UCLA Works with T2 Consulting Services to Move Permits Online
The University of California, Los Angeles is one of the largest universities in the state, with nearly 45,000 students and over 7,000 faculty members. Add in one of the most successful athletic programs in the nation and premier on-campus medical facilities, and it’s one of the busiest as well. Parking is a major priority.
UCLA’s Transportation Department oversees dozens of parking lots and structures, sells over 30,000 faculty, staff, and student permits each year, and manages parking for hundreds of events throughout the year. The department had been using T2’s powerful Flex software to manage their operation for about eight years when they decided to move from physical to virtual permits. However, they quickly discovered that the change was going to have its challenges.
As they began to explore what a switch to virtual permits would look like, the Transportation team at UCLA realized that the way they had been managing their physical permits was not going to work for virtual permits. “Our Flex implementation was very heavily customized and relied a lot on APIs and external web services,” explained Chris Lechner, Manager, Data Analytics and Strategic Projects for UCLA Commuter and Parking Services. “We had made a large number of compromises in order to make Flex work for us.”
These customizations were hindering UCLA from taking advantage of newer functionalities in Flex that would make the transition to virtual permits easier. Instead, the change was going to require development work. “We were trying to basically make our old business model fit online and do that through a lot of development. That was just going to be too difficult for us to do, and more importantly maintain, over the long run,” Lechner said.
After discussing their challenges at T2’s annual Connect Conference in 2017, UCLA decided to engage with T2’s Consulting Services the following March.
UCLA’s consulting engagement began with a couple onsite visits from T2 Flexperts in the spring of 2018. T2 spent two weeks meeting with the UCLA Transportation team and learning about their operation and their challenges. “I thought the onsite visit was very helpful because they could see our world and they could understand our business, as opposed to just telling us what to do,” said Natalie Anderson, Manager, Technology Project Management Group for UCLA Events and Transportation.
After those two visits, T2 and UCLA continued to meet via weekly conference calls for the following three months as T2 worked to find the right solution for UCLA’s operation. “They would bring us a solution, and we’d take a look at it and say ‘this will work, this won’t work,’” Lechner explained. T2 then delivered its recommendation of what UCLA’s permit configuration should look like, which Lechner, Anderson, and team were able to take and run with.
“Without what they provided to us, we couldn’t have understood what all the different options looked like, and as we found new use cases and business rules, it was a matter of tweaking the setup they provided rather than creating a new plan from scratch,” Lechner said. Additionally, T2’s Flexperts were available to answer questions throughout the entire implementation process as issues came up.
Using T2’s recommendations as a starting point, UCLA completely overhauled the way they manage permits. “I think that in talking about what’s different, it really is everything,” Lechner stated. “Our permit configuration is different. The way we check whether you can buy a permit is different. The payment methods we use are different. The different ways that we control space on campus are completely different. The way we manage updates to customer information is different. It really was a transformation, and I would say in many ways like a fresh implementation.”
T2 also helped UCLA revamp their allotment process, where university departments are given the ability to decide where their faculty members park. “We had a hard requirement that the departments be able to log in and manage their allotments online using their single sign-on. And that’s something that, at the time, FlexPort just did not do,” Lechner explained. T2 was able to scope a development project for UCLA, in addition to the consulting engagement, to enable this feature.
Additionally, T2 found areas of Flex functionality that UCLA didn’t know existed, which allowed them to tackle entire pieces they weren’t even planning to, such as their student permit sale process. “In the time that the Consulting Services people were here, they said, ‘Your student permit process, which is a waitlist process, looks like it fits very neatly into our waitlist process, and really with minimal tweaks,’” Lechner said.
“If you want a tagline for how successful this engagement was: our scope got bigger and it got done faster,” Lechner stated. T2’s Consulting Services not only identified additional areas for improvement, such as the student permit process, but also allowed UCLA to eliminate nine internal applications in moving permit sales online with FlexPort, setting them up for increased efficiency today and in the future.
T2 also saved the UCLA team a lot of time and frustration by offering its expertise to help UCLA identify the right path for moving forward. “One of Flex’s strengths is that it’s pretty versatile – there’s a lot of different things you can do – but if you don’t have guidance along the way, you can start down a path and wind up doing things you never intended,” Lechner explained.
“What T2 was able to do is say, ‘we generally understand what UCLA is going to do, and here’s what Flex needs to look like in order for that to work. Here is the way we can set this up that is going to be maintainable long-term and, importantly for us, that we can tweak along the way and not have a whole bunch of conflicts or very complicated rework to do.’”
Today UCLA has converted all of their faculty, staff, and student permits to “ePermits” through T2’s FlexPort, for a total of over 35,000 sold. They are also “doing things that were basically completely impossible 6 months ago, or even 2 months ago,” Lechner said. “People are going online to FlexPort and buying parking by the day, which is a major point of focus for us and our long-term vision of allowing commuters to come to UCLA based on whatever commute mode suits them that day.”
Lechner’s biggest piece of advice for parking operations looking into a consulting engagement is that the customer has to be prepared to do the work. “Consulting was a major help to us, but that’s what they were. They were the helpers, and they were the ones that told us, ‘go this direction, go that direction,’ but actually getting there is something that a customer has to be willing to do.”
According to Anderson, one of the many ways that T2 Flexperts can help is by leveraging their expertise to increase buy-in from the parking team. “You’re implementing a big change, and with change there’s always resistance. I think with Consulting Services, there’s some ease in the buy-in process so that everyone gets on the same page, whereas if we didn’t have Consulting Services and we were trying to do it on our own, I think the change might have been more difficult to accept.”
That expertise also helps the customer move their operation forward in ways they would not have known otherwise. “In the business you’re working day to day, so it’s kind of hard to go into Flex or FlexPort and learn it when you’re doing the work,” Anderson explained. “So having the T2 expert that points us in the right direction makes it easier to do our job and do it better.”
Or as Lechner puts it, “I guarantee every single user of Flex would benefit from an engagement with the Consulting Services folks because there are problems to solve and they really can make things easier.”