Ian Gotts
September 26, 2016

ARTICLE: Fear the Smart Parking Meter


So is this “digital revolution” even a thing? Or is it just another cynical concept promoted by the consulting firms and software companies to sell more of their stuff?

The more you look at what is happening in industry after industry and company after company, I believe that only now are we are seeing the true “Digital Revolution”. And the cataclysmic change will match that of the industrial revolution – with both good and bad results.

The real impact of the Digital Revolution is only just hitting all of us; the future is here, but it is just unevenly distributed. Industries where the IP is easily transferred from physical to digital – print, music, film – have already felt the impact. But it has taken a combination of technologies to enable this wholesale change; cloud, social, mobile, big data, context. The internet was just an enabler.

The Analysts Called It

The industry analysts have been talking and writing about this for the last 2-3 years. The key theme for Gartner’s annual Symposium IT Expo and research back in 2013 was the “Nexus of Forces,” which is the name they gave to cloud, social, mobile and information. Forrester has described the impact as “Digital Disruption” and they correctly predicted that this is not a trend, but a permanent shift.

And there are now so many examples of Digital Revolution that it cannot be ignored. It needs to be embraced.

“Virtually every firm in every industry is being shaken up by the digital revolution. No chief executive can ignore the onslaught of mobile computing, big data, artificial intelligence and the like. And while companies were once content to wait and see what impact the Internet might have on their business, there is now a broad consensus that processes and practices must be radically transformed to capitalise fully on digital technology.”
Zanny Minton-Beddoes, editor of The Economist, World in 2015 Report


Revolution is a strong word. It suggests; dramatic redistribution of wealth, whole industries created and destroyed, society changed forever. “The pitchforks are coming”.

Whilst this may seem hyperbole, I believe that we are only just seeing the early impact of the digital revolution. And those companies that are comforting themselves by going digital and believe they have weathered the storm by tweaking their processes, using social, building a mobile app and implementing cloud software, are fooling themselves. Revolution requires a rethink about core business models which in turn will require a complete redesign of processes and the underlying technologies – as The Economist suggests.

A Simple Example: Smart Parking Meters

Let me make this real with a very simple example: the humble parking meter.

Going digital means that the parking meter can take credit cards and knows the time of the day so that it knows what to charge you. This already happens in many cities.

Digital revolution means the parking meter can can change urban traffic patterns and driver behavior. But the effects could be more far-reaching.

The technology is already available: every parking meter streams data to the cloud with a digital recognition of the number plate of the car parked in the space or that the space is free.

What are the implications? Firstly, every car that is parked when the meter runs out is automatically fined. This eliminates the need for parking attendants. A mobile app that combines the parking data with geo location data from the phone helps people find the nearest parking space and sends notifications when their time in the space is running out. Perhaps for premium users it gives them the best spaces or the ability to pre-reserve a parking space. Finally, smart meters enable differential parking rates with higher rates at peak times. This changes people’s parking behavior and helps optimize parking space utilization, but starts to change traffic patterns around the town.

Sounds great. Where do we sign up?

A New Approach

This requires investment in new meters, mobile and back office apps. And the local town council does not have the budget so a VC funded company, NewPark, agrees to buy all the meters from the council – giving them windfall which fills a budget hole – in return of a percentage of the parking fees. Win – win? Yes, provided everybody plays fair.

But NewPark could start to influence where they want drivers to park – discounting parking outside retail or entertainment properties that they own and increasing parking outside a competitor’s perhaps, or surge pricing to force drivers to vacate paces early. Cars of a certain age, due to emissions, could be banned from parking by being blocked. NewPark can embed their parking app into new cars. They could even do a deal with one car manufacturer which ensures that their new cars always get priority parking spaces over everyone else, or get discounted parking. Suddenly that brand of car is seen in all the right places. Brilliant product placement. Or the manufacturer offers free parking on new cars to drive up sales of new cars. NewPark can do a deal with properties so that only cars of a certain brand or age are parked outside – just like expensive cars are parked right outside the hotel entrance.

The Humble Parking Meter Changes Lives

Think about the council parking departments, parking ticket collections, parking attendant teams and even town planners. Most will lose their jobs.

Drivers who are digitals native and driving the right brand of car – will have a far better parking experience. If you drive an old car and don’t have a smartphone, then you will need to get the bus.

Sounds far-fetched? Don’t underestimate the power of data in the hands of entrepreneurs who are brilliant at exploiting an opportunity. All it takes is a town council CFO with a budget deficit to fill, who is happy to take a risk (or the promise of a job at NewPark), and a legal team that doesn’t think through all the implications when writing the outsourced contract.

The Digital Revolution is Coming to a Business Near You

This may all feel like scaremongering, but the “perfect storm” of technology changes coming together which will drive a digital revolution and reshape every business on the planet.

View More from Ian Gotts

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