This article was featured in the May issue of Parking Today Magazine.
By Scot DeLancey, SVP, Strategy & Product, T2 Systems
The current range of technologies and vendors in the parking industry is breathtaking. To respond to this fragmented market, Parking Managers need a way to ensure that today’s technologies work together—and are flexible enough to stay relevant amidst rapidly changing technologies. Nobody can predict the future, so being adaptive is better than placing a bad bet. As a technology provider, T2 Systems delivers open systems that allow our customers to share data between the parking technologies they use.
Many vendors today describe their solutions as integrated and flexible. But what do these words really mean in the context of parking?
Integration and Open Systems
When we talk about integration, we’re referring to the flow of information between systems, and the ease and reliability of which it’s possible. Open systems are ones that are ready-made to integrate with other systems to build a functioning ecosystem of cooperating products and let you get your work done without getting in the way.
Beware of Database Integrations
Relying on a database integration actually reduces your flexibility, because it creates a tightly coupled solution with a single vendor. For example, if an enforcement system uses database-level integration to an LPR system, those two systems are tightly linked. The system you’re integrating with may be effective for now, but what about in the future? As your organization grows and changes, will the same system you’re saddled with still be able to meet your needs? What happens when new technologies emerge that are better, cheaper and more effective? How will you be able to adapt?
API Integrations Give You More Control
Instead of database integrations, the most progressive organizations recognize that API integrations offer much more control and extensibility. An API is simply a particular set of rules that programs can use to communicate with each other. Think of an API like a parking gate. It’s designed to allow lots of of different types of vehicles to pass in and out. It might be open for the public, or it might be restricted to passholders. Working with vendors who offer open APIs means you can integrate with virtually any information system to share data.
Instead of being tightly coupled to one other system, it’s better to let each system have responsibility for the data it collects and then share it using controlled API integration touchpoints. Essentially, these touchpoints allow your system to talk to other systems without as much effort as tightly coupled systems. This loose coupling is far more maintainable and flexible—helping lower both the cost of ownership and the complexity to use existing and new solutions. Different touchpoints allow you to connect to multiple systems, so you can mix and match as needed.
What is comes down to is this: Parking Managers need to have the freedom to try new solutions and discard ones that don’t work (with minimal costs) if they want to keep pace with consumer demands. Using API integrations allows this freedom and makes you far more nimble.
When we talk about flexibility, we’re referring to the ease of which a software solution can be adjusted to meet the specific needs of a parking operation. Flexibility comes in two flavors: tailored products and custom solutions.
Tailored Products Grow With You
A tailored product aligns with your business practice without requiring changes to the product’s underlying software. Many software-as-a-service solutions fall under this category, with varying degrees of adjustments that are possible. This streamlines future upgrades so you always get the latest benefits of the product.
Custom Solutions Might Not Be Sustainable
A custom solution relies on the assistance of a professional services team. If you rely on professional services to bend the solution through customization, you’ll be left with a “one-off” that is difficult to maintain. If you need customization to achieve the flexibility you need, then you’re not really flexible. Changes are expensive—and come long after the implementation budget is spent. A flexible product is far better, because you can make the product work for you and stay on the product’s upgrade path.
The Details Matter
It’s not enough to have a parking management partner that labels itself as “integrated” and “flexible.” You need to ensure it’s not just any integration and flexibility, but the right integration and flexibility.
In the case of integration, the wise approach is one that gives you the freedom to extend and build upon your system(s) to make the most of your technology investments. API integrations achieve this, while database integrations fall short.
In the case of flexibility, the wise approach is to prioritize technology over professional services. This isn’t to say professional services aren’t helpful or important. But, make sure you have technology that’s flexible—not merely a team you’re reliant on to customize your solutions.
Choosing Your Parking Management System
When you’re choosing a parking management system, consider how your vendor defines integration and flexibility. It’s easy to talk the talk, but when it comes down to it, the type of integrations a vendor uses and how they achieve the flexibility you desire can drastically affect your operations (and the long-term viability of your technology investment).
The T2 UNIFI Parking Management Platform is the next generation of parking management technology. In response to changing customer needs, we’ve built a comprehensive platform that brings together solutions across permit management, enforcement, PARCS, pay stations, business intelligence, vehicle counting, citation services and event parking. Simply put, we’re working hard every day to make parking better. We live in a connected world—and we know that if you provide intelligent parking solutions for every journey, you can achieve amazing success.