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Leading Your Business to the Right Side of Disruption

I saw some pretty monumental news this summer. In July, the final two Blockbuster stores in Alaska closed their doors, leaving just one lonely Blockbuster left in business in the entire United States.

I’m sure many of you can relate with why this might bring such strong feelings of nostalgia. Growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, a trip to Blockbuster on a Friday or Saturday evening was an easy go-to entertainment solution for movie nights or sleepovers. There was always the helpful movie connoisseur who could recommend the latest “blockbuster”, classic or indie film to match any variety of tastes. Sure, there were those pesky late fees that sometimes caused the rental to be more expensive than buying the video outright, but that was just the way it was, right?

To be honest, I didn’t realize that there were any Blockbuster stores left open until I read an article about the Alaskan stores closing this past summer. I thought the Blockbuster ship had long since sailed and the streaming on-demand model was well-established by now – and in all reality it has – the only Blockbuster store left is in Bend, Oregon and is more of a novelty store than anything else.

But the store closings reminded me just how pervasive disruption is everywhere you look, not just in the parking or transportation industries. In my February 2018 column of Parking Today I discussed the typical business case study of a company not paying attention to disruption – Kodak’s failure to embrace the digital camera and how it was a major contribution to its ultimate demise.

While it’s the sensational stories of the Blockbusters and Kodaks of the worlds where the industry leaders seem to unravel overnight to footnotes of history, the reality of disruption is far more nuanced and comes more like a hurricane than a tornado.

Disruption can and often will be extremely destructive, but more often than not, you can see it coming with sufficient time to respond if you are willing to do so. Now that doesn’t mean to say it won’t happen fast and you won’t have to act quickly, but most often no faster than a traditional planning cycle of three to five years.

Disruption in the Parking Industry

I started my first PT column of 2018 with a prediction that the trend that we will see dominate the parking industry would be convergence – the blurring of boundaries that used to be clearly defined, whether those boundaries be technologies, products, or industries. Today it is no longer a given where one technology’s capability maxes out and another’s is needed; where one product’s functionality stops, and another’s starts; or where one industry’s expertise ends, and another’s begins. You don’t have to look any further than the recent merger of Cale and Parkeon to create the mobility company Flowbird to see the disruptive forces encroaching ever closer.

The important question is, how do you make sure you aren’t on the wrong side of disruption?

My answer is this:

Every parking, err, mobility leader looking to the future must implement a regular systematic program to asses and explore the potential impacts of disruption. If you don’t have people who are out there looking for both threats and opportunities, then you won’t see either of them coming.

You should formally assign a team that is posing such questions as:

  • Where and how could disruption affect our business?

  • How will the skills of our employees be affected? Will we need new types of skill sets?

  • What are our competitors doing that we are not?

  • What are the newest trends in our industry?

Use Industry Events as an Information Gathering Tool

One of the best ways for your team to be able to answer such questions is by attending forward-thinking industry events where you can attend seminars and have discussions with thought leaders and peers with interesting and varying perspectives. As parking converges into mobility, it’s important to still take advantage of the parking industry events such as PIE, NPA or IPI which all discuss the latest trends, but it’s time to also consider attending shows that deal with smart cities, mobility, intelligent transportation, and the automotive industry.

Never Underestimate the Value of Listening to Your Customer

Another great resource for your team to stay ahead of disruption is your customers, so listen in. Not being customer-centric is one of the biggest threats to any business. You should be asking your customers on a regular basis what their pain points are, and to describe them. The key is to listen carefully to their answers. And if you are to be so lucky to be told how your product or services suck, or how your competitors are better, take advantage of it. I realize no one likes to be told what they do wrong or how their arch nemesis does it better. But, this information is gold, so you better get over yourself pretty quickly and take copious notes.

Take What You Learned and Do Something with It

You didn’t formally charge that team of talent with all that learning, listening and thinking for nothing. With all that knowledge and customer feedback in mind, they need to look for new and innovative ways to solve problems or simplify processes with your business solutions.

Keep in mind that emerging technologies are causing consumer behaviors to change and, in some cases, where a product used to fulfill a need (for example your car), today or in the near-future, a service may satisfy the same economic need (ride hailing). This is because it will be cheaper and more convenient to go with a service rather than owning a car.

Consider you may not need to just introduce a new service or product, but perhaps an alternative service model. Sometimes new business models can even force traditional competitors to collaborate with one another in circumstances where partnering is more effective than competing, especially in high-risk markets or situations.

Another consideration especially relevant within mobility is the fear of commoditization – and one way to avoid the dreaded “commodity trap” is to include integrated and value-added services. Your value proposition must be well defined to secure your differentiation in the marketplace.

It’s All About Being Ready for Disruption

By its nature, disruption is extremely hard to predict. However, with the right strategy and response in place, your business doesn’t have to end up as the next Blockbuster or Kodak. Your business can thrive in the future mobility and parking landscape through a proactive approach that will allow you to adapt to both technological and societal changes.

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of Parking Today.


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