KEEPING UP WITH THE DATA-ASHIANS
CEO of HotSpot Merchant Solutions
HotSpot Merchant Solutions is a company working out of Fredericton, New Brunswick. Best known for their pay-by-phone parking solution with an integrated and unique beacon system, HotSpot works to revitalize downtowns across the globe. The beacon system is the cornerstone of the company; defining their parking system and in-store customer engagement features for small businesses. It is through these features that HotSpot will achieve its mission and purpose.
“Our purpose is to improve the status quo of downtown experiences through better collection, interpretation and communication of data. Through these efforts, we seek to enable small businesses to thrive within their respective industries by providing data and insight to validate business strategies and foster stronger customer interactions and engagement. This will help to build smarter downtowns with more resilient local economies.”
Q: Civic Technology can be defined as “empower citizens or help make government more accessible, efficient and effective”. Do you think that HotSpot Parking does this? If so, how?
My immediate answer would be yes, because people pay for our products. It’s okay to make money through that, because we’re talking about helping people live better by saving them time in their cities. We help to make the parking system more accessible and efficient by assisting in the operations and managing the process. People are willing to pay us to just be that middle man between the consumer and the government system. I think that this has something to say about all pay-by-phone parking solutions, cities are living in an era that aren’t necessarily catering to citizens needs, and that is why there are companies like HotSpot – we’re hired to fulfill a task that the government has issue with. This gap exists because of cities slow ability to change. Cities are competitive, much more than businesses. They’re fighting to bring more people and businesses to their cities, people choose to live where things are better.
Q: What are the biggest hurdles that the HotSpot Parking App solves?
Parking is difficult, and it really shouldn’t be. What our app aims to do is make parking an easy process, and that is a service that I would pay for. More specifically, HotSpot provides a consumer with transparency. Customers know the exact details around their parking session and aren’t left asking themselves “will I run out of time?”. Secondly, we provide convenience. Paying for parking through an app makes a much more streamlined process. Thirdly, we focus on security. By security I mean that we help solve problems as they arise internally and with the cities too. Cities aim to make processes more efficient, but it’s more economical to hire a third-party who has a solution figured out than the city adapting to constant changes in technology. On the city level, we provide a high level service that enables the city to provide an increased level of infrastructure.
Q: How has the app evolved over time?
It started as a parking payment service and has morphed into a transparency feature. We’ve built out a number of features over the last couple years including:
- Support services built into the app (upload parking tickets)
- Location of your parked car
- Retrieval of parking history for billing
- Ticket defender/parking extender (saves users from parking tickets)
- Refunding unused credit
These add-on feature to make the service more convenient and secure but more importantly we’re continuing to develop the product at no cost to the municipality.
Q: What is the role that data plays in your business?
HotSpot currently has 0.0003% of all parking session resulting in a ticket. We know that this is our level of error, based on the data we collect. Because of this, we know where we lose money; we know that 3 people in 10,000 will have an issue and we need support staff to help these specific people (parking sessions) when the issues arise.
Second to that, data had played a big role in the evolution of HotSpot itself through urban analytics (ie. Saint John Pattern of Life Project).
Q: How does the data you collect impact your business decisions? How does it impact the bottomline of HotSpot?
Data essentially boosts our efficiency which reduces our operating costs, as noted in the above example. It helps us understand the resources we need to provide our parking service.
Q: What role has the government played in HotSpot’s success?
We’re lucky in New Brunswick because the government systems are so connected to the communities – you know, one degree of separation. This allowed for us to work and collaborate with the government to pilot the parking service and build out various features, things like ticket defender are a result of this collaboration and innovation.
Q: HotSpot Parking in 2021 – what can we expect that to look like? What are the emerging movements in the parking industry?
Parking is very fragmented, and it’s very bureaucratic and very political. It’s eventually going to disappear with more autonomous cars. Parking will be a past-problem and this is something we shouldn’t be scared of, rather something we should adapt to. Any parking company would tell you this – they, we, understand the industry is changing and it’s a reality of the business.