Fragmented data and what it means for your parking assets

Lydia Woodward | 4th July 2018

It’s no secret that the parking industry clings to tradition. A list of Britain’s biggest car park operators is one that looks almost the same today as it did 50 years ago. You might be tempted to forgive parking professionals who live by the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. This practice has served to maintain the dominance of our industry’s stalwart institutions for much of the past century.

The parking industry sits on the brink of a new era. Every rapidly-emerging business emphasises the importance of a single factor: data. The collection and analysis of data is vital for businesses to understand patterns in consumer behaviour and optimise their operations. Thanks to the advanced technology we use in parking – such as ANPR cameras, card payment machines, and mobile apps – it’s now possible to gather high volumes of data without lifting a finger.

If knowledge is power, data is knowledge in the digital age.

Data can tell you how full your car park is. How much customers are paying for the privilege. If they’re first-time visitors, or driving a daily commute. If they’ve pre-booked through an app, alongside a hotel reservation or as holders of an employee pass. When to issue them a PCN for overstaying or occupying a reserved bay. Data can also show you when there are problems with the customer flow, like a malfunctioning barrier or payment solution.

Parking professionals still face a challenge, though. While smart hardware solutions may have largely automated the collection of data, the process of analysis requires additional labour. Moving from harvest to insight is, at present, an extremely time-consuming endeavour. It’s no wonder that car park operators are hesitant to embrace the opportunities that data analytics can offer, when traditional practice serves them so well.

For much of the 20th century, maximising revenue depended on winning the race to acquire additional parking inventory. In today’s crowded cities, it’s not so simple to establish new parking facilities. Even if it were, the most pressing business concern is how to ensure your car park remains at full occupancy. With strong competition from peer-to-peer parking space rental platforms, commercial operators must strategise carefully to outsmart the sharing economy.

The answer comes back to data. But traditional car park operators are faced with a problem.

Their data is fragmented.

Imagine a typical multi-storey car park. The manager of this facility is bombarded with sources of data. There’s the ANPR camera; the access barrier; the pay and display machine. As well as hardware, there are software sources requiring further attention. Pre-booking apps; perhaps guest reservations from the neighbouring hotel. This manager might be working in partnership with the hotel, in which case he must also pay attention to relevant information from property and revenue management systems.

Imagine the hotel is part of a chain. Multiply these data sources by 100. Fumble through your notebook for the booking site login details. And imagine viewing everything in an Excel spreadsheet. Suddenly, this data no longer looks fragmented – it’s chaotic.

Fragmented data kills productivity. Until now, no product has existed with the capability to record and manipulate data in real time. Owners and operators of car parking facilities must deal with static information from multiple different hardware solutions, across numerous locations. Whatever picture they can pull together of their key metrics is already out of date by the time they view it. By the time they have analysed their data and pulled together new commercial strategies, the actual situation in their car park may have changed completely.

ParkMaven’s Smart Dashboard was designed to confront this challenge. Centred around the concept of a single real-time connection between on-site enforcement solutions, access control systems, PMS, RMS and online marketing channels, the Smart Dashboard presents key metrics in one place, with one login.

Never content with a partially-solved problem, we decided to tackle the issue of formulating strategy at the same time. The Smart Dashboard not only displays current statistics, but also permits managers to upload historic data and view projections of future trends. These insights allow parking professionals to formulate more intelligent pricing and operational strategies.

Our approach is holistic and data-driven. Whether you’re in parking or an entirely different field of commerce, it’s impossible to ignore how data is changing the ways we work. Pull together the big picture and uncover the patterns – there you’ll find your competitive advantage.

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