And another thing...

NO WAY OUT. The recent story out of the Garden Street Garage in Hoboken, N.J., could serve as a cautionary tale for government program managers on the importance of having good contracts.

Wired magazine reported earlier this month that the garage, an automated structure that uses robotic lifts and can park about twice as many cars as a ramp-type garage of the same size, shut down as a result of a contract dispute, trapping people's cars inside.

As the dispute came to a head, the city had employees of Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Fla., which developed the software used in the garage, escorted from the building. But the software capability, which the city had been licensing monthly since the end of last year, went with them. The company defended itself by saying the city was trying to use software without a license.

The city claimed Robotic had put a 'time bomb' in the code, causing it to stop working. As the two sides threw accusations at each other in court, cars in the garage sat with no way to get out.

The caveat for program managers is that software companies developing sophisticated programs also are sometimes developing complex licensing deals that could, when a relationship sours, leave them powerless.

The Garden Street Garage sounds like a fairly amazing place, with independently moving lifts stacking and shuffling cars with the kind of efficiency you'd see in a GCI-animated futuristic set piece, or an old Warner Bros. cartoon. (To read Wired's piece, which includes a couple of illustrations, go to GCN.com and enter GCN.com/661.)

But without the software, the garage is just a block-long paperweight, with people's cars locked inside. In this case, the problem apparently began with the original contract. And that, you might suspect, is where it can be avoided.

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