Nothing is possible without the genius of the human being
Smart parking: the importance of the human factor
In a world where everything is becoming automated, where machines that make our daily life simpler become more and more intelligent and autonomous, interpersonal relationships are becoming a major asset in the employment market – for the good and simple reason that it is still very difficult for a computer to simulate human interaction.
After all, our ability to interact with our entourage is the result of thousands of years of human evolution. In the work place, these skills allow teams to combine their strengths and adapt to changing environments. They are at the heart of man’s advantage over machines.1
Where parking lot management is concerned, the latest technological advances can lead us to believe that these spaces, which are so indispensable for urban vitality, will no longer need humans to function effectively. Smart parking, smart car, smart city, everything is automated: cars drive themselves, a parking lot is found and is paid for remotely thanks to smart phone apps, and city streets are decluttered thanks to real-time signage that directs us toward available spaces.
However, these devices and smart equipment are still far from able to respond with a smile to the various very human questions and requests of users or even to indicate a secure route for money used in transactions, from its entry into the payment system to its deposit into the safes of the parking lot owner.
Parking, even if it is automated and becomes more and more “intelligent,” will still need humans for a long time yet in order to guarantee operational efficiency essential for individual mobility. Moreover, it is the perfect marriage between humans and technology that allows us to target the full potential of parking both today and tomorrow.
When it is finally time to build an internal team or to choose a company to which we can entrust the management of a parking lot, mastering the latest technologies that allow for efficiency and cost reduction is an important factor to take into account. However, there is another factor that is just as important, if not more so: the human factor, i.e. the skill of teams assigned to manage this important asset for all owners of buildings or public places, from the attendant at the parking lot entrance to the person responsible for ensuring the good management of all operations.
HUMANS VERSUS AUTOMATION: HUMAN ADVANTAGES
Humans can make good choices
According to an analysis made by the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the need for efficient management that ensures operational stability, agility and reactivity does not lessen with modernization and automation. It’s quite the opposite, in fact.
“Early data” says an article published on the firm’s website2, “suggest that human skills are actually becoming more critical in the digital world, not less”.
At the very least, we could believe that when all processes are automated from beginning to end, there will be practically nothing left for parking lot operators to manage. However, in light of the speed in technological changes, today’s organizations must increase their agility and reactivity, and most especially they must have the capability to steady the maelstrom of the massive investments necessary for these new technologies: gates, remote assistance, digital applications, administrative data processing, Big Data and business analysis, etc.
Humans can deal with other humans
Furthermore, the more these functions are automated, and the more the accomplishment of certain services is standardized, the more similar the service delivery between suppliers becomes. In this context, competitive advantage will have a greater impact on quality of service. For instance, a considerate attendant adding a small extra service will win every time over cutting-edge technology.
A survey conducted recently by Accenture revealed that 85 % of Canadians prefer dealing with other human beings where customer service is concerned.3
The main observation of the survey was that despite all the advances in system automation and free-service application development, we still need humans to manage unpredictable situations and complex questions.
Humans can manage change
Humans have another advantage over machines: the latter can unceasingly repeat tasks assigned to them without tiring, but they are incapable of thinking about the best ways to improve processes and services. For example, it was in order to encourage its employees to develop new skills and, in time, to find ways of improving the production chain, that the car manufacturer Toyota began to replace humans in certain automated functions.4
Despite technological advances, competitive advantage will always be on the side of managers who know how to use technology to improve their processes and allow their teams to provide the best experience possible to both parking lot owners and vehicle drivers. Rather than replace the most employees possible and reduce costs to the detriment of service quality, a veteran manager will know how to take advantage of this technology that provides crucial and essential data for the good management of his parking lot.
PARKING LOT MANAGEMENT: AN UNCOMMON MISSION
So often, we have a partial image of parking lot jobs that stops at the cashier-attendant in his kiosk. This image makes us forget that behind a well-managed parking lot stands a multidisciplinary team that is an expert in parking and in urban mobility.
To all appearances, this team’s mission is simple: park cars and collect parking fees.
But when we look more closely, we realise that it is more complex than that: in an office building, for example, the goal of this mission is to allow 500 people – who all arrive practically at the same time – to get to work on time. But it doesn’t end there. It is also necessary to make sure that those visitors less familiar with the parking lot are given correct information, that the payments received are supervised in such a way that their route from the attendant’s kiosk to the lot owner’s bank account is traceable at all times, that the operations necessary to issue subscriptions are managed in the most efficient way possible, among other daily tasks.
Parking lot jobs
All of a sudden, it all seems a lot less commonplace. In a well-managed parking lot, each role, each function has just as many cogs as a well-oiled machine.
Managing a parking lot is like being the director of a SME: you have to manage people with varying skills, supervise a multidisciplinary team, ensure staff management in the context of a high rate of employee turnover, ensure the promotion of services as well as the control, follow-up and safety of a variety of activities (valet parking, for instance, or even parking lot management during major events).
You also have to develop privileged relationships with different players. First of all, you have to deal with two types of clients often with different needs: the owner of the building whose priority is to obtain the best service possible at the best price possible and the parking lot user who needs to feel safe and have an experience that is pleasant, easy and problem-free.
A good manager will set up and monitor business operations that are aimed at optimizing parking lot revenues, ensuring the control of income, following up statistical information, and following up and controlling the conformity of invoices with the services requested.
He will also take on the responsibility of negotiating with the representatives of various public services and municipal authorities to ensure the integration of their concerns in the infrastructure and activities of the parking lot.
A competent manager will be set on maximizing this under-used income source and will set up efficient control mechanisms. Most especially, s/he will take advantage of the proximity, and regular on-site presence, to make sure s/he knows the infrastructure and the conditions of use very well.
BI specialists: the experts behind the management systems
In our white book “Business Intelligence: The next big thing in parking”, we discuss the advantages of Business intelligence – BI in parking lot management. Thanks to the latest technological tools developed in this field, it is possible to combine the collection of Big Data – volumes of data generated by each car that enters and leaves the parking lot – with detailed analysis tools that will help managers in their decision making and strategic planning.
In addition to supporting managers, these BI systems can help establish a dynamic pricing regime, i.e. adapt the offer of services by fixing the right price at the right time, for example, by reducing fees during periods of low traffic to encourage use of the parking lots. These systems also allow a better traceability of transactions (see the information in the box to the right).
Behind the machines and the cutting-edge technology that allow these results to be achieved is an entire team of active specialists: BI specialists, of course, but also IT engineers, administrators and data base developers, project managers, analysts, inventors, data extraction experts, etc.
Operations and maintenance
Finally, among the teams of specialists who are indispensable to the smooth administration of a parking lot, we must include the operation managers. These expert and dedicated staff members should be committed to on-going training while having at their disposal the necessary technical means to ensure daily maintenance of equipment.
Training, in compliance with various OEMs, is essential for any good manager wishing to master the latest technical revisions of systems and devices. This places them in a better position to respond quickly to problems that may arise at any time of the day. It also establishes a strong relationship with the various suppliers, which ensures better customer service in the event of major breakdowns.
The operations manager understands that the maintenance of installations and equipment is essential to effective functioning, because any breakdown can impact revenues. This will differ according to parking periods and functions on three levels:
- Preventive maintenance, which is periodical upkeep of the toll booth equipment.
- Remedial maintenance, which targets the maintenance of installations and systems against any defects (defects in construction, installation, operation, etc.) and anything not conforming to specifications or instructions.
- Adaptive maintenance, which also integrates manufacturer-published software updates of various equipment and systems in operation.
Appropriate maintenance carried out by the right staff therefore contributes effectively to the growth in parking receipts. Regular preventive maintenance is essential, as well as a clean and functioning work environment, compliance with operating instructions, and careful and preventive supervision.5
PARKING LOT PROFESSIONALS: A CLASS APART
Parking lot management businesses must be fully skilled, innovative and quick-thinking.
In managing a parking lot, you have to consider parking and its additional services not only as important sources of revenue to be maximized, but also as services that are entirely dependent on the infrastructure’s operation and reason for being. Consequently, the quality of welcome, configuration, organization and security must match entirely with the standards and norms of the establishment itself. The manager must be able to create proposals that will adapt and evolve over the long term.
Parking lot professionals are, by nature, a species that has a great ability for adapting, and this can be considered an asset in our world of accelerated transformations. The most successful businesses in this sector have developed their expertise by adapting successfully to the constant development of parking lot jobs resulting from technological advancements. In most cases, they developed this expertise by being active on an international scale and by finding solutions to very diverse operational, economical, environmental and human problems.
Deep down, they believe in the importance of their mission as managers of urban mobility in large cities and are conscious of the consequences of their decisions on the urban framework.
Machines and robots, as sophisticated and technologically advanced as they may be, are still far from being able to share these concerns or to possess these skills!
DANIEL GERMAIN, Vice-President Operations, INDIGO
DANIELLE DESJARDINS, La Fabrique de sens
- In The Growing Importance of Social Skills in the Labor Market (NBER Working Paper No. 21473), David J. Deming demonstrates that high-paying, difficult-to-automate jobs increasingly require social skills. Nearly all job growth since 1980 has been in occupations that are relatively social-skill intensive, while jobs that require high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning, but low levels of social interaction, jobs that are comparatively easy to automate, have fared comparatively poorly. Source: How important are social skills at work?, World Economic Forum.
On line: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/11/how-important-are-social-skills-at-work/
- Accenture, Digital disconnect in customer engagement. On line: https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-digital-disconnect-customer-engagement
- Automate or Humanize? The Great Customer Service Debate, 1to1 Media, May 2016. On line: http://www.1to1media.com/technology/automate-or-humanize-great-customer-service-debate
- Indigo: upkeep and maintenance program