Muscat Municipality

The Problem

In a metropolitan city like Muscat, parking is always a challenge. Muscat Municipality is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the parking area in the Governorate of Muscat, Sultanate of Oman. Before launching the eParking Service, Muscat Municipality used to receive numerous complaints of around 22 per month from citizens and residents regarding parking violation ticket. Most complaints were due to the fact that the customers did not have loose change (coins) to pay for parking ticket at the designated parking meters. Sometimes these meters are faulty and drivers had to walk a considerable distance to locate another paid meter. These situations were rampant especially during the working hours at the Central Business District where parking spaces are limited.
Traditionally, Muscat Municipality would have to deploy Parking Inspectors to check on the car for availability of parking permissions either season tickets or from parking meters. If the parking expired, they would have to issue a parking violation in 3 triplicates, one to owner of vehicle, one retained for MM and the third copy for the Royal Oman Police (ROP). The Inspectors then handed the copy of the parking violations and manually entered into the silos system. The same is done for the ROP copy. This manual entry of parking violations caused time delay and discrepancies in collection of violation payments between ROP and MM records.
For violation payment, offenders would have to visit Muscat Municipality office or the ROP physically to make payment. Similarly for customers of term parking within the Central Business District (CBD), they need to visit Muscat Municipality office for purchase and renewal. Furthermore, there was no way for drivers to check on their parking violations status until they attempt to carry out their annual licence renewal with the Royal Oman Police (ROP).

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
For MM Parking Inspectors, they are issued with PDA mobile/handheld devices allowing for faster reporting and greater accuracy. Their PDAs are integrated with the back-end parking administration system accessed via a GPRS/Edge/3G connection and a Bluetooth printer to print parking tickets. The inspector in the field can synchronized the fines online from their PDA directly to MM Parking System. In addition, they can check the validity of each vehicle’s parking permit and any fines already in place before issuing a fine. This greatly improved the accuracy of the parking violations administration system.

The eParking Service is a full cycle service. From purchase, payment and completion all done online electronically. It consists of various eServices, and allows users to access the full range of services across multiple platforms, devices and even offer different mode of payment.
The type of services provided in the eParking System includes
1) Web:
Purchase and renewal of Parking Permission (Term Parking)- users can purchase or renew their parking lots for term parking via the MM portal. The mode of payment is using Online card payment via National Payment gateway. Before this service was implemented, users need to make physical trips to MM office to purchase or renew their term parking.
Enquiry of Parking Permission- Users can also enquire their term parking permission status through the MM portal which will be available after payment has been made.
Enquiry and payment of Parking Violation – User can now enquire through the MM portal if they have committed any parking violation. If they have any outstanding violation, users can make payment online via using card payment via National Payment gateway. Before this was introduced, the users need to travel to MM office to make payment.

2) SMS
With the high Mobile penetration rate in the Sultanate, MM was the first organization to tap on the SMS technology for improving the service delivery. MM introduced the SMS parking scheme in 2005 and it has since proofed to be a very popular and successful initiative. This not only brought convenience to the user, it also saved MM cost of installing and maintaining new ticketing machines in the CBD areas. With SMS parking, users do not faced with the issues of faulty ticket machines, suffer the inconvenience of meeting interruption to renew their parking tickets and risk getting a parking ticket as a result of that.
3) iMuscat,
According to the report by MobiThinking .com http://mobithinking.com/mobile-marketing-tools/latest-mobile-stats , globally, the number of smart phone users will grow to 43% by 2014. It is increasing at a rate of more than 60% annually. MM has always strived to provide the most effect and efficient services to the residents of Muscat, as such, to keep up with the development trend of the technology world; MM launches its Mobile application, called iMuscat in COMMEX 2011.
Purchase of Parking tickets: To compliment the current SMS parking system, iMuscat provides an intuitive graphical interface to allow users to select the duration and pay for the parking. This is a further improvement to the SMS system as users now do not need to remember the number and the format to send when purchasing ticket as the application stores the profile of the user.
"Where I parked": this function which is linked to the GPS and Map application within the Smartphones helps users to retrieve their car location after sending the parking request.

Through the eParking System, drivers can buy parking tickets anytime. With more choices of services and mode of payment, drivers now have peace of mind in carrying out their business transactions especially in the CBD area.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The system was proposed by the Muscat Municipality through its effort in adopting Information Technology to streamline its operations and processes especially in its provision of services to the companies, other ministries organizations and the citizens.
The idea of this service started after the implementation of PDA application for parking violations. Muscat Municipality approached Oman Mobile on the idea of SMS parking service. There was a co-operation between Muscat Municipality and Oman Mobile to implement this service which has been launched in 6th of December 2005. After the successful launch of this service, Muscat Municipality recognised the great potential of SMS services. This led us to seriously consider the need of implementing our own SMS gateway so as to tap on the SMS services in order to provide other services for the public.
Encouraged by the success of the SMS parking, a more holistic approach to providing Parking services were conceptualized by the MM management and IT department. Always on the lookout for areas to improve, it incorporates many more touched points for users. The web access was introduced to compliment the SMS parking, it completes the whole cycle of allowing users to transact, pay and print parking permission all from the comfort of their home or offices. To keep up with technological trend, iMuscat the smartphone was launched. At the time when it was launched, MM is the first Government organisation to offer eServices via the Smartphone platform and iMuscat is the first Mobile Application offered by the Civil Service in the Sultanate of Oman.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
A step-by-step approached was used in the implementation process but a whole master plan was conceptualized. The eParking System was first introduced to simplify and facilitate the tasks of Parking Inspector through the use of handheld devices such as the PDA. The PDA was used to synchronise the parking violations and issue fines to parking violators.

With Mobile penetration rate at 185% as of Sep 2012 in Oman, using a solution that taps on the mobile technology is most ideal. Therefore MM introduce the payment of parking permit via SMS as a new channel of service. Furthermore, there is also closed to zero training for the users as all of them are already savvy with the use of mobile phones.

Once the main bulk of the users are catered for, MM targets the more net savvy users by extending the service to the web and the smartphone platform.

In terms of user’s awareness and training, awareness campaign were done in events like COMMEX and the Annual Muscat Festival. Quiz, advertisement and awareness posters and media were used for marketing and awareness for MM eParking offerings.

MM website also features emulators and videos for users to try out the various services. Social media tools like Facebook and Youtube are also used to reach out to targeted groups of users.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
2005 – With the objective of having the SMS parking offering, MM first introduces and equipped its parking inspectors with a PDA for checking of parking violation. This is equipped with Bluetooth printer attached and allowed the inspector to print the parking violation notice on the spot.

Dec 2005 – MM approached Oman Mobile on the idea of SMS parking payment. There was an agreement of co-operation between Muscat Municipality and Oman Mobile to implement this service which was launched in 6th of December 2005. The idea in the beginning was simply to buy parking ticket for 30 minutes using SMS. Subsequently, more features were added to enable the people to write time duration (in minutes) in the message and decide the duration they required for parking. The system was with only English language then it has been changed to a bi-lingual system (Arabic and English). The Parking Inspector’s PDA was also connected to the backend server in MM for checking of ticket validity.

2010 – Online parking services
Online parking services like purchase and renewal of parking permission, enquiry and payment of parking violation online and services enquiry were launched by MM

2011 – iMuscat application
iMuscat was launched during COMMEX 2011 to compliment the SMS and online parking services. It caters to the increasing number of Smartphone users.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
Main obstacles of this project are more technical rather than users as the strategy was right in choosing the correct channel of transaction which is SMS and mobile applications. One example of the technical problem we faced in the project is the time difference between the PDA and SMS server. Therefore, sometimes people got fined although they had a valid parking ticket. That was because sometimes there is a small time difference (few minutes) between the PDA time and SMS application time. To resolved the issue, the PDA application has been modified in a way that the PDA time is locked from manual change and every time the inspector log in to the PDA application, the system will read the time of the SMS application and synchronized the time of the PDA to that of the SMS application time.

Losing network between PDA and back-end system, Inspectors were not able to check if this vehicle has parking permit or not. To overcome this problem, MM implemented a procedure in the system in the backend system to check if the violated vehicle already has a valid sms ticket during the period and it will cancel the violation ticket automatically
Training of the inspector from manual to PDA system was also a challenge as there was resistance to change. MM had to conduct intensive training and workshops plus the offer of bonuses to use the PDA

There are also many avenues for customer support:
- The service itself has in-built features like help messages to guide the customers on how to use the service in case the user send the message in a wrong format or when the customer asked for help by sending the keyword “help” to 90091.

The Telecommunications service providers call centres also provide customer support (available 24 hours) for SMS Parking. Muscat Municipality signed an SLA with the Telecommunications providers to handle customers’ inquiries and provide them with the needed support through their call centres. Web interface with username and password has been given to the Telecommunication service providers to check the online status of all SMS parking tickets (valid /invalid /expired).

Training and Awareness
Users’ Training are conducted through the use of Emulators which are basically applications of the actual services in a controlled environment to teach the users on how to use the various services in the system. The emulators modules can be found on MM eParking websites as well as MM You tube channels and related social media network.

Online System
The users’ mindset for not using ePayment services because of security issues. MM had to organize events to promote awareness and address security issues. Effort were also tap into social media such as YouTube and facebook

Not everyone in Oman has a smartphone, so plan to provide the same application on other platform as such Symbian and Windows Mobile. Connectivity to the user is limited and it is costly for dataplan offered in the Sultanate.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
Human Resources
Head of Projects Section in Information Systems Directorate in the Muscat Municipality was the project manager. Infocomm, a local software company, implemented the SMS parking application. Real Soft, a local software company, implemented the PDA application for parking validation.
The resources deployed were: the project manager, the project team (from Muscat Municipality Information systems Directorate, Infocomm, Real Soft, and Mobile operators), parking violation inspectors, parking administration department, mobile operators call centres, and the public (users) who park their vehicle in paid parking area.
Muscat Municipality also assigned a hotline to receive the comments and complaints from the public about the service. A survey in Muscat Municipality website about the service was put up. With the feedback it enabled Muscat Municipality to improve the service with better features.

Financial cost
Initial cost for PDA is US$52,000
SMS parking – An initial investment of implementing SMS parking is US$26,000. Every year the recurring cost is US$7,800. ROI is already achieved by the end of 2006. Up to Aug 2012, the total revenue collected is US$11,669,554.
iMuscat cost US$13,000 and the recurring cost is part of the SMS parking. In fact the ROI from SMS was more than enough to cover the iMuscat implementation.
Technical Infrastructure
The Backend of the eParking is linked to the Oracle CRM system which runs the other eServices offering of MM. The Online modules uses Java for the front-end and to complete the payment process, it is integrated to the National ePayment Gateway of the Sultanate of Oman.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Corporate Sustainability

The eParking system incorporates corporate sustainability which enables MM to develop the skills, approaches and tools needed to better integrate with the key business objectives, and the manner in which the change management can be done to achieve the organization’s vision. This is achieved through customization and adoption of international best practice to suit the future needs. Moreover, it is easy to change any business process through the workflow engine. At the same time, the project built the capacity and capability of MM technical development team. This strategy achieved corporate sustainability by developing the skills and competencies essential to ensure project sustainability.

Political Sustainability

Political sustainability cannot be achieved without participation from various stakeholders. Therefore, in the initial stage of project, many meetings were held with various stakeholders to achieve political sustainability and secured their buy-in. From top management to the key users and customers, they were involved in the process re-engineering of the parking management services. Feedback and suggestions were sought from customers to improve the processes. The participation of all stakeholders enable Muscat Municipality to build a unify solution with a clear business process and workflow for all services in an integrated manner which enables the project to be politically sustainable for the future.

Economic Sustainability

A clear economic benefit is derived from this project as ROI is already achieved by the end of 2006, within 1 year of implementation. Up to Aug 2012, the total revenue collected is US$11,669,554.

Usability and revision Sustainability

Muscat Municipality eParking system is sustainable and transferable to other municipalities and councils who shared the same process for management of paid parking. The eParking service is sustainable and transferable. Muscat Municipality had also extended the same service to another telecommunication provider (Nawras) from July 2008. Therefore, more customers (Nawras subscribers) were able to utilise the service.

The service is transferable as it is based on wireless connection GPRS/Edge/3G technology. So long as these networks are available, the variable in the system can be tweaked. Muscat Municipality is very proud to mention that Jordan and Dubai Municipality have adopted this service and technology after their site visit to Muscat Municipality. So far the feedback has been very positive after their successfully implementation.

Ecological Sustainability

The successful usage and deployment of the eParking system empowers the MM staff to provide quality services to the customers. The system enables the customers to communicate, interact and transact with the MM without having to be physically present in the MM offices. In this manner, the MM eServices reach out to all eParking customers in Muscat Governorate anywhere, anytime and through various applications including mobile devices. Thus, creating a positive impact on the environment leading to ecological sustainability.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
There are many lessons learned from this service. The idea is so simple but Muscat Municipality was able to transfer the idea to reality by using the SMS for parking payment and expanding the services to include web applications and various payment mode. This is the first of its kind implementation in the Middle East and North Africa region. Moreover, the successful of this service brought about new ideas in using SMS and mobile application as channels to deliver services. The eParking System has also achieved the following;

PDA, SMS Parking, Online and iMuscat services
Improve the efficiency of administering and managing parking fines by automating error-prone manual processes
Eliminate need for parking fine data to be manually re-entered into the database after a paper fine has been issued
Prevent drivers being fined twice for the same offense
 Improve collection of unpaid parking fines
Boost employee productivity
Ease of purchasing and renewal of long term parking lots. Citizens no longer need to waste precious time visiting MM office to purchase, renew term parking permission. It takes only minutes to do that online.
Citizens can also check the status and pay any parking violation online without having to visit MM office. Since the introduction in 2010 till 2011, the total transaction of citizens paying for the parking violation via the web has increased 112%. And the transaction been increased in 2012 up to 83%.
Gone are the days where you need to carry coins to feed the parking ticket meter machines. With iMuscat and SMS parking, citizens can purchase the ticket easily via their mobile devices.
Since introduction in 2005, the number of SMS parking ticket purchased till Aug 2012 is more than 2.5 million. As a result we can see that there is a dropped in parking violation offenders from 106094 in 2008 to about 62521 in 2012.

Lesson Learned

Involved the inspectors who were the key stakeholders from the beginning of the project so as to get their buy-in from the inception.

SMS Parking

The other lesson is to start small and grow from there. Muscat Municipality has already earmarked other services like enabling Muscat Municipality employees to enquire and check on their monthly salary, leave balance, and other personal services.

Control over the infrastructure is another important lesson learned. Initially the infrastructure was owned by a telecommunication provider then MM decided to implement its own SMS gateway. This enabled MM to provide services to all telecommunication service providers within the Sultanate of Oman.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Muscat Municipality
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Khalid Alhadhrami
Title:   Senior Projects Specialist  
Telephone/ Fax:   +968 96792444
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   khalid@mm.gov.om  
Postal Code:  
City:   Muscat
Country:   Oman

          Go Back

Print friendly Page