Parking in the Cloud: SP+ Migrates Legacy Systems to AWS
This is a guest post from Chris Ratliff is the Senior Vice President, Digital Information & Technology for SP+.
SP+ facilitates the efficient movement of people, vehicles and personal belongings with the goal of enhancing the consumer experience while improving bottom line results for our clients. We are active in the travel and hospitality industry in a variety of ways. For instance, SP+ is the leading provider of professional parking management services throughout North America. We specialize in maximizing parking profitability for our clients while at the same time making the parking experience an enjoyable one for parking consumers through things like our parking.com platform. We also offer sophisticated shuttle bus services for airports, municipalities, government agencies, corporate office buildings, hotels, and more. And you can’t have travel without luggage – and we work to make the experience better there too, serving as a trusted baggage management partner for major airlines, cruise lines, and resorts.
As a leading provider of technology-driven mobility solutions for aviation, commercial, travel and hospitality, and institutional clients throughout North America, we first dipped our feet into the AWS pool when we made the bold decision to dump our hardware and wired ways and dive head-first into the new and shiny cloud-based world. Goodbye legacy systems, hello AWS with all its flexibility.
After receiving an enthusiastic nod from our CEO and Chief Growth Officer (in part due to the ability to dynamically control our technology costs), I met with my IT team. They were ecstatic (yes, actually ecstatic) to add this challenge onto their already packed workloads. Seriously, talks of career advancement, developing new skills combined with excitement of getting to work within the most cutting-edge platform quickly rose above the typical white noise of their keyboards. I had more than their attention—I had their engagement.
As a team, we prepared to immerse ourselves in the “lift and shift” migration process and forfeit some evenings and weekends to training, certifications, testing, errors, and more testing. We were even ready to take on the usual pack of old-school naysayers who like things “just the way they are” and would need to physically see and feel the value before they got on board.
Some real value began to show as we began migrating our legacy systems to operate on AWS. First, the “lift-and-shift” to AWS was practically seamless to most end users because it was conducted online and required limited to no system downtime. It felt as if we were completing some type of covert operation right underneath everyone’s noses. By the time anyone would have the time to object, the job was done, the system was loaded, and the users were already working on a better, stable platform—whether they knew it or not. We didn’t need the fanfare of a publicized kickoff or launch. Silent satisfaction.
We immediately recognized the dynamic opportunities ahead of us and the long-and-lasting cost savings. However, as we now approach the 80% mark toward our full migration, the benefits from a time savings standpoint already seem priceless. For instance, it used to take us nearly 60 days to procure and build a new server. Now, it takes just 60 minutes since we’ve moved to AWS. Multiply that comparison by the number of databases and we’ve shaved years off the time investment for procuring a server. In fact, the cost-, time- and space-savings trifecta from our servers is just one example of where we now have the resources to re-shift our efforts to increase operational efficiencies and better align with the needs of our business without adding staff. Along the way, we picked up additional efficiencies and cut our total number of servers by nearly 30%.
In addition to gaining material savings on capital hardware, we are also cutting costs on licensing fees and all the administration that goes into managing those licenses.
No Going Back
Admittedly, we’re hooked. We’ve become particularly hooked on our new development lifecycle environment with AWS, which allows us to experiment with proof concepts with such ease. We appreciate the open format of the application programming interface (API) technology for simplifying communications between our internal apps and integrating with our partners’ apps.
As clients began looking to us for more information and planning support, we needed to be able to build and scale our computing environments quickly to meet those demands. As a result, AWS was used for the recent launch of our full technology suite, which we branded as Sphere, Technology by SP+.
Parking Habits – Real Estate Owners Want More Data from More Sources
Whether it’s airports, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, or entertainment venues, our clients are constantly looking to expand their breadth of services to capture more of what customers are able to spend. How much time and money are you able to spend here? How often and when can we expect you? The goal is to optimize the time, frequency, and ultimately revenue from each and every customer who patrons a business.
Owners use sales figures, occupancy rates, and other metrics to forecast their business plans. As a parking operator and management company, we have a solid reputation as a valuable planning partner by offering an extra layer of data. We are often the first, last and in-between point-of-contact with guests, affording us a unique look into customer transportation habits. The tools available to us via Amazon Lightsail help us capture useful data used to understand a client’s parking customers and tailor our services to optimize performance and capabilities to fit each location.
To attract and retain business, we strive to offer a frictionless experience for customers who park their vehicles at the facilities we operate. User-friendly search, parking reservation, and a payment platform through parking.com made that possible. Parking.com was our flagship project originated using AWS, rather than part of our overall migration. AWS allows us to provide 100% uptime on our sites and deal with on-demand transactions without delay.
Some Honest Advice
At heart, behind the fancy title, I’m also a techie who likes to have the best, fastest, smartest stuff. I have to admit that AWS satisfies that craving. However, every great endeavor has its challenges. We did some things very well. Other things, well…I would have done differently. Take my advice.
Infrastructure Experts Are Fundamentally Not Developers. Every person on our amazing Integration Team was eager and ready to get their hands (and minds) dirty with this project. We all wanted this to happen. The first and foremost lesson I learned is that we could have saved some time and extended some of that early momentum if we had trained our non-development folks to learn some key dev skills before we even started the project. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is key when moving to the public cloud. Ultimately, the best way to ensure successful system deployments is to make sure most of your team ready and comfortable with reading and modifying code. If you’re planning to do this, start the prep work and training early so that all team members are on the same page and able to contribute and troubleshoot from the starting point. Trust me, that would have been worth the effort.
There are so many incredible resources available. We leveraged consultants, online classes and other AWS Support staff and other AWS users. We still rely on these resources because AWS Cloud offerings are dynamic and there is always more to learn. The AWS team has also been spectacular to work with.
It Comes from the Top. The SP+ Executive Team, starting with CEO Marc Baumann were champions for this initiative from its inception. They listened, they understood, they recognized the value, then they advocated our efforts at every turn. The top-level support continues to be a critical component of our successful migration.
Stop Buying Stuff Sooner. My budget and forecast have been scaled based on purchases. I no longer require servers, hardware or wires. In fact, I no longer need the stuff I already have.
My Next Steps
Next, I can’t wait to get into the Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) aspects of AWS. This is where I really see SP+ raising the bar even higher for our industry by bringing our clients the best data and our customers the best services possible. Specifically, the ability to mine multiple data sources and advance any anomalies quickly.
Anything Else? Ask me again in six months — we’re just getting started.
Learn more about how AWS is transforming the travel industry at aws.com/travel.
Chris Ratliff is the Senior Vice President, Digital Information & Technology for SP+. Chris joined SP+ in 2016, and is responsible for the strategic direction and support of the company’s technical ecosystem.
About SP Plus Corporation (SP+)
SP+ facilitates the efficient movement of people, vehicles and personal belongings with the goal of enhancing the consumer experience while improving bottom line results for our clients. The Company provides professional parking management, ground transportation, remote baggage check-in and handling, facility maintenance, security, event logistics, and other technology-driven mobility solutions to aviation, commercial, hospitality, healthcare and government clients across North America. For more information, visit www.spplus.com.