Access control meets parking management

Access control and parking management often have, at best, an arms-length relationship in facility planning and security. Revenue-generating parking management solutions typically use different hardware, different software, and different computer systems than the access control systems found in the structures surrounding the parking facility. For many applications, this expensive and unproductive duplication of equipment and credentialing can be avoided by extending the scope of access control systems to include the parking garage or lot. The astute access control integrator can now pick up a job that might otherwise have gone out to a stand-alone parking system installed by someone else.

It’s All About the ROI

The economics of the situation are straightforward, and allow the integrator to present a compelling ROI case to the customer. Initial installation costs are greatly reduced because a single control infrastructure can be leveraged against multiple uses within the facility. In other words, the same control panels and IT systems that manage access control can be extended to parking management for the cost of just an additional door or gate controller—rather than the full cost of another system dedicated to parking.

But ROI doesn’t end with just a comparison of up-front expenses. ROI should be calculated throughout the life of the system. Immediately after installation, training expenses are reduced because new employees learn only one system, not two. Operating expenses -- the single largest cost of system ownership -- are greatly reduced through savings in electricity and related IT cost-of-ownership burdens throughout the lifetime of the equipment. It is well accepted throughout the IT community that the initial purchase price of a computer system reflects only about 5-10 percent of the lifetime operating costs of that system, which makes the reduction in systems proliferation a prime candidate for ROI opportunities.

What’s the Technology?

A natural question then arises, what has changed in the industry to make such an integration of previously unrelated systems possible?

The single largest change is the emergence of IP-based access control, which makes it possible for the access system to provide centralized management of one or more physical facilities over the Internet or IP cellular networks. The use of IP networks greatly reduces the need for proximity between the control system and the panels, gates, or other physical devices used to collect credentials or control physical access. IP access control also has the potential to deliver much better interfaces, or APIs, to allow integration between vertical parking solutions that can re-use the underlying access control infrastructure, as we will discuss in greater detail below.

Ideal Opportunities

Against this background of expanded possibilities, what does an ideal opportunity for this integration look like?

One attractive candidate consists of facilities with a mix of long and short-term parking, tenant access, and individual suite access. These are great opportunities for “garage-to-suite” solutions that allow an individual to make use of the same credential when parking, entering base building ingress points, and gaining access to a tenant suite. This scenario presents the greatest opportunity to leverage the existing access control investment in equipment, procedures, and credentials, perhaps even creating a value-added amenity for the property manager.

A second candidate for integrated access and parking management are facilities that currently have no parking solution at all, and are looking for ways to enhance revenues without a large up-front investment. Our own recent experience with a Web-based parking management solution found the payback period for one such client was less than 5 months, winning the integrator not only the original job but several referrals for similar systems over the next year.

A New Buyer

This potential of combined access and parking management also illustrates an important shift from selling a straightforward security system to selling a revenue generation system, and a change in the nature and role of the buyer of such systems. Whereas the traditional access control system buyer is likely a security professional or facilities manager, the buyer for a parking management solution could come from an entirely different role within the organization: financial management, marketing, or even sales, if the initiative for a managed parking program is seen as a “top line” program by the property owner or management company.

This shift in the buyer’s role means a different set of priorities and criteria than what normally govern pure security system sales. Now, the two most important aspects are to demonstrate how the proposed system creates an easily managed solution that is attractive to the parking public, and how readily the solution will produce a new revenue stream.

The ease-of-use question will depend on such factors as Web access to core technology, so that managers can easily gauge usage, monitor the system remotely, and resolve issues from wherever they happen to be working (particularly during off hours). Revenue-oriented buyers will also expect solutions that can easily integrate with existing billing systems through standards-based data exchange techniques such as XML.

How attractive this is to the parking public—particularly for reserved parking—will depend on how seamlessly the solution is integrated with other business processes such as making a room reservation in a hotel, or gaining access to parking at a business destination. Here again, back-end integration with other IT systems is critical so that necessary information exchanges happen automatically and do not place a burden on the end user. It will be important for the integrator to be able to present a strategy for how all the relevant systems can be made to “work and play well together”—a pitch that will probably involve a fairly detailed review by an IT audience at some point during the sales process.

Finally, selling to this new type of buyer may also mean a more involved educational or “consultative” selling process than normally encountered for a pure security systems sale. There are several reasons for this. First, a non-security professional is unlikely to be familiar with the principles or equipment used in an access control system, or even what the state of the art is within the industry at large. It will be important to explain the advances that IP-based systems have made possible, and how they allow traditional access control systems to perform expanded roles within the facility management context. Second, this new buyer may not even be familiar with how automation systems work at all—particularly if their primary focus is revenue enhancement rather than a more operational discipline. For these buyers, it will be important to diagram the business process surrounding the technical solution you are proposing.

Integrating Systems

What if there is already an existing parking solution?

Today’s most visible parking systems are often geared toward pay-per-use, first-come, first-served solutions. These parking systems typically consist of an embedded ticket-based system, with either an automated payment system (e.g., pay-on-foot) or an attendant-operated revenue collection capability. They also include additional hardware and software systems such as fee computers, cashier terminals, pay stations, entry and exit stations, and, of course gates, and readers. Most importantly, they also include a “parker database” that parallels the “user database” found in every commercial access control system.

The database functionality found in such systems becomes the basis for integration of parking and building access solutions when the integrator is interested in helping the client to form a “garage to suite” solution for tenants. Demonstrating the ability to do so can be a compelling competitive advantage when competing against other bidders for the project.

What to Look for

For the integrator, knowing what to look for in an access control solution can be the difference between a simple integration to a parking system—or a nightmare. That’s where the types of APIs found on contemporary IP-based access solutions become a big differentiator. Since they are not all created equal, here’s a short list of things to look for:

  • Using IP for communications between the access control and parking components is an absolute requirement, and happily one that most current products and systems are able to meet.
  • The use of standard formats for data interchange will allow nearly any two systems to be interfaced, and will do so without the usual worries about compatible libraries, operating systems, or development tool chains. At my company, we use XML.
  • The system should have open APIs that are accessible from any computer language, operating system, or hardware platform.

For situations where there may already be a parking solution in place, using an interface capability like those described above can keep the “user” and “parker” databases in the access and parking systems synchronized. So, even if parking is not included in your contract directly, this synchronization capability adds value to the integrator’s proposal and may spell the difference between winning and losing a job.

Picking the Right Opportunity

Picking the right opportunity is perhaps the most important success factor of all in looking at parking applications for access control. Parking management systems are, without a doubt, fully evolved, complex software and hardware systems that are purpose-built for the myriad needs of the parking industry. However, not every parking opportunity requires all of that complexity, and not every customer has the budget to add an expensive parking solution on top of their other security needs.

Realizing the Savings

To recap, savings from using access control solutions to handle parking management are readily apparent in several areas, starting with lower installation costs and lower equipment and training expenditures. The chief advantage here is leveraging infrastructure that is already in place for access, and understanding how it can be used to manage a population of permanent and transient parkers. Customer savings continue well after the purchase by reducing TCO expenses, and these saving provide further justification for the use of the access system.

The most exciting aspect of employing access control to manage parking is the opportunity to enhance the customer’s top line by transforming a cost—security—into a profit center through using it as the basis for gaining and maximizing parking revenue.