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[IPMI 2024 Panel Recap] How to Mitigate Risk With a Multi-Vendor Approach to Your Mobility Tech Stack

This post features soundbites, highlights, and insights from a panel at the 2024 IPMI Parking & Mobility Conference & Expo feat. Bob Murray, CTO @ CampusParc; Liz Young, VP of Solutions Engineering @ FAAC Parking Solutions; Jordan Weiss VP of Marketing @ Umojo; and Ethan Glass, CEO & Co-Founder @ Ocra.

In past years, the term “end-to-end” has been used by parking technology vendors to communicate that they provide a “one-stop shop” suite of solutions that addresses multiple touch points in the customer journey.

But lately, the traditional one-stop shop mentality for evaluating and implementing technologies is giving way to a much more resilient strategy: a diversification of vendors in the mobility tech stack.

Vendor diversification mitigates risks, removes dependencies, future-proofs operations, and allows the operator or owner more agility and control in how they run their business.

In light of this shift, what does “end-to-end” mean today?

Jordan Weiss, VP of Marketing at Umojo, offers this explanation: “Today, when we vendors call ourselves ‘end-to-end’, what we mean is that we play nice with others.”

It means that vendors see the value in building architecture that’s flexible enough to integrate with other technologies, and that they have the partnership mindset to match.

“When we vendors call ourselves ‘end-to-end’, what we mean is that we play nice with others.”

– Jordan Weiss, VP Marketing, Umojo

Ethan Glass is the CEO & Co-Founder of Ocra, a software-as-a-service platform for centralizing rate and inventory management across multiple online channels (e.g., aggregators).

He observes that while there’s less of a barrier of entry to building technology, the challenge is building meaningful technology.

Operators and owners are rapidly warming up to tech, focusing on increasing net operating income (NOI), and re-evaluating how they employ “build-buy-partner” evaluation frameworks to select vendors.

“In working with 600 locations and 40+ operators,” Glass says, “the struggle that we’ve seen across the board is prioritization. Every location is different. A lot of operators and owners are struggling to prioritize what to build, when to partner, and who to partner with.”

“A lot of operators and owners are struggling to prioritize what to build, when to partner, and who to partner with.”

– Ethan Glass, CEO & Co-Founder, Ocra

Bob Murray is the Chief Technology & Business Solutions Officer at CampusParc, the official parking partner of The Ohio State University.

As the individual responsible for analyzing business needs and implementing strategies that improve the experience for those getting to and around campus, he’s an avid consumer of technology who works with vendors regularly.

He likes seeing the recent influx of vendors focus being experts at one essential thing that addresses a problem that actually exists.

Innovation creates competition, which makes for more robust products across the board.

Bob offers this perspective:

“We are behind the times on integrations. We’re so dependent on the old tech, which makes it harder for new tech to integrate. I like working with vendors who are experts in one certain area to help make them better in that area. That’s how we remove dependencies and move forward together.”

“I like working with vendors who are experts in one certain area to help make them better in that area. That’s how we remove dependencies and move forward together.”

– Bob Murray, CTO, CampusParc

The argument can be made, also, that operators and owners keeping everything in house puts their customer at a disadvantage.

Customer advocacy is about delivering on value, and choosing not to bring in partners means choosing to exclude the expertise of third parties who can deliver value outside of the operator’s or owner’s core competency.

Liz Young, Vice President of Solutions Engineering at FAAC Parking Solutions, a full-service technology provider for parking asset management, shares this perspective.

“You need the humility to know you can’t do everything yourself,” Liz says. “And to understand that you can’t truly facilitate the customer’s vision within your box. Don’t do things to inflate your own ego.”

“Honestly,” she continues” “we should be providing an end-to-end solution. But that solution doesn’t need to begin and end with us.”

“We should be providing an end-to-end solution. But that solution doesn’t need to begin and end with us.”

– Liz Young, VP Solutions Engineering, FAAC Parking Solutions

It’s also key to recognize that operators, asset owners, municipalities, universities, and another entities looking to optimize yield of parking assets all have different requirements as customers.

Across the board, being able to accept and share data in the right format with the right processes is becoming table-stakes. In Jordan’s words: “Data is the new currency”.

Included in these processes is the ability to push and pull data between other systems in the tech stack, so that the data surfaced doesn’t live in a silo.

When he wants to understand transient traffic, Bob shares that he has “four or five places to go in order to get that data” and then needs to consolidate it manually.

He fully endorses the multi-vendor approach, but advises both vendors and their customers to be prepared for the work to bring all of the data together.

Largely, there are two paths to data unification for operators and owners:

First option is choosing a vendor who can lead the entire project and integration.

The second is having the necessarily talent (including engineering, development, and project management) on their internal team.

Ethan is in the camp that tech vendors need to come in and meet the operator or owner where they’re at. This includes stepping up to help the team understand how his business is working with other vendors to build a seamless experience.

“Data is difficult,” Ethan says. “Vendors can collaborate to bring one source of truth to the operator.”

“Data is difficult. Vendors can collaborate to bring one source of truth to the operator.”

– Ethan Glass, CEO & Co-Founder, Ocra

When a group of vendors each brings their individual core competencies to the table, they amount to more than the sum of their parts. Each vendor shines, and there are big opportunities for all parties to demonstrate how they solve actual problems.

Solving an immediate and tangible problem, or drawing attention to a problem that the operator or owner may not realize they’re experiencing, is key to proving out value.

“You don’t want to be technology looking for a problem,” say Bob. “Operators who leverage tech aren’t a field of dreams. Just because you built it, you can’t expect us to use it.”

“Operators who leverage tech aren’t a field of dreams. Just because you built it, you can’t expect us to use it.”

– Bob Murray, CTO, CampusParc

Vendors also need to realize that operators and owners are assessing the long-term value of the partnership.

“What we’re thinking about today isn’t gonna matter in 5 years,” says Liz. “For every partner we look at, we ask, what does the future look like with that partner? Are they coming along on the ride with us?”

It’s imperative for operators and owners to know if the vendor will continue to evolve their solution to meet the needs of the marketplace. One way that vendors can foster trust is to be transparent about their product roadmap.

To get those insights early on, Bob likes to talk to his potential partner’s tech department to understand how they’re building their software and integrations.

“Executing on integrations is more difficult than it sounds,” Ethan says. “I encourage operators to talk to potential vendors about an MVP. This is one big thing you can do to make sure they’re actually solving a problem you have without getting too far down the road.”

“I encourage operators to talk to potential vendors about an MVP. This is one big thing you can do to make sure they’re actually solving a problem you have without getting too far down the road.”

– Ethan Glass, CEO & Co-Founder, Ocra

Liz flags that there’s a semantics issue, too, with the word “integrations”.

“Sometimes that integration refers to something surface-level,” she explains, “and sometimes it means something deeper and more intensive, like aggregating and surfacing data across a large portfolio.”

With so much ambiguity, how can vendors put operators and owners at ease?

When vendors lead with “we have an open API and we talk to everyone” end up overpromising and underdelivering, trust is irreparably damaged.

An industry-wide trend in parking right now is that many technologies are being deployed without an understanding of what the requirements are in order to use them.

One way to create more clarity is to bring in fresh software talent that understands these requirements and can break them down for the operator.

Parking, historically, has not been a top-of-mind market for engineers, which is something the industry collectively needs to work to change.

Vendors can hasten this by ensuring they’re writing their products on the newest technologies.

Bob implores vendors to stay up to date with most advanced tactics and tools so that an influx of new software talent can get on board: “We will never be able to attract the talent to do better if we keep doing BS like blind FTP transfers”.

Jordan adds that standardization is the other side of this coin.

“Why aren’t we held to standards for tech?”, Jordan asks. “We have standards for everything except how we build tech. Alliance for Parking Data Standards (APDS) is showing up in more and more RFPs. It’s something we need to act on.”

“Why aren’t we held to standards for tech? We have standards for everything except how we build tech. It’s something we need to act on.”

– Jordan Weiss, VP Marketing, Umojo

While convos are happening, progress is slow.

In the meantime, data still needs to be exchanged and shared in a secure way.

“It’s a red flag when companies won’t share their data,” says Ethan. “Why won’t they? Or is it that they can’t? Definitely gives me pause as a vendor who brings other vendors into projects.”

Ultimately, it’s about putting the customer first and creating full visibility for them – not about selfishly monopolizing or hoarding data in a way that will hold the customer back.

“We need to share our data with other companies,” Liz says. “That’s how we build trust with the customer because they can see that we’re operating in their best interests. We can’t let our fears of sharing data get in the way of building communication and real rapport.”

“[Sharing data] is how we build trust with the customer because they can see that we’re operating in their best interests. We can’t let our fears of sharing data get in the way of building communication and real rapport.”

– Liz Young, VP Solutions Engineering, FAAC Parking Solutions

That rapport and communication is critical, because, after all, the client stands to lose way more than the vendor if something goes wrong.

Bob, as a client, says that he “puts teeth” in his contracts with vendors to make it clear that it’s a partnership. He also looks for cultural fit.

He concludes: “I’m trying to build a partnership, so we need to have similar values in order for me to help make your product better and for you to help make my life better.”

Want to learn more about how operators and owners can mitigate risk and future-proof their businesses by taking a multi-vendor approach to building their tech stack? Reach out Bob, Liz, Jordan, and/or Ethan on LinkedIn or email info@getocra.com.

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