May 6, 2008 By Paul W. Taylor
Everything you know about parking tickets is probably true. They get more expensive the longer they linger in your glove compartment. They're also lucrative revenue streams for local governments - if there are cost-effective means of issuance, tracking delinquencies, handling appeals and ultimately suspending scofflaws' vehicle registrations.
Parking tickets also provide a case study in operating shared services while reducing reliance on the general fund.
Two decades ago, Inglewood, Calif., developed an enterprise service for processing parking tickets. Inglewood began assisting its neighbors for a fee - soon 80 entities across the country were signed up, including large cities. In late 2004, the processing service that had run quietly in the city's IT shop met with crisis. Dallas and Berkeley, Calif., each announced their intention to put processing up for competitive bid. Inglewood had already lost Chicago a few years earlier.
Michael Falkow is director of Inglewood's Information Technology and Communication Department, and up until press time, was acting city administrator. Falkow - a self-described project manager/systems analyst/sales engineer - began working for Inglewood in 2003. Before long, he owned the enterprise service - and the crisis.
Falkow found a system teetering toward a death spiral. The city had to quickly determine how to respond to its customers' RFPs. Moreover, the mainframe parking system was more than 20 years old, and the city couldn't invest in it the way private-sector competitors could. Both ACS - which won the Dallas bid - and Duncan Solutions had developed client-server and Web-based solutions.
Money presented several vexing problems. The city couldn't pay sales commissions to staff for bringing in new customers; that would be a gift of public funds. Inglewood also couldn't afford to lose another client because that risked the service's ability to break even.
Falkow and city executives explored alternatives - most of them were bad. Ending the service was the least desirable option. "Our customers had come to depend upon us," recalled Falkow. "We liked the revenue. After all, it reduced direct costs of IT throughout the city."
They eliminated ideas of building a Web-based system or migrating code to a new platform because they lacked the needed $3 million. There was no guarantee of sufficient profits to support the investment.
In the end, they created a public-private partnership that fits the needs of the city, its 80 institutional customers and the other market players. It's now the Inglewood Citation Management Services and has become a co-sourced shared service. Duncan Solutions handles citation processing and Law Enforcement Systems Inc. manages collections.
"Not only are we the provider of this service," Falkow said, "but we're also a receiver. We know it the best from both sides. If we can offer the best practices, contract administration and purchasing capabilities, that government-to-government relationship can be very powerful.
We can also be the watchdog of the vendors." Inglewood still shares in the transaction fees and can collect more of what's rightfully owed.
Falkow still smiles at being called "parking ticket guy," but he knows he has bigger fish to fry in the big switch to shared services.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared as Ticket to Shared Services in the May issue of Government Technology.
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