When the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) came to the realization that they had no choice but to change their parking operations vendor, they called upon their university's nickname to inspire them: Mavericks. They knew the time to try something new was upon them, so they embarked on a journey to see how they could improve their parking operations.
Vanessa Rath is the Parking and Transit Manager at UNO. She shared her experience of moving from one vendor to another—from the beginning of the process to the results—and her thoughts on how others can approach making a change when they find themselves in a scenario that simply isn't working.
When asked what pain points UNO experienced that moved them to action, Rath replied, "We were having issues over so many different facets of our permit/violation management operations. We were struggling with communication with our customers, reporting, the appeal process, and so many other things. We needed a more customer-focused product, not only for our customers, but also with UNO as the customer to the permit/violation management system."
"There were numerous times that we would need to update our previous system," Rath continued, "which included many customizations. So when we would upgrade, the customizations were always missed, resulting in the loss of important steps in our processes, impacting operations for days. Our parking operations were ineffective in the level of service we were providing to our customers."
Having identified the issues and making a decision to go a different direction, UNO reached out to other Nebraska universities to discover what parking operating systems they had in place. "We visited UNL (University of Nebraska - Lincoln), who had moved to T2's Flex system about a year and a half earlier. They allowed us to ask many questions and explain how T2 could answer the challenges we were having with our vendor," Rath said. "They had an answer within T2 to so many of our questions and concerns that we didn't hesitate to take the next steps to reach out for an initial meeting with T2."
The areas UNO focused on finding were:
- Stronger reporting and reconciling on the back end
- More robust and less cumbersome appeals process
- A way to communicate via email with their customers
- Options to have daily/hourly permits
- System with a proven success with LPR
"Not only were we looking to upgrade permitting and ticketing," said Rath, "but we also wanted to step into the world of virtual permitting. I also visited Colorado State University as a visual example of how T2 and LPR functioned together."
Once UNO made the decision to switch to T2 as their vendor, they began the process of transitioning from one system to another—the part of making a change where the rubber first meets the road. "We asked for an extended transition upfront for many reasons, to which T2 gladly agreed," Rath said.
"We signed contracts in late 2016 and went live May 17, 2017. I don't think you can go through a technology rollout and not experience some bumps; it comes with the territory. The bumps we did experience were addressed in a timely manner," she asserted. "If not fixed immediately, they [T2] stayed at the forefront of the project team's list of priorities. About four months into the rollout, we put together a working Smartsheet that allowed both the UNO Project Teams and the T2 Project Team to keep on task and know at any given time where each line item was assigned."
UNO implemented T2's Flex, FlexPort, LPR, and six Luke II pay stations, with plans to install additional Luke pay stations and make their processes increasingly virtual. Rath is pleased that UNO took the maverick route to making a big vendor change. "We had constant contact and regular meetings with the T2 team—they became temporary members of the UNO Parking family. They were always ready to help when we had questions or obstacles. When we went live on May 17, it was quiet with minimal errors or concerns," Rath remarked.
"We knew this was a tremendous upgrade from where we had been—no downtime and no emergencies that couldn't be addressed. Having the T2 team onsite made it a 97% flawless transition on day one, with immediate answers to issues as they arose. Even now, nine months into Flex, we still hear random comments from our staff about how much we love having T2 over our previous system."
To other organizations looking to make this kind of change, Rath has some words of advice. "Know what you have with your current system, and create a list of what you want/need out of your new system. Ask questions of other institutions who use products you are interested in to see what those systems can offer that fit with your list of wants/needs," she said.
"Onsite visits with outsides institutions are valuable to see how the systems work for them, and to gather ideas of how this could work for your operation."