A Market in a State of Upheaval?
Once again, nearly two years have passed since the last Intertraffic. During that time, technical advances have been made and new networking opportunities successfully launched in many industries. We from the Parking Tend magazine asked the CEO of DESIGNA, Dr Thomas Waibel, for his evaluation of the current market situation.
Dr Waibel, can we expect to see the car park business undergoing the kind of upheaval several experts have forecast?
The prophets passing through the land at present are only partly right. Certainly, there are some outstanding new technologies and improvements to be celebrated, but a large section of the economy still needs time to develop its full potential, as will the end consumers to adapt fully to the new situation. In some areas, this will happen faster. In others, it will be a slower, more cautious process.
And how do things look in your segment?
We are facing some decisions that will be key to the decades ahead. But this comes as no surprise, which is why we have been gradually broadening the focus of our market observations since the beginning of my period in office. Only by doing so have we been able to launch and establish new and innovative, customer-driven products.
One of these is our Application Service Providing product (ASP), known in other areas as "Cloud Computing". Our market observations put us in a position to supply our customers with a product that meets their needs - and to launch it appropriately, too. That is no easy task, by the way, given that "simply" developing a good product is no longer sufficient these days. In fact, providing the market with relevant reasons to buy them is almost more important. And since we are constantly moving further forward into the field of high technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convey background information. What we need here are sensitive, easy-to-grasp arguments to give the product all the support it needs because it takes two to discover the whole truth, as the saying goes: one to utter it, and one to understand it.
Is the market undergoing change?
The market is constantly changing. That's why, in future, some segments will suffer overnight losses, while other, unexpected new segments will blossom. Our aim is to give our customers ways to open up profitable new lines of business for themselves. This can only work with the help of satisfied car park customers. The operators of multi-storey car parks know this, which is why they are very interested in making their customers' stay as pleasant and convenient as possible by offering a top technical service. Our product portfolio helps them to do this because we have already recognized the trends way ahead of time.
What does a new product need in order to be successful in the future?
The trick has always been not simply to satisfy the demands of the customers but also to make them enthusiastic about the product. We make this possible by eliminating, for example, a disruptive element in the handling process or by providing new product ideas to give car park customers greater convenience and to save them time. Our most recently developed parking app is the best example of how to offer customers more modern convenience as well as providing the car park operator with an excellent customer loyalty tool. But these are not the only requirements. More ideas are needed and also more sophisticated products with features customers will love. And last but not least - we need a better understanding of the consumer. That's why motivation research is an interesting field of activity we plan to invest even more in over the coming years. As you can see, there is always something in need of improvement somewhere in a company - and that's a good thing. If this were not the case, it would mean that we were inflexible and static, that we were standing still.
To what extent does the incredible consumer market hype about the latest technical gadgets influence your development of new products?
It is true that in communications, in particular, the situation has changed completely, but the hype has been there for many years. Naturally, this also generates new customer demands. People's expectations of technical products have grown. But one thing is also certain, namely that even the "brave new world" of modern communication media goes out of its way to accommodate old values, such as the reliability and quality of a product.
In addition, greater emphasis will now be placed on other values, for instance, convenience and product design. To us, a remarkable side effect of this global hype is that all of these people are already looking more closely at a wide range of different user navigation systems. This means that there is a greater understanding out there, a fact we gratefully acknowledge and will be taking on board when designing the navigation menu for our new checkout system. At Intertraffic 2012, we will be giving our visitors an exciting insight into and outlook on the subject - so it will definitely be worth paying us a visit.
How do you go about developing a new product?
There's a "compulsory" and a "freestyle" approach. Some manufacturers take the former, others the latter. We go for both because only when you make intelligent use of both aspects can you create fantastic new products. To us, the "compulsory" part is about product relevance, about guaranteeing the product's functional diversity and consistently high quality. The "freestyle" part means getting away from the isolated, purely functional aspect and seeing the big picture. The values that count here are sometimes rather different, for example those that matter in the world of sound engineering. What feeling does a customer get when he drives into a car park and presses the button at the entrance? Is the sound technical, cold, abrupt, more of a crackle that makes you shudder? Or is it soft, with quiet feedback that stands for the promise of a warmer reception when you collect your car? This may be a minor detail to some, but to us it is as important as the smooth functioning of the checkout system. This unobtrusive little button often represents the parker's first contact with the car park operator - and you will surely agree with me that that first contact should be as agreeable as possible. At our company, however, we take things one step further, and investigate thoroughly the field of colour worlds and the values they stand for. At the moment, we are busy finding out which shade gives the end consumer a pleasant sense of security - and also which shade that will be in 10 years' time. In order to discover this, we apply the experience gained in other areas unrelated to the industry and also discuss the matter in depth with the world's largest paint producers, since they usually set the trend. In a nutshell, we leave nothing to chance.
What are you working on just now?
"Just now" doesn't quite apply. We have actually been working very hard for quite some time on a new business project that calls for our entire expertise. It is the largest airport in Australia - Sydney.
We will be taking on the management of all parking facilities at the airport in spring 2012. You will surely appreciate the need for the one or other car park there, given the airport's annual passenger volume of approximately 35 million people. We will begin by introducing the integrated monitoring of 6,000 individual parking spaces and will also be creating an extensively restructured valet parking area. All of this is a huge challenge and we are happy to take up. A project of such mammoth proportions requires countless cogs in a variety of areas to turn smoothly together as part of one big machine. - starting with the hardware, then the software and all the way down to the smallest external supplier. The sum of all these requirements was probably also the reason why we at DESIGNA were ultimately awarded the contract, because we have already proved our ability to make a successful job of the project. To be frank, I am really looking forward to personally welcoming the first visitor to the DESIGNA-operated parking facilities at Sydney Airport.
© 2009 DESIGNA Verkehrsleittechnik GmbH