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.
Josh Richman! It’s so nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you, too.
Thanks for spending time with me today. I’m amped to talk to a parking data expert.
Parking data and parketing are a stellar pair.
As we shall uncover! Let’s dig in. What do you do at FLASH, Josh?
I make people more efficient and effective at their jobs by augmenting intuition and experience with data and analysis.
I really like how you said “augment”. What I’m hearing is that data enhances the decisions, but there are other elements at play as well. Can you talk a little more about that?
In the industry, there’s a lot of conversation around the ideas of “data-driven” and “data-informed”. As a data person, I believe that folks can actually run into trouble when they let data pilot their decisions 100%, and that there is value in gut instinct and professional experience as well. There’s a balance.
What’s the distinction, do you think?
I think that when answering a very specific question, data can be your sole supporting evidence and can “drive” that decision-making. But when making broader strategic decisions, there can often be a lot more at play that goes unseen when just looking at numbers without context.
That’s when data “informs” your professional knowledge and helps augment your decision process. The latter is what we at FLASH empower operators to do, and it’s how we operate internally, as well.
Sounds like a very balanced perspective. You’ve been in parking and data for a while now, right?
Yeah, it’s been four years. I started at ParkWhiz and then we eventually transitioned to Arrive as our vision and mission got broader. Now post-merger with FLASH, and many acquisitions later, I’m heading up the broader data team at FLASH.
We’re a lean team right now but FLASH is actively making investments in data. I’m looking to at least double my team by the end of the year and you can expect even more growth in 2023.
So you’re hiring!
We’re hiring! Check it out.
Tell me about how FLASH applies the data that you and your team harvest and contextualize to improve business performance.
I’m in a really cool position because not only do I get to help out with internal business decision-making, but also with providing the right data for operators and partners to help their businesses grow.
There is a ton of data behind the development of the platform and the types of products we end up creating to help serve parkers and operators based on their needs.
As we continue to expand our product offering, we use data to make sure that we’re doing it in a smart way that addresses the state of the market and the state of the parker, especially in a post-COVID climate.
Because COVID-19 really overhauled consumer behavior, which defines what today’s operator’s technology ecosystem needs to look like.
We can talk a little bit about that, sure.
The floor is yours, JR.
Let’s start by thinking through this in terms of our evolving, comprehensive product offering.
In particular, the big merger of FLASH and Arrive, along with the quick-follow acquisitions of Parkonect and OmniPark, helped us develop an end-to-end ecosystem that connects customer demand data and digital payment experiences to the facility.
If you want to think about it from a data perspective, imagine that you’re an operator.
- You have a kiosk in your facility that is manufactured by one company, and that same company operates the software within that kiosk.
- And you also have one or more companies that help drive demand through online reservations and parking discovery – like ParkWhiz, for example.
- And then you’ve installed electric vehicle chargers, as we get more modern, to charge vehicles from one or more auto manufacturers.
- Enforcement technology becomes a big part of this ecosystem, too, and can be yet another independent piece of hardware and software, which as you guessed, is run by another company…
You end up having all of these individual points of interaction with your customer and then the challenge is bringing them together.
Exactly. You want to see what’s happening at your garage and, ideally, you want to join all of that data from the different interaction points together, but then you face the challenge – how?
How does data help accomplish this?
It’s about creating connectivity. When your point solutions are all brought under one platform, you can create a unified picture of the activity at your facility and an understanding, with less effort, of how your parkers are behaving. And that allows you to market what they want to them in different ways.
Then you’re cookin’ with gas.
Yes. Here’s another nugget along those lines: when a driver pulls into your garage and pulls a ticket, you don’t know who they are. When they pay at a kiosk or hand over a slip to a valet and pay then, you still don’t know who they are.
When they come back every day this month, you see each transaction as unique, so you’re not seeing them as a loyal customer, which is a problem.
When you switch to digital payments and allow them to be synced as one system, from the kiosk that is facilitating entry and access, to the LPR cameras that create digital tickets, to your scan-to-pay transaction points, you suddenly gain insight into how your customers behave.
You can communicate with them directly and serve up experiences that make them happy.
So, with data collected through digital payments, you can now see how customer satisfaction is directly impacting your bottom line.
Yes, absolutely. When you’re leveraging a platform that can connect and collect data from all of those individual and disparate interaction points, you can start answering questions that identify opportunities and focus areas.
Which channels perform the best in terms of capturing demand from customers? What types of equipment and technology should you invest in to deliver an experience at your facilities that’ll keep customers parking over and over?
In this way, data creates predictable revenue and increases the bottom line for operators.
Are there any other opportunities that operators are missing because they’re not collecting or connecting their data?
I’d say that operators should use data to better understand occupancy and the parking patterns from day to day. If you’re using a manual method for payments and access, it becomes labor intensive and sometimes impossible to get a true feel for when you have an onslaught of parkers.
So, you can’t adjust rates in real time which means you’re leaving money on the table.
Right. You’re only operating on historicals then.
And that’s if you have good historical data.
But when you digitize your platform, you have a much more robust data set of exactly when your parkers are coming and you can understand the patterns. Then it becomes predictive and responsive and you become proactive about setting rates to maximize profit.
You can wrap your mind around it when you see the data.
It’s like what I said before – data informs decisions that you are inclined to make because you know your facility. Let’s augment your knowledge on how your facilities operate so you can take your gut feeling and back that up with data.
You seem to believe this, and I believe it, too: operators know what they’re doing!
Yes, absolutely they do. At FLASH, we understand operators and appreciate their critical role in accelerating the advancement of the full mobility ecosystem.
And we want to be a supportive partner for them. One of the differentiators that we provide as a partner is our Customer Success team, which we are actively growing.
This team is purely devoted to making sure that our parking operator partners are getting the most out of their experience with us and are able to see the data on a regular basis for how their locations are performing. And if they have any concerns, we can address them in a collaborative manner. And we’re proactive, too, about identifying opportunities for them to increase revenue.
What’s your advice for getting started with data?
Don’t search for specific technology; search for solutions.
When you’re looking for new technologies and talking to potential vendors, ensure you’re talking about the business problem and not just the features that you think you want.
When working in data, you can come up with a million questions and can find answers to many if not all of them, but if they don’t help address or solve a specific problem your business is facing, that work is meaningless. The same holds for parking technology.
You don’t have to have this massive tech stack if it’s not benefiting your business.
There are a lot of products out there that do really cool things, but that might not be the right solution for your particular facility.
On the flip side, there might be a product that helps solve a great need, but if you don’t convey the high- and low-level business problems you’re trying to solve, you might not realize there are a suite of products that, when working together, add up to much more value than each one brings individually.
Lead with the need. I like it.
If you don’t lead with the need, you may end up talking to five different vendors about five different problems. Then you end up with five contacts, five platforms, and five different interaction points and it’s on you to combine this data and do something with it.
Well said. What else, Josh?
We recently collaborated on the Road to Recovery Index for Parking with the National Parking Association which identifies trends and opportunities for parking operators as the market continues to recover.
Here’s a recent blog post with some great data points to shed light on how the “modern parker” has different expectations than the parker of old: Six Benefits of Digital Payments for Parking Operations.
Lastly, anyone can add me on LinkedIn if they want to talk parking data.
Time for the hard-hitting questions. If you were an animal, which animal would you be?
Easy. A grizzly bear.
I know we’ve just met for the first time today but I’m not getting major “violently stalk Leonardo DiCaprio in the wilderness” vibes here, Josh. Elaborate.
I’ve always had some odd connection with grizzlies and I think there’s a certain peacefulness when they are in their natural environment that I really identify with.
If you could domesticate a grizzly bear and it became your friend and you hung out together and watched TV, what would you watch?
I’ve never seen that show.
Me neither. But it feels appropriate.