Most of us will not have done this for the last year at least: packed a bag for the classic business trip, driven off to the airport, parked up in an off-airport parking service with a pre-booked space, hopped on the shuttle bus and, so long as nothing went wrong, thought no more about it.
But behind the scenes there was quite a lot going on, a fair amount of it being digital in nature. What is more, for one of service providers in this space, Atlanta-based Park 'N Fly, the range and scope of that digitalization is getting bigger and with a far wider reach.
The firm has a presence, usually through affiliates, at most of the world’s major airports and its services can be ordered up via its website from anywhere a connection can be made. That is a major digital workload in its own right, but only a part of where the company now sees the technology being applied.
According to Ken Schirrmacher, Senior Director of Information Technology at Park 'N Fly, the firm has been developing a wide range of digital tools and services – both software and hardware – that help to automate as many of the information and physical management processes as possible. He says:
There’s a part within Park 'N Fly that’s almost like a start-up, where we've been creating technology-based solutions. That is the parking equipment piece. That is the app, the website and all of the technology infrastructure, including license plate recognition, the facility management system. The technology piece is what's really fascinating about all of this and our ability to work on technology-based products within a stabilised parking portfolio.
Known, internally at least, as Park 'N Tech, this 'start-up' could, if future developments go the way Schirrmacher plans and hopes, even break cover and become a brand in its own right.
It all got a lot more complicated
Because of the range of technologies now being employed in management and a growing range of possible complementary tasks in the vehicle parking business, as well as the level of collaboration and interaction between them, one of Schirrmacher’s early tasks when he joined some three years ago was to find the right tools for operations monitoring, fault identification and remediation services. After an evaluation process that included toolsets such as Sumo Logic and New Relic, he settled on Dynatrace:
I started looking in the market for a better tool to be able to diagnose issues that we were having - query problems, base code problems. We needed to find a company like Dynatrace to provide us that kind of alerting and monitoring solution. Before Dynatrace it was a really unpolished product. Now we've really been able to polish it very nicely, with the intended offering coming out later this summer. We gave Dynatrace a trial. Probably after a couple of days, we were starting to get tangible information from the reports.
One of the early advantages he found was the ability to speed up the developer cadence. Previously pushing code to the QA environment resulted in a significant commitment of manpower effort to take care of any issues that arose and do troubleshooting. Perhaps more importantly, performance and stability issues could be resolved more quickly because Dynatrace’s reporting and monitoring tools allowed developers to observe issues occurring in real time within the environment. So the firm could run code and see how it worked as it worked. Coding errors could therefore be identified and corrected quickly. Once corrected, Dynatrace runs to test the new version, says Schirrmacher:
It is also good to point out that this vetting monitor that we have isn't just for our own equipment; we actually utilize the Synthetic Monitor to monitor our third party API's that we consume and to keep our partners accountable.
This capability gives both Park 'N Tech, with its new development programme, and Park 'N Fly with its primary business, an important advantage. A key part of Schirrmacher’s responsibility is to keep the core business environment up and running 24/7, 365. As he observes, if he can't rely on partners to provide that level of uptime themselves, he can't achieve it either. If Dynatrace can point to which partners are having problems delivering their services, and even identify why, it helps with that primary task of maintaining maximum up-time:
With my production application, it's going to fail on my site and it's going to be related to a partner. You might get a uptime report from your partner, but is it truly up? Are they really telling the truth? It's best to have your own set of values that you validate against.
Now, in slow motion
A good proportion of Park 'N Fly’s business comes through interaction with customers’ smartphones, and so the recent announcement by Dynatrace that the capabilities of Session Replay have now been extended from desktop and laptop systems to accommodate these devices is of particular interest to Schirrmacher.
By providing the ability to step through a customer’s interaction with the service, it makes for a new level of customer service with value both ways round. If a customer has a complaint on a transaction, support staff can walk through their actions with the user. If the problem stemmed from a mis-keying or similar customer activity, it can be identified and the customer helped to work with the service more accurately. On the other hand, it can also help support staff to identify problems with the application code or the clarity of a particular webpage, should that be the cause.
The next big step for Park 'N Tech is to extend the physical reach of customer access to the Park 'N Fly services. Like a lot of similar services, much of the business comes from existing customers returning for more, with new customers being generated by advertising, marketing and word-of-mouth. The plan now is to extend the reach with more use of kiosk services. Generation four of the system takes its existing kiosk hardware and extends it by adding both Android and iOS tablet capabilities, says Schirrmacher:
What excites us is our ability to be able to put Dynatrace in those kiosks, so we can not only monitor the customer experience through the application on the customer's phone, but also monitor it on our kiosks as well. We'll be able to identify the entire customer experience from the booking on the website through using the app to track or summon a shuttle to using the reservation on the Park 'N Fly lot equipment. Then if they have to interface with the kiosk itself, we'll be able to see that full flow as well - we’ll be able to see what the customer did, what they pressed on where, how they got to where they got.
The plan is to sell its systems not just to off airport parking companies, but all parking municipalities worldwide, and he is open to customers suggesting what additional services could be added to the initial offering. These touchless kiosks will consist of services, such as license plate recognition, near sight and near field scanning, port DMV, and credit card chip readers. These are currently high demand items in the parking industries.
But Schirrmacher is aware that any such kiosk also has the potential to be the starting point for a customer’s much wider experience, even in municipal parking. It could also be the start point for a whole range of activities and services, from spontaneous bookings of theatre or cinema tickets, through to advisories on restaurants or lounges in airports/train stations, make reservations at hotels – and all underlined by the opportunity to brand it as provided by Park 'N Fly, or a rail company, or a city council.
He is aware that this is also getting into tricky territory in terms of overreaching customers’ privacy and the need to abide by local and international laws and regulations, especially when it comes to using Dynatrace, and the Davis AI system in particular, to enhance the ability to act as sales agent for associated or additional services. He does, however, see Dynatrace playing an important part in ensuring Park 'N Tech’s output does everything necessary to appease the lawmakers.
Further in the future, of course, there lurks the possibility that autonomous vehicles and the spread of ‘Uber-ization’ will mean the end of the need for car ownership as we know it – and therefore the need to park them. Schirrmacher’s own view is that, in the medium term, the sense of freedom that comes with car ownership will maintain the market, though he is aware that a younger generation, well versed in using mobiles and tablets on car journeys, may have a different view, and take greater delight in `being there’ rather than the act of `getting there’.
However, it has subsequently occurred to me that the Park 'N Tech technologies could form the basis of a far richer ‘Uber-ization’ of both transport and associated customer services than currently available, covering everything from predictive vehicle maintenance through to troubleshooting operational interactions between a vast array of partners and an even more vast array of customers.