Parking meters and When Technology Helps

Parking meters, like turnstiles on the subway, used to be hardy, mechanical things. You put a coin in, the coin bit a cog’s tooth, you turned. They worked and stood up to use and weather.

parking meter in Passau (Germany, Bavaria)

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: viZZZual.com

Most parking meters are now computers. Even in small towns, the computers now dispense tickets, read magnetic stripes, and help meter maids make quotas.

The machines have to be serviced by technicians specifically trained. There’s software, hardware, networking. I’ve seen the insides of MetroCard machines far more often than I recall watching them emptying turnstiles, much less fixing them.

How much value can these newer machines add to these situations? How much more does the sleepy municipality realize with computers than they did with cogs, knobs and nickels?

Technology needs to be applied situationally and with care. Presuming the newer machines were put in place to improve things, how much improvement have they brought?

Most processes in your business can be improved: everything from pulling info from email to getting the merger docs you need can be streamlined. Taking care to improve processes without upsetting what’s made them work – presuming they do – is where experience and good sense count.

Situations where a given solution is beneficial for a specific principal can theoretically happen, too.  Accounting for this is another part of the vetting process. Solutions that cost a lot have a tendency not to fail: they’re not allowed to, as they’re too expensive to allow it. Bad money after good is not just for poker.

If you’re considering a solution that weds you long-term to a specific vendor, consider that well. A bunch of companies made turnstiles; there’s likely just one making all the MetroCard machines. They can charge what they like for the machine itself as well as the services around it.

Changing of process is almost always unwelcome, so input from the people who do work in your process is important. Even the good one’s aren’t going to like change much, but if they’re good, they’ll appreciate a good solution. If part of that means your good peoples’ participation, then involving them early and often works well.

Who do you suppose tested the new parking meters and turnstiles?