This interview is part of our series “The Rise of the Chief Parking Data Officer” profiling parking industry innovators with the vision, strategy, and leadership to create connectivity within their organizations using data. Want to be featured? Send Sarah an email.
Parking cars and chewing bubble gum. And I’m out of bubble gum.
Naturally. Same. Business is terrific. And I’ll be back by the time this is published but I’m going on vacation tomorrow to Key West, can’t wait.
We can update this with performance metrics before publication. You know, to see if you’ve crushed your PTO KPIs.
Absolutely. Love a KPI.
You’re our Chief Parking Data Officer (CPDO) in residence. In one powerful sentence, can you summarize what you do at Ocra?
Sure thing. I drive the product roadmap for strategic decisions for how we develop the product to service our operator customers and technology partners.
What’s your pre-Ocra parking story?
I spent a decade and a half in parking operations, doing everything from on-the-ground valet to corporate finance and strategic growth. Most recently I focused on revenue operations and growing and streamlining that aspect of the business at Towne Park.
You’ve been working with data for a long time and have had many different opportunities to leverage it.
Indeed. All data tells a story.
What type of data do you consider to be most accessible and actionable?
Today everything is about transactional data which is by far the most accessible for operators. And it’s the most important data, too.
You can use transactional data to build your projections for occupancy based on historical trends and back those up or refine them through real-time inputs. All transactional data is comparatively simple to access and analyze to make better business decisions.
Where does transactional data come from?
Through all of your transaction channels: drive-up, online reservations, scan-to-pay, etc. Every way you’ve configured for customers to pay. All together, there’s your big picture.
How do operators get started with utilizing this data?
The first thing, and this needs to come before anything else, is to understand where you’re at. You need measurable indicators of how you perform today. Having a baseline idea of channel performance and utilization is a prerequisite for actually applying transactional data to the outcome of higher yield.
Yeah, without that baseline you’re pretty much flying blind.
Right. If you skip this step, it’s frustrating because you’re like, oh, I’ve made this investment, I’ve made this operational decision, and I don’t know if things are going better or worse for me as a result.
Once you’ve got your finger on the pulse of current performance, what’s the next step?
After you create that scorecard, you can look ahead. Where are the holes in your book of business? The be-all-end-all objective is to maximize occupancy 24/7, 7 days a week.
To know how to do that, you need to know what your occupancy mix is: where the cars are coming from, how long they’re staying, and what the customer is willing to pay. Once you understand your occupancy, then you look for those holes.
Say I’m an operator of a traditional commercial lot adjacent to a bunch of office buildings and I want to maximize occupancy.
In this case, Sarah the Operator needs to ask herself the “where are the holes?” question. Her scorecard of baseline metrics indicates that she’s seeing most of her traffic on weekdays between 7:00am and 6:00pm. This is expected because of the number of office workers in the area and her historicals back all that up.
But Sarah the Operator wants a boatload of parkers outside of those hours.
Of course she does! So she keeps asking questions.
What happens after 3:00pm on Friday? What happens in the evening? What happens between then and 7:00am on Monday? How does she capitalize on those revenue opportunities? What type of customer can fill that hole?
The data shows that she’s not getting her commuter customer on the weekend but there are other customers, like short-term transient guests in that period, that she’s not capturing.
That’s where working with demand channel partners (like SpotHero, Arrive, Parkmobile, and many more) comes in. She can leverage their marketing dollars and marketing expertise to bring in that customer and align them with her available inventory.
That seems like low-hanging fruit in terms of revenue opportunity. See where occupancy is high and where it’s not and then diversify your demand channels to bring in a different kind of customer.
100%. It’s all about yield, yield, yield.
If you’re not assessing your data to know what your occupancy is at any given time and what the rates are that are driving your occupancy, you’re missing out on that yield opportunity, period.
And how do you yield more? You have to use data.
Exactly. Otherwise you’re just being whimsical and doing a thing because someone else does or doesn’t. Being reactive to changes in your microclimate may not be driven by data, so it’s not the best way to maximize yield.
I think it’s important to recognize that using data isn’t always easy due to fragmentation.
I would agree with that. Getting started with data can certainly be a daunting topic to address. And that is because it’s so fragmented.
The field naming for different data points, what things are called, that isn’t consistent across technologies and platforms and providers. That makes it difficult for someone who is less familiar with data to dig in because they can’t easily match up all of the inputs.
So, how can operators overcome this?
The only way to overcome this is to find partners, mentors, and leaders who can guide you through that process. Connecting with a trusted partner who understands data is the best way to get started.
Can trusted partners help you see all of your data and take action on it?
Absolutely. Using a trusted partner that has advanced capabilities for centralizing data allows you a 360-view so you can make real-time decisions, instead of operating based lagging indicators. If you can see your occupancy in a building in the moment, you can adjust your rates to increase yield.
A dynamic pricing partner is another good bet.
Working with a partner that does dynamic pricing also allows you to grow revenue because the computer algorithm is making real-time data-driven recommendations based on demand.
At Ocra, we don’t do dynamic pricing; rather, we enable variable pricing, because we’re the first partner that I mentioned: the one who has the unique expertise to centralize data and make it actionable. But if you want to use a dynamic pricing partner, you can integrate that with Ocra, no problemo.
What other integrations are beneficial to operators?
I’d say auditing is one of the biggest ways that operators can begin to utilize data. You’re making the money, and now you have to make sure that money gets to the bank. The bottom line is as important as the top line.
Transactional data allows operators to truly reconcile all of that business and ensure that they’re collecting better margins on the work that they’re doing and not leaving money on the table for the work that they’ve already done.
If you’re using cash payments, fewer dollars get to the bank. Credit cards are a more finite accounting system but there are fees to reconcile. Centralizing data and reporting will solve for this.
Do you have any advice for companies evaluating technology partners to the end goal of better accessing and analyzing their data?
First piece of advice is to focus on cloud-based technologies and partners. That gives operators a lower hurdle to clear to start accessing and analyzing because there are fewer connections to make. The alternative is a traditional onsite server solution where they need to connect to multiple individual points. That’s antiquated.
That’s good advice, buddy. Any other nuggets of wisdom?
I recommend participating in some of our expos and conferences, thought leadership like webinars, and symposiums where you can talk to not just your partners but also your competitors and colleagues.
There are a lot of stellar companies and individuals in our industry who you will find are willing to share their experience. I encourage you to reach out to people so you’re not dealing with imitators and can focus on the partners with proven track records.
And they can reach out to you!
Anyone who has been on a call with you in the past year knows that you’re the proud dad of a mini-horse-sized dog named Rubeus.
Oh, yes. He’s my slobberiest coworker.
Are you sure about that?
Sure hope so!
If Rubeus worked at Ocra, what would his title be?
Chief Engagement Officer. I know a lot of companies give their dogs cute titles like “Chief Fun Officer” but Rubeus is definitely Engagement. Because as soon as he shows up in the video, everything stops until there’s a convo about the house horse.
Rubeus for CEO of Ocra.
Ethan can give up his “CEO” title at any time. Rubeus is ready.