Central Parking System Improves Reporting and Analytics With BI Dashboards

WebFOCUS Presents Real-Time, On-Demand Financial and Operational Metrics

Central Parking System (CPS) is a leader in parking facilities management. With offices in all major metropolitan areas in the U.S., CPS operates approximately 2,200 parking facilities containing more than one million spaces. The company’s clients include some of the nation’s largest owners and operators of office buildings, hotels, stadiums, arenas, airports, and hospitals. The privately held company has 15,000 employees and collects $1.5 billion in annual receipts.

Recently, CPS retained a new management team to transform corporate performance. The overriding objective was to leverage the company’s industry-leading size to provide better value to consumers and customers. To keep management on the same page during the transition, Chief Executive Officer James Marcum initiated weekly review sessions to evaluate financial performance. The team needed a convenient way to quickly assess the performance of the business on a real-time basis.

“Our reporting process was very disconnected,” admits Greg Pearson, director of Applications at Central Parking System. “For important data points, such as transient revenue, payroll, space count turn, accounts receivables, and other financial numbers, people came to meetings with different reports and sometimes their numbers and definitions didn’t match up.”

Most of these reports took the form of static PDF files that lacked interactivity and were difficult for managers to decipher. Pearson knew there must be a better way to gather and present enterprise data so the company leaders could accurately view performance metrics. To achieve this management objective, CPS used Information Builders’ WebFOCUS business intelligence (BI) platform to create a financial dashboard that pulls information from several different data sources and presents a consistent, unified view of company activities. The new BI system enables everyone from executives to lot managers to obtain accurate information on demand.

“Our dashboards have been one of the biggest reasons for our success in improving the business,” says Lucinda M. Baier, executive vice president, chief financial officer, and chief administrative officer at CPS. “Everyone from the CEO to the operations managers has the information they need at their fingertips. They can instantly see which parts of the business are performing well and which areas need improvement, which exponentially increases our effectiveness.”

Evaluating All the BI Options

After receiving the authorization to purchase and deploy a new BI system, Pearson conducted a detailed assessment of tools from several major BI vendors. Working with an internal committee comprising nine people from operations, finance, IT, and accounting, he examined solutions from MicroStrategy, Information Builders, BusinessObjects, Cognos, and other vendors. Eventually, the team narrowed down its choices to Information Builders and MicroStrategy.

“When we considered what you get for your money, Information Builders came out strongly in front,” Pearson recalls. “We also liked Information Builders’ enthusiasm. Their account team demonstrated that they were willing to commit their time and resources to ensure that our project would be a success.”

For example, during the sales cycle, Information Builders spent four days at CPS headquarters to demonstrate a proof-of-concept using the CPS data set. By contrast, MicroStrategy provided only a quick, canned demo. “Those factors greatly affected our decision,” Pearson says.

Information Builders also offered the most flexible licensing terms. The other vendors insisted on pinning down the exact number of users before providing a quote, something that was difficult for Central Parking to do so early in the process. “We didn’t want to be boxed in to an end-state before the solution took shape,” Pearson adds. “The other vendors didn’t get this simple fact. Information Builders showed that they wanted to work with us and that they were willing to make the license terms as flexible as possible.”

Creating a View Into Every Aspect of the Business

Central Parking’s Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) department wanted to obtain a more granular view of the parking operation using a number of different performance metrics. For example, they wanted to be able to compare incoming revenue to payroll spending so they could optimize staffing levels. “The better we can monitor trends related to financial and operational metrics, the better we can tighten up our revenue management activities,” Pearson explains.

Working with an outside contractor, Pearson used Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services to build a data cube that contains information about revenue, risk, labor, and other essential domains. They rolled up data from revenue control equipment, analysis systems, risk management systems, Kronos workforce management systems, and Oracle Hyperion financial management applications into a single SQL Server database that provides an accurate view of each operational aspect of the business.

They then designed a WebFOCUS dashboard that accesses this database to display information about budgets, variances, ticket counts, ticket prices, payroll hours, overtime hours, AR balances, salaries, claims information, loss prevention, and other variables.

Previously, users had to go to as many as six different systems to obtain these performance metrics. Now, users don’t have to hunt for information. WebFOCUS presents financial and performance metrics every time they log in. It saves time and helps the entire company to be more harmonious.

About 750 people currently use this advanced BI environment, including general managers, regional managers, operational managers, project managers, and lot managers. Each user can drill down into detailed information within their domain, and also see summary-level information from related domains. WebFOCUS enforces the existing database security constraints within Microsoft SQL Server to create this reporting hierarchy.

“Our WebFOCUS dashboard has centralized all the information people need into a single repository and made that information available on demand,” Pearson says. “Data is pulled straight from the general ledger. As soon as the ledger sees it, the dashboard sees it. This has improved consistency and given people greater visibility into aspects of the business that they couldn’t easily see before. Everyone likes the new WebFOCUS system.”

In a business that deals heavily in cash transactions, WebFOCUS helps CPS prevent manual errors and fraudulent activity by presenting a real-time, auditable view of financial activities. Previously, district and regional managers did not have visibility into exceptions such as voided parking tickets. Now they can quickly spot anomalies and identify negative trends. For example, at the lot level, managers can instantly reconcile their cash drawers against the company’s lot management system.

Getting Proactive With the Data

CPS plans to add data visualization capabilities and enhanced trending applications to enable a forward-looking view of the business. By helping business leaders to uncover and understand the patterns and trends that impact the enterprise, they can react more quickly to adverse trends and conduct more knowledgeable planning exercises. The ultimate goal is to make decisions based on accurate, validated forecasts of future events or conditions, instead of relying only on historic data and reports.

“We want to monitor the business in a way that enables us to be proactive,” Pearson confirms. “That will include putting rules in place, so if something falls outside those rules, we can tell people to take actions to address it. There is so much we can do with WebFOCUS,” he adds. “I have a long list of additional data sources that people want me to add to the dashboard.”

CPS also plans to create a customer-facing BI environment to help clients monitor their businesses rather than wait for month-end statements.

“Customer-facing dashboards will be a big differentiator between us and other parking businesses,” Pearson predicts. “WebFOCUS has given us much more control over our business, and we’re confident we can extend some of that control to our clients as well. We’re making good headway with the technology. Our executives are saying this is one of the best initiatives we have embarked on.”