Peace of mind parking
When Nicola Devereux arrives each morning at EasyPark head office in Vancouver, she can see exactly how many cars are parked at any one of five lots the company owns across the city — not by looking out the window, but by checking her email.
By Linda Johnson
The parking management company recently installed a web-based access control system that tracks in real-time all entries and exits at their lots. By the end of the year, that system will give them remote access control to over 1,000 parking spaces.
The move was driven by the company’s growth. In the last few years, EasyPark has been acquiring lots, including, most recently, those in the city’s parks. Of the 49 off-street lots they now own, nine are gated, monthly facilities. It was these automated lots that presented the challenge — for with these, they ended up with a collection of very different access systems.
Most of the inherited systems were older; in some cases, they had come to the end of their life cycle, in others, the software was no longer manufactured or supported. But the main problem was lack of connectivity, says Devereux, monthly parking supervisor.
“If we can’t connect from our head office — when we need to make changes, to add access devices or lock a single one that’s been lost — we have to send someone on site to make that change, which is inconvenient. It takes up time for everybody involved,” she says.
Realizing it was time to upgrade, they began looking for a new system and chose ACS WebService management software from Bethesda, Md.-based Brivo Systems. So far, they have implemented it at five lots and expect to extend it to all nine gated lots by the end of 2011.
Having immediate connectivity means that they can alter a user’s access status in seconds and without leaving head office, says Devereux, who can access the system from any desktop computer or laptop. They can activate devices, or credentials, for new customers and revoke ones for those who have cancelled or who have lost their card. They also have a more effective way to lock out people who haven’t paid — which has helped the accounts receivable department.
“If an account goes into arrears and, after some of our own efforts to secure payment, the last step is to block access so the person can no longer park until they bring their account up to date. That generally prompts someone to call us because they can no longer access the parkade,” she says.
When EasyPark receives payment, Devereux just logs into the website and, within a few seconds, she has reactivated the credential.
In the past, she adds, they would have been more reluctant to lock a driver out because they had to send someone to the lot to make the change. Then, after paying, the customer would have to wait until an employee could go back to the lot and reactivate the card.
“Sometimes, the access system wouldn’t have a computer interface, and we would need to type numbers manually into the gate to be able to lock them out, or add them. So it’s definitely a huge improvement for us at some of our sites,” she says.
“We consider ourselves the friendly face of parking, and we try not to be too cutthroat. So we feel a lot more comfortable with this process, now that we have instant access.”
Handling lost cards is more efficient, too. Before, a person would have to be sent to the lot to remove the customer’s access, Devereux says. “And if they call me back the next day and say they found it, you’re back to the situation where you may have a delay in getting them reactivated.”
John Szczygiel, executive vice-president of Brivo, says WebService is well suited to multi-site properties, such as parking lots, because the end user accesses the system through a web portal and doesn’t have to worry about technical infrastructure, the PCs, software and the related networking.
“So they can easily deploy the solution at any number of locations without having to have the expense and complexity of all that computer equipment and software being installed at every site,” he says. “So wherever they are, when they need to access the system, they open up a browser and they can get access to all the facilities.”
In addition to making customer access management more efficient, the system has also streamlined staff access, Devereux says. Employees used to have nine different access devices; now, they have a single one, which gives them entry into all the lots.
She also appreciates her new ability to open a gate remotely, which is useful when an employee doesn’t have an access card. “They call me and I can log into the Brivo system through the Internet. I can ‘pulse’ that door and the door will open. That’s quite often,” she says.
Through the day, as cars come and go, Devereux receives in text form a record of all users, where and when they enter and leave. The screen refreshes every three or four seconds.
“That’s really great as well,” she says. “And the histories are kept. If we ever needed to see who had been entering and exiting around a certain time, we can pull those reports and have a look.”
WebService also has a reporting feature, and Devereux can keep track of the activity at any particular parkade or at just a particular gate. She can also track a single credential — allowing her to see where an employee went and how long the person spent at each site.
“I get a daily email and every morning, when I come in, I briefly read through it. I can see who the first person in was. I can see how many users were on site at the time the report was generated. I can see if there were any attempted access events by an unknown card. Or I can see straight away if someone we’ve locked out has tried to get in that day,” she says.
The report can be set up to be sent automatically, so she doesn’t have to remember to go in to generate it manually. She can set it up to send her an email every time there’s a particular event — for example, every time someone tries to use a cancelled card.
WebService is most commonly used in property management, commercial office buildings and multi-family residential parking sites, Szczygiel says. In retail, it’s used in access control for high value inventory and video associated with internal operations, such as entry to a storage location.
Currently, only Devereux and the IT manager, Jack Gushue, use the system. But they are considering giving limited access to their 24-hour customer service staff, who could use it, for instance, to open a gate for a customer. She says they may also consider adding WebService’s video capability to their real-time monitoring.
The video feature would allow them to attach video clips to events. Szczygiel says that, for every event that occurs in the area covered by the video surveillance, whether it’s a car entering a lot or a break-in, a clip is captured and stored. “So when you want to go and review events, you can see the video information that’s associated with that particular event. You can download it and put it on a CD or memory stick,” he says.
Right now, three lots are still on standalone websites, so Devereux must go from one address to another to see the various lots. But they expect to consolidate all nine by the end of the year.
“We’ve moving to getting all those under this WebService, or the umbrella product. So I’ll log in once, and then I can see everything we have set up on Brivo,” she says.