How do you actually digitalize a parking facility? And how does a technology-based company like DESIGNA cope with rapid changes? We spoke to Riccardo Rieder, Director Product Management, and Torsten Hellwig, Director Technical Services.


Riccardo Rieder: For many years, parking remained relatively static and hardware intensive. DESIGNA has been around for over 65 years, and from the very start it was all about producing devices and equipping them with various functions using hardware components. In other words, when a new function was needed, a new part was added.

This approach has changed fundamentally. The game has shifted away from hardware and more towards software. The devices have become more and more compact as they require less and less hardware or the hardware on the inside usually offers several functions. If a customer wants to use additional functions, they’re no longer installed but activated via the software. In principle, it’s like a car where you can pick an engine with a certain amount of brake horsepower. The same engine is installed in all the cars but you can unlock various levels of performance. You don’t swap the 90 bhp engine for a 110 bhp one in the workshop but instead simply activate the new power class, since the engine has had the capability to do that from the start.

And it’s the same with our solutions. We supply devices with all the potential functions and through the software we can unlock those functions that the customer needs. For example, we used to have a Voice-Over IP on a separate board. We have now added a further function to this on the board. It is there ready and waiting, even if the customer decides not to activate it in the end.

This provides us with various advantages. It’s particularly convenient for the customer, as activation is fast and a service technician is not needed. And because we produce higher volumes of one type of device, we enjoy the positive effects of quantity that are ultimately reflected in the costs - and in the prices. That’s it by and large as far as the product side of things go. And, needless to say, our attention is shifting more and more towards apps and the online world.

Torsten Hellwig: The overall role of software is increasing considerably, while that of hardware is shrinking all the time. It’s a good thing that we have been developing this large database model for 10 or 11 years now, thus allowing us to build on the databases that are truly interesting.

Also for other service providers who need the respective data, for example to calculate the flow of traffic. Digitalization is in full swing and we’re fully aware of this fact. We’ve established digitalization and standardization working groups to ensure a certain standard. At the end of the day, we need to reduce the variety of products to make the whole thing economical. That’s something we’re now doing in leaps and bounds. There will be new user interfaces, all adapted to cutting-edge technology. We will offer Software as a Service.

Riccardo Rieder: Separate roles in the company are planned for this purpose. For the cloud solution and the field of digitalization.

Torsten Hellwig: There will be a CDO (Chief Digital Officer) who will basically deal with the digital aspects of our parking solutions.

And then there’s also the pressure from external sources. Mobile end devices, vehicles that are gradually becoming computers, and everything being networked or interconnected. Suddenly you have to cope with services like Apple Pay, since the expectations of customers have to be met. How do you deal with all that?

Torsten Hellwig: The expectations are definitely real. It’s no longer, “Can you offer Apple Pay?” but “When can I have it?”. I also find it interesting that we’re now constructing facilities in Mexico that are connected to the host here in Germany. Latency problems no longer play a role, it just works. It simply has to work, and, of course, there’s the expectation that it’ll be up and running in next to no time.

Riccardo Rieder: At the same time, the technologies enable us to make more productive leaps, e.g. in terms of license plate recognition. As the levels of accuracy achieved increase due to the algorithms and artificial intelligence, these products automatically become more interesting for customers, who then start asking for them. This wasn’t the case in the past. A closed barrier was enough and everyone knew: “I can't go in there right now...”.

Torsten Hellwig: These are challenges for the next 10 to 15 years. And a lot’s going to change in that time. In 15 years, we might no longer have a pay station that accepts cash anymore.

Riccardo Rieder: Payment from machine to machine. In other words’ the car simply pays for itself in the parking facility. There might not be an app anymore, there might no longer be a barrier. The vehicle simply enters and exits and the only thing the driver sees on the display is: “Thank you for your payment”.

And most probably the car remains in the parking facility and calls a mechatronics engineer if it breaks down?

Riccardo Rieder: Yes, that’s when a service technician is called out.

Torsten Hellwig: Or the car makes its own way to the workshop.

(END of part 1 of the interview. Read part 2 in April 2020.)

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