How can smaller operators use technology to punch up and grow their influence when they don’t have the on-staff engineering resources that their massive competitors do?
That’s the question that Chris Everton, Ocra‘s VP of Product & Partnerships, was out to answer as moderator of an expert NPA 2022 panel featuring:
- Avarie Anderson, Director of Operations at Peak Parking
- Chris Perry, Chief Revenue Officer at Umojo, and
- Shawn Compton, Regional Asset Manager at Park Place Parking
What this team uncovered is that smaller operators can slay the competition if they know when to build, partner, or buy to bring “Silicon Valley-level” tech in-house to provide a complete solution for their partners.
This panel represented perspectives from leaders at organizations situated at different points on the “build, partner, or buy” matrix:
- A smaller operator (Peak Parking)
- A larger operator and asset manager (Park Place Parking), and
- Two parking technology companies that serve operators (Ocra & Umojo)
If you missed it, or would like to revisit, we’ve compiled the main takeaways here.
Sometimes the answer is consolidation, sometimes it’s building tech, and sometimes it’s partnering with another company – each philosophy can be the right approach, depending on the organization, implementation, and use case.
If you have engineering resources, internal subject matter experts (SMEs), and the time to develop, QA, and deploy technology….
Building can add tremendous value to an organization.
If you know that you have a need, but aren’t sure of the exact requirements…
Partnering with technology companies may provide the best ROI without having SMEs, engineers, or a longer timeframe to work with.
If you are seeking speed to market and have a holistic understanding of the problem…
Buying a proven technology allows you to move quickly and have confidence in the solution.
Many parking organizations use a mix of tactics in order to seek a competitive advantage over off-the-shelf hardware and software.
One such mixed-use approach may be when, as an operator, you need improved analytics & business intelligence.
You could start building data models with internal resources and utilize licensed software to deploy a front-end reporting dashboard to clients. The result: you’re now providing real-time insight into the business you’re managing on their behalf.
For Chris Everton, as a former operator in this exact scenario, analytics & BI became a competitive advantage because while most of his competitors were sending manual reports to clients, his organization gave theirs access to this data at their fingertips.
Similarly, for Shawn, asset manager at a larger operation, his team has benefited from having the in-house resources to develop their own technologies.
However, they still employ the “build, partner, or buy” framework to make their own technology more robust and get critical customer asks out the door faster.
It’s about being strategic about what to dedicate internal resources to build, and what exists in the marketplace that can be flawlessly integrated and up and running quickly.
Evaluating the feasibility and scalability of resources is critical.
For Avarie, evaluating feasibility is a necessity.
As a small operator, her biggest resource when utilizing tech as a competitive advantage against massive organizations is her ability to be successful as a company and for her properties.
Therefore, as she continues to scale and evolve, and as the number of properties that she manages grows, she’s constantly asking “does this still make sense operationally? financially? from a staffing perspective? for our clients and customers?” and trying to solve the bottlenecks.
Not having a large team of engineers on staff can feel like a disadvantage, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you’re not able to hire a huge internal team to build our solutions, you can rely on a knowledgeable subject matter expert who understands the problem and how to solve it and a development partner who can provide scalable resources.
This can be a bridge until an ROI can be determined to justify investing in an in-house team, which often requires multiple products to spread costs across.
When talking to potential tech partners, the most important question to ask is “does this solve a material problem now or a problem that may arise in the future?”
Quickly followed by “do I have already have a solution that mirrors this?”. Any solution you adopt needs to be a value-add both internally and externally, for your customers.
It’s critical to determine what you’re trying to accomplish before you start having conversations with tech partners – whether that’s growing revenue, increasing productivity, enhancing business intelligence/reporting, unlocking new accounts, or something else.
The prospective partners will present your solution, and you then can determine if what they’re offering has the flexibility to accomplish your objective(s).
Another important consideration is the opportunity cost of not investing in this technology – can you afford to miss out on the new business it would bring in?
To win and retain new clients, technology companies need to try to think like the companies they’re serving and see things from their perspective.
Chris Perry says that his team uses a “Job To Be Done” approach, with scalability, support, and flexibility at the center of all of their development and engineering initiatives.
By putting themselves in the position of the parking operators who they work with, Chris and his team can build, partner, or buy to provide solutions that match the actual need and then scale these to fit the size the operator’s portfolio.
“Closed door” partners are companies that aren’t willing to work with other partners to improve their solution to fit a client’s needs.
Possessiveness, opacity, and uncooperativeness are all huge red flags.
Historically, parking has suffered from operating in silos, and partners who perpetuate that are impeding progress for the operators they work with and for the industry as a whole.
In order to provide a compete solution to their customers, Chris Perry says, Umojo has partnered with permit platforms and outsourced call center labor – a choice that he made strategically, using the “build, partner, or buy” decision-making framework.
Another red flag from a technology partner is being indirect about what the product does and not tailoring their sales approach for your business need.
According to Avarie, as a decision-maker, she gets burnt out hearing from companies that, 90% of the time, aren’t targeted in their sales approach and aren’t direct about what they do.
Technology partners worth their weight in gold will be straightforward about what they offer and make it clear that they’re not out to add more work to their prospective client’s plate.
It’s important to stay up on new tech as it enters the industry.
When evaluating the “partner” route, knowing what your competitors are doing and understanding the wider landscape as it evolves will help you make decisions about what companies you want to take meetings with.
Shawn says that recommendations from within the parking industry go a long way, and that tech companies that build up credibility and trust are more likely to end up on his team’s calendar.
“Build, partner, or buy” is a reliable, methodical approach to deciding when to invest in your in-house team building your own technology, or moving quickly and with confidence by partnering with or buying proven technology.
For smaller and mid-size operators looking to punch up and win business from their massive competitors, growing with technology is key – whether it’s built, bought, or accessed through a partnership.
By asking yourself the questions recommended by this panel of experts, you can be decisive in how to move forward.