Monday Musing: The Increasing Importance of Data for Car Park Operators

Data is a hot topic. Barely a week goes by when the concept of smart cities, a city that utilises various types of electronic Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to collect data and then uses this data to transmit information to manage assets and resources efficiently, is mentioned.

Smart cities are the direction of travel, but what does this mean for the car park operators of today?

Picture the all-too-familiar scene at present. You and your team are compiling data from multiple business software programs. You export the data in multiple different formats. After several hours you’re presented with a large spreadsheet of data, almost unnavigable in size. You spend hours of valuable labour, and by the time the information is compiled it struggles to give you a clear view of what’s happening across your parking inventory, whilst being hours, days or even weeks out of date.

The best-case scenario without data is that you’ve got a reliable, regular customer base and the situation in your car park has little seasonality. Without data you’re not actively doing any damage, however you’re still barely improving on the results you had before data was in fashion. 

Whilst continuing without data was an option in the past, today the market is changing. The car parks you compete with are introducing data solutions, increasingly making data-driven decisions whilst the environment is changing. Dynamic tariffs mean higher revenues. Meanwhile smart city solutions require connectivity. Those that aren’t connected aren’t part of the solution.

The Accelerating Pace of Technological Innovation

Increasing numbers of smart city solutions are launching in the market. Landowners and local authorities increasingly expect their car park assets to tap into these smart city solutions, integrating their parking assets into the local transport environment  

Technology is changing the car itself, with The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) stating that hybrid, plug-in hybrid and pure electric cars now account for one in every 12 new cars purchased in the UK. The total number of hybrid and electric vehicles registered is up 23% year-on-year. For these vehicle owners the presence of electric vehicle charge points is an important part of the decision-making process when deciding where to park. Over the next decade, some estimates advise that the percentage of electric vehicles on the road will reach 30%. Car park operators will not only need to provide electric vehicle charge points, but also provide the real-time availability and pricing data to electric vehicle owners before they arrive.

Even petrol and diesel vehicles are changing fast. Connected cars are cars that are equipped with internet access, usually also with a wireless local area network, allowing the car to share data with other devices both inside and outside the vehicle. This is now the norm in new cars, with these motorists expecting to be able to tap into real-time data as and when required. In time, if your car park cannot provide this real-time tariff and occupancy data, these motorists will be directed to those car parks where this information is available.

Not to mention, longer-term, the introduction of autonomous vehicles. These vehicles have no choice but to rely on data to make their decision regarding where to park. A real-time data battle will commence, with operators transmitting their tariff and occupancy information to smart city solutions and autonomous vehicles in real-time, competing to drive these vehicles to their car parks over those of their competitors. 

Adding Predictive Analytics

The pace of change doesn’t stop with the collection and transmission of data. There’s external data to account for, such as upcoming events, even the forecasted weather. This gives rise to predictive analytics. Predictive analytics allows managers to pre-empt future trends and emerging problems in their car parks. You will have the power to implement your response before a challenge grows too difficult to contain.

Forecasting the predicted demand for your parking inventory enables you to adjust marketing and pricing strategies to maximise revenue long before profits threaten to drop.

 First Mover Advantage

As with any change, the data revolution in parking, whilst it has its challenges, creates huge opportunities for those operators that have the foresight and resources to embrace it. The data revolution is in its infancy, the market will be transformed over the next decade, with those operators that take action now gaining the first mover advantage that often becomes so difficult to overhaul.

This article has been written by Charles Cridland from YourParkingSpace.