recent episode of the BBC’s business in focus programme, The Bottom Line.

“Watch this space – sexy car parks will be coming. You want a sign that says ‘welcome, Mr Davies – this is your car park space’. All I am saying is that this will come, because everyone has to think about differentiation.”

While that is quite a bold (and, for the sector, a very encouraging) prediction, the broader context of Street’s comments within the rest of the show is even more compelling.

The programme considered how retailers should be developing new strategies to survive and thrive in a future in which online is set to take an increasing share of sales for both food and non-food offers. The contributors to the programme, which also included former Marks & Spencer CEO Sir Stuart Rose, spent time spelling out that while the demise of the traditional store and shopping centre had perhaps been exaggerated, it was time for retail businesses to really accelerate the way they innovated their offer, and how the importance of all aspects of the retail experience were key.

That’s when the debate turned to examining just how vital car parks were likely to be in the fight for future consumer loyalty and advocacy.

Both Sir Stuart and Mr Street highlighted the point that for many shoppers’ point of view, their retail journey started and ended with the quality of their parking experience.

Rather than regarding parking as a commodity that should be delivered for the lowest possible cost, it should be considered as an integral element of the total mix. Recognise and invest in the value of this facility, and it could add thousands of pounds of additional revenue each year from every shopper.

Underappreciate its importance, and risk seeing customers migrate to competitors or transfer their loyalty to online competitors.

So when Andy Street focuses on “sexy car parking”, my view, quite naturally, is to give him three cheers. After all, he is a retail professional who is not only at the top of his game; he also happens to be leading one of the UK’s – one of the world’s – most successful retail operations. He should know what he is talking about, and the fact that he has recognised the value of car parking as a key component to retail differentiation should be a clarion call to the parking industry to respond in an imaginative and positive way.

The scenario that Street describes is exactly within the compass of what a business like Smart Parking is able to offer both to retailers like the John Lewis Partnership, as well as to operators of multiple tenants shopping centre locations.

What’s more, Smart Parking can overlay our technology capability with an in-depth knowledge of car parking management.

By combining the technical know-how with our experience in making the car park operate efficiently and cost-effectively for our clients, we are in an ideal position to make a contribution to the way in which retailers can secure the differentiation that Andy Street has so clearly identified as being key to the future.

For more information on how Smart Parking can transform the experience of your customers, contact Gavin Mullen at gavin.mullen@smartparking.com

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The full solution

Having just returned from the latest Smart City Expo in Barcelona, there is a clear sense that cities and large infrastructure providers are searching for solutions that offer both tangible benefits and a strong business case.

While many of the concepts surrounding smart cities are seen as “nice to have”, it’s more difficult to judge whether they offer a significant return on investment. In these times of austerity and significant economic challenges – especially in Southern Europe – the likelihood of an investment into projects that don’t increase efficiency, raise revenue and lower costs is more than unlikely.

In contrast, city administrators, in partnership with their on-street enforcement providers, are now really focusing on how best to manage access to on-street space. With limited kerbside capacity and pressure from motorists and businesses alike there are high levels of interest in the technology that allows the best and most efficient use of this finite resource.  The ability to create shared use public and residential parking spaces, monitor real time compliance in those zones and direct motorists clearly to the nearest available on-street public parking is hugely beneficial.

The prizes for a city encompass reduced levels of congestion and pollution, better rates of compliance and an uplift in enforcement parking revenues.  Additionally, costs can be reduced through more effective and efficient enforcement.

The feedback from visitors to our stand in Barcelona is that they have been watching the advent of parking sensor technology with great interest. They understand the benefits. What they haven’t been able to find until now is a provider who can deliver a complete end-to-end solution. The reality is that they are not just looking for a sensor manufacturer; rather, they are seeking a provider that delivers a full management information and reporting back office, offers a free app to the motorist for guidance to available spaces, enables payment data association from the leading suppliers of payment terminals and cashless parking, and delivers the capability to send real time contravention alerts to the attendant’s handheld computer.

That someone exists in Smart Parking. This combined with the reassurance that the company have deployed more than 40,000 sensors globally & that this organisation has been chosen by the biggest authority in the UK to deploy more than 10,000 sensor in the heart of London created a real buzz around the stand.

Clients and potential clients alike had the opportunity to see and touch the sensors, review real time on-street data from the installation base, and receive a demonstration of the management information and reporting capability of the SmartRep back office.

The show saw over 200 companies attend our stand over the three day event. There was interest from some of the world’s most recognised names in the automotive, IT & telecommunications industries.

We welcome interest from potential clients who identify with these issues, but also crucially for the European market, parking operators or technology providers who are interested in a reseller partnership. Smart Parking welcome contact from such organisations to understand their domestic markets requirements and how we can provide this technology to both companies benefit.

 

You can contact Jim Short, Technology Sales Manager, EMEA at jim.short@smartparking.com or call him on +44 7827 083801.

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In pictures and in words

While other presentation software solutions are available, Microsoft’s PowerPoint has been the medium of choice for executives across the last twenty-ish years.  It’s not surprising, then, that the merits and drawbacks of using computer-generated “slides” (to use the old-school term) as a way of communicating information are pinned on PowerPoint’s back.

Everyone who has ever experienced a less-than-riveting presentation will therefore be familiar with the phrase “death by PowerPoint”, as the speaker tries in vain to merge the themes they are attempting to convey with the blizzard of bullet points that are emerging on the screen.  Every word that made sense when building the slide deck suddenly blend into a meaningless morass of text – as confusing for the presenter as much as their audience.

The failure of this way of communicating to convey what’s key – let alone to prompt appropriate action – takes on a whole new dimension when the case of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle is considered.  The shuttle, which was returning to earth in February 2003, disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana.  The disaster was attributed to the loss of foam insulation from Columbia’s external tank as it took off from the launch pad.  The foam hit Columbia’s left wing, and the resulting damage enabled hot gasses to penetrate the wing on re-entry, causing the rapid and catastrophic disintegration of the craft.

Well before the fateful re-entry date, NASA’s engineers overseeing the technical aspects of the Columbia mission suspected that the damage – of a similar nature to that which had occurred without incident in previous missions – was of a scale that could trigger disintegration.

Their pursuit of options to assist the shuttle crew, either to mend the damage, or to despatch a rescue, was limited by their decision to communicate the scale of their concern to management using complex, multi-pointed, jargon heavy PowerPoint slides.  In particular, their failure to highlight a scale of risk 640 times greater than tests had modelled contributed to the eventual decision by NASA management to ‘do nothing’.

While there remains a view that repair or rescue options were not viable, and that therefore Columbia’s crew was doomed from the moment the launch damage occurred, it’s still a sobering thought that an audience missed the real detail in such an important presentation because they could not decipher what was presented in front of them.

The reality is, of course, that it’s often much harder than it would first seem to make sure that what we want to convey is being understood and acted on in the way we want it to, and that’s as true in managing car parks as it is in any other walk of life.

There are plenty of examples where being concise and precise really helps.  Many Australian motorists will be familiar with road signs that say “Slow Down – Kids Don’t Bounce”.  It’s short, sweet, funny and direct at the same time.  Repeating the message with a twist can also be effective; drivers negotiating some of the steeper passes in the English Lake District will have come across signs highlighting a sudden drop in gradient – then being told, a little further down the hill – You Were Warned.

Once you dig more deeply on this kind of stuff, you find out lots more interesting details. Studies show that most people find it more difficult to read and understand INFORMATION WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS TEXT than instructions in lower case text.  It’s also recognised that the adage “a picture is worth a thousands words” is likely to be true, especially when it’s remembered that some people are better at consuming information through images rather than words.  Factor in how the internet has changed the way we consume information, how it has shortened our attention spans, and how it emphasises the value of mixed media, and it means that the parking management industry must be continually aware that the content of signage must be under constant scrutiny.

So that means that we need to check that all car park users see our signs, understand the messages (whether that means reading words, viewing visuals or a combination of the two) and are able to act accordingly.

We need to factor in shorter attention spans and differences in interpretative skills and make sure that how we present language is appropriate for now.

We must also remember that while messages need to convey the key contractual detail – so an appropriate level of “standard information” must be in there – each and every sign is an opportunity to get drivers on our side, and become an extension of the car park provider’s own brand personality.

Here at Smart Parking, we’re currently experimenting with using moving images to highlight the features and benefits of our solutions – check out our video and our ‘nuts’ characters at http://www.smartparking.com/solutions/pay-and-walk/index.html to see how we’re promoting Pay & Walk.

We’re also thinking about how we can work with clients to ensure that the way in which information is conveyed and understood in the best way possible.  It might not be a matter of life and death, but it’s important that our client’s customers get the message in a way that meets their changing needs, and in a way that adds value to their overall experience.

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Lots and lots of parking spaces

I’ve never been to Puerto Rico, but, seeing as it’s just east of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, I should imagine it’s a very nice place indeed.  With a population in excess of 3.5 million, an overall size of around 9,000 square kilometres, and a semi-detached relationship as a territory-but-not-a-state of the USA, it’s by no means a small place either.

Fans of geography-based car parking trivia (come on, I know you’re out there) might also be keenly aware of the island’s other claim to fame.  And that is this: the most recent estimates of car parking lots across the United States seem to show that their total surface area would equate to roughly the size of Puerto Rico.

Whichever way you look at it, and however you factor in that the US is a huge country, that is still an awful lot of lots.  As a nation that possesses around three non-residential parking spaces for each of its 255 million cars, we’re looking at a place that can boast, if that’s the right word, over three quarters of a billion parking spaces.

Why am I sharing these fascinating nuggets of information with you?  Well, I’m just coming to the end of a five-week stint in the US.  It’s mostly been work, with some touristy things thrown in, and, in passing, a couple of thousand miles driving into and around some big cities as well as smaller towns too.

I’ve been to the US a number of times, but on this trip I’ve been paying particular attention to cars, driving, and car parking, and trying to identify the many and varied ways this differs to the UK.

The most obvious thing to say is that in general terms, US drivers are more courteous than their British counterparts.  This is, after all, the land that invented the four-way stop – no lights, no roundabouts, just a “you got here before I did, so please proceed ahead of me.”  Pedestrians are routinely allowed to cross the road, speed limits are, from what I can see, by and large stuck to, and cyclists are given plenty of room to pedal.

On the other hand of course, it’s also the country where it’s pretty much okay to use a mobile while driving; it’s illegal in only seven of the 50 states.  They’re hotter on texting while behind the wheel, but it’s by no means a no-no everywhere; it’s still legal in 21 states to do it.  There’s also the difference between primary and secondary offences, so you might not be doing the right thing, but you won’t get pulled for just that.

I suspect that these apparent contradictions all add up in some way.  Apart from rush hours in the big conurbations, roads are, by and large, quieter.  They’re also straighter and with fewer pot holes too.  Automatic transmission cars account for over 93% of sales, and with less pedestrians, no need to shift gears with your right hand, and fewer narrow bends to negotiate, it’s just about possible to construct a profile of a driver here – happy to be courteous, happy to take a call while driving (and happy to text too, from what I’ve seen).

The issue is, of course, that while this motoring utopia has created vast spaces of car parking, easy to drive roads, and still huge cars to drive in, it does less to assist the driver or the parking provider in more congested cities.  In fact, because cars are, in general larger, spaces must be bigger – on street, off street and in high rise parking lots.

An increasing number of US cities are therefore making more strategic decisions on how to manage access to municipal parking, with the deployment of technology to assist this process; Smart Parking for example has been involved in trials of our SmartPark solution in San Francisco.  It’s a trend that is likely to accelerate, especially as cities across the US need to shape demand for parking for workers, visitors, shoppers and residents in a way that boosts and maintains local prosperity.

I’ll be packing my case this week and returning to the UK with a modest tan, some new friends made, and a new insight into the differences between drivers and parking here and there.  I must make a note to visit Puerto Rico one day – I hope it’s as nice as I think it is!

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Location, location, location

While American, Australian and New Zealander realtors often include the most gushing phrases in their house specifications – “check out this delight”… “in the dress circle…” “you’ll love to call this place home” – and so on – their British counterparts are usually far more reserved.

Apart from being over keen on the word “stunning” to describe virtually every positive attribute of a property they’re trying to sell, the Great British estate agent is far more comfortable with humdrum language.  It’s a land of “well kept properties”, “generous lounges” and “ground floor WCs” – as if this is a key selling point – you might not like the house, but you can always nip to the restroom should you need to.

The classic piece of estate agent speak here in the UK is of course “deceptively spacious”.  Used on virtually every specification, what they mean is “bigger than it might first appear”.  While this is, in all senses, a backhanded compliment, what most house hunters take from these two words is “perhaps not quite as cramped as your senses are telling you.”

When you’re on the lookout for new business premises, it’s quite easy to remember the times you’ve been seeking a place to live.  After all, many of the same criteria apply to both, and after all, most of us do spend a lot of time at work.  Is it big enough?  Will it accommodate our growth?  What’s it like inside?  Do we need to change it around? Is it in the right place?  Is it at the right price?

All these thoughts went through our heads a few months ago when we were seeking to relocate our operational facility to better serve our clients across the UK.

While our head office remains north of the border in Perth, our new operational hub had to consolidate our key functions in one place.  Our engineering, operations, maintenance, field support, training, and sales teams would be based there. It also needed to be sufficiently large to accommodate our equipment and parts stores to enable us to make further improvements to our levels of customer service efficiency.

After careful deliberation, we came across premises on the Elmdon Trading Estate at Marsden Green, to the south east of Birmingham.  Admittedly, it didn’t sound like a particularly prepossessing address, but when we checked the map, we realised that we were two minutes from Birmingham International Airport, the BIA railway station on the West Coast mainline between London and Glasgow, and the national motorway network.  The NEC would be on our doorstep, and the delights of central Birmingham a short taxi ride away.  That ticked the location box.

Once we got inside, we realised we could dispense with any thoughts associated with “deceptively spacious”.  This place is “absolutely huge”  – and, while being within the budgets we’d set for the project, offered us the administrative and logistical space, while still leaving lots to spare.

After we’d made the decision that Marsden Green would be the new home for our UK operations, and we’d completed the fit-out to ensure our engineering, operations, maintenance, field support, training, and sales teams all had high quality amenities, our thoughts then turned to how we were going to use some of the extensive space at Elmdon to showcase our technology and service innovations.

Our plan is to create a virtual car park within the unused part of our facilities so that we can demonstrate to customers how Smart Parking’s solutions work and how our innovations can make the car parking experience even better.

Over the next few months, we’ll be equipping this space with all our current hardware – including the latest version of our RFID-equipped, low profile SmartEye sensors, our SmartGuide and Pay & Walk technology and our SmartPark on-street space finding solutions – as well as using the space to test new ideas that we think will be part of solving parking challenges in the years ahead.

It’s going to be a lot of fun, because it means we get to use the kit our clients work with every day, and we can ask – and answer – all the “what if we did?” kind of questions and see where it takes us.

We’re really getting to love our new home, and if you’re welcome to visit us to take the tour!

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Baldrick, Portas and the art of irony

While we may never get another series of “Blackadder”, its historical comedy is quite timeless.  I was reminded of one line the other day when reading about the success of retail guru Mary Portas’ latest collection of female fashions.

The line from Blackadder goes like this:  Blackadder: “Baldrick, have you no idea what irony is?” Baldrick: “Yes, it’s like goldy and bronzy only it’s made out of iron.”

Yes – Baldrick had it right.  A lot of us use the words irony and ironic, and we usually use them in the right context. But this noun and its adjective are difficult to define.  Most dictionaries offer slightly different interpretations, so the closest I can get is “the opposite of what you’d expect – with a slightly sarcastic twist” (the first bit is dictionary, the last bit is mine).

So, what’s this to do with Mary Portas, and what’s it got to do with car parking?

Let’s start with Mary Portas.  Many of you, whether in the UK or elsewhere, will know of Mary.  A former star retailer with Harvey Nichols, and the founder of a successful branding agency, she captured the imagination of TV views and retail businesses with her series for the BBC and Channel 4 by creating turnaround strategies for stores in distress.  She then pointed her attention at reinventing fashion for midlife women under her own signature brand, and has, most recently – and most controversially – been put in charge of a publicly-funded initiative to breathe new life into Britain’s High Streets. Her report focuses on almost 30 separate recommendations designed to rejuvenate town centres – mainly by seeking to rebalance planning and investment in favour of the traditional retailer.  The report has gone hand-in-hand with the selection of town centres seen as some of the worst examples of decline to act as pilots for the Portas vision.

So last week, my wife announced that, seeing as she was in the market for “some” (eg several) new dresses, she would be viewing Mary Portas’ new collection.  Which traditional “Portas Model High St store” would benefit from your custom? I pondered aloud.  None, she said.  “There’s a concession in a big retailers at one of the huge out of town malls that’s on my way from work and I can park for free there.”

This, more than Baldrick would ever care to consider, could be a perfect definition of irony. The saviour of downtown entices the target shopper to… well, you get the picture.

So what does this say about parking and the public – at least in this crowded, shopaholic nation?

Firstly – planners at local and national level have to become even smarter at working out what motivates consumers to head into town or to the nearest mall.  Trials that test short period free parking, or imaginative (and well publicised) discounting of parking can all help keep the High St alive.

Secondly – technology that is able to deliver real flexibility on parking space hours, pricing and compliance is all available right now – and it can be implemented in a way that reduces costs-to-operate, while applying rules with as-yet-unseen levels of consistency.

Thirdly – across this debate, there needs to be dose of realism and perspective when it comes to second guessing human nature.  There are lots of reasons why out-of-town malls with free parking have continued to thrive, despite the recession and despite the shift to online. No single set of initiatives is going to turn the tide in a particular direction on its own.  Change is complex and unpredictable, and competitive forces in the market usually get the upper hand as the commercial environment evolves.

Ultimately, retailers, property owners, local authorities and central governments will need to continue to focus on anticipating the future shape of demand – and with the crystal ball getting hazier by the day, those that display agile consumer centricity are likely to be in the best possible place to be successful.

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Lab Coats and Bright Ideas

At Smart Parking, we consider ourselves a world leader of parking technologies – so I thought it would be a good plan to use my first blog post to highlight a couple of nifty innovations the team have developed recently.

New customer features in SmartRep

Business, attendant and special event hours

In the latest version of SmartRep (V5.0.0 – results may vary depending on system installed) we have a handy little feature that allows different sets of hours for the system to operate on. This allows more accurate reporting, allows for infringement messages to be distributed at reasonable times of day, and removes misinformation in the system, all of which provides the system with  more options and more flexibility.

screen

Business hours

Ever wondered what happens during business hours and what happens outside those times? Well now we can compare.

Attendant hours

Just because a car park is open, it doesn’t mean that an attendant is on duty. With the addition of Attendant hours we now have the ability in the near future to create more accurate  enforcement efficency reports, and more efficient issuing of infringements. In other words, there’s no point in telling someone to issue a ticket if they are not at work yet.

Overstay hours

Just because a car park is open, it doesn’t mean we want to generate  overstay information. Likewise there may be instances where a car park management team wishes to view what overstays can be generated outside of Business Hours. Therefore Overstay Hours simply states what hours for the week you wish to enforce overstays.

Special events

Ever had those situations that completely stuff up your parking data for the week? The Football game, the parade, the strike or even carless days. We can help you with that. We now have the ability to set a special event in SmartRep that will override the parameters at a particular moment for either Business, Overstay or Attendant Hours.  So your “60-minute-parking-unless-the-big-game-is-on” parking is now a possibility.  This removes the inconvenience of having customers (who might be recovering from the sports loss), picking up a ticket on their return. Thus preventing riots, and promoting world peace. (O.K. perhaps that last point  is stretching it a little – but we think it’s a great idea). Of course the alternative of generating more infringements is also viable with this new resource if required, handy if you need clear the street (and keep it clear) for parades or other types of events

This feature is currently available to any Maintenance Level user on SmartRep, and can be found under the Site Management page.

And now some of the secret lab stuff – Periodically I will try and show you as much of the useful stuff we build into the back end.  These are the useful bits of tech that allow us to provide a premium service to our customers with Service Level Agreements, and they also help us diagnose problems on site prior to sending technicians to remedy. Today’s secret code phrase is “Bay Deactivation”.

Deactivating bays

Ever had this situation?

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Not only are you unable to charge for these bays – thus bringing down your revenue for the period – your monthly reports are now going to show erroneous data as these two bays are unable to have cars parked in them. At Smart Parking, we believe that you should be able to have accurate data, easily, all the time. We have therefore developed a solution that allows us to deactivate specific bays, remotely, on request, so that you can have accurate data all the time. This allows the sensor to continue operation – but removes the erroneous data from your reports.

We offer this service as a part of our SLA, so please contact your nearest sales team member to take advantage of this service.

We hope that these features add value to people’s lives. But if you feel there is something new you would like us to work on, let us know, and we can see what solutions the technical team can come up with.

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