Smooth Operator: Integrating Self-Storage Software and Security
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Joe Burt
Posted on: 06/01/2008



 

For many years, self-storage software and security services relied on separate pieces of equipment to run respective applications. Often, one did not know how to communicate with the other, which resulted in two separate databases that had to be individually maintained.

This double-entry method sometimes meant discrepancies between the databases. This was especially dangerous when a tenant—who should have been denied access because he was delinquent—was permitted into the facility due to a data-entry error.

Realizing the need for a higher level of automation, self-storage providers built alliances and opened up the gateway to have products communicate with each other. This was the first step toward addressing the dual-input issue, but a couple of other major issues were created as a result. The critical component was you could not simply choose property-management software and a security system you liked; you had to make sure they were compatible.

Such compatibility issues still exist today. The word “integration” gets thrown around quite often when a software or security company gets asked about how things work. Defined, integration is the method used to form, coordinate or blend into a functioning or unified whole. Interface, however, is the place at which independent and often unrelated systems meet and act on or communicate with each other. Understanding this concept could be the difference between the system you believe you are getting and the system you actually end up with.

Open Communication

Interfacing two programs generally involves each side providing an additional software piece that lets the individual sides communicate. This is done because it is the simplest road to having the systems communicate. It is much easier to hand off information and tell the other application to retrieve it than it is to write directly to that application’s database. While this might be a very tidy way of accomplishing the task, it does limit the overall support of each program’s capabilities.

Situations exist where a specific access-control function could be unique to that product and may only be used in very specific situations. While this might be advantageous to certain operations, it probably would not be supported because in an interface environment only so many development resources can be dedicated toward maintaining the interface. Most companies would rather work on making their products all they can be. They carefully weigh the decision of enhancing the way they speak with other programs versus adding new features to their own product lines.

Recent shifts in technology and thought processes have dramatically changed how some of the companies that provide both the property management and security approach the way the programs work together. There are a few providing an integrated solution, which has opened some pretty amazing doors.

One location means never having to audit the two systems to make sure they match. A timesaver and as accurate as you can get, one database makes sense for this type of application. Most systems of this type use the property-management software to generate, build and perform database changes in tenant status (i.e., locked out, paid up), making them instantly available to the access control and security portion of the system.

Detractors will make the point that a company that makes hardware and one that makes software cannot be perfect at each. The fact is if they had both product lines they would be crowing about the benefits of an integrated solution.

The self-storage marketplace has seen many new security and software vendors through the years. There is such a wide choice of providers that if a company cannot keep up with the innovations they probably won’t survive. To think that a company cannot provide quality solutions for multiple applications is preposterous.

Apple Inc. is a shining example of what is possible if you choose a company providing both a hardware and software solution. Sure, you can run your music program in a Windows environment and it works just fine most of the time. Trying to get support from both parties when something goes wrong can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Putting it All Together

I was recently involved in the purchase of a new phone system for our business. We had a local service provider, a long-distance service provider, and a third company that manufactured the phone system. Any time we had a problem, it was never clear whose issue it was, but one thing was certain—it was our issue!

We made the decision to go with a new system that integrated all of our services into one package. The one time we had a problem we made one call. What used to take hours to resolve took minutes, and the interruption to our business was kept to a minimum.

Now that true integration is here, it’s possible for the security system to display things only the property-management software once had access to. A great example is when somebody is using a keypad to access the property some systems can thank the person for his business, give a reminder about rental due dates or newly available units, or even market a discount for referrals.

You can provide a great deal of knowledge without ever having any actual contact with the tenant, which can be of great importance with so many 24-hour facilities in operation today. Your security system will act as an after-hours office assistant, collection agent and marketing manager in addition to providing a greater level of security system awareness.

All of this is made possible by taking the word “integration” by its definition—a method used to form, coordinate or blend into a functioning or unified whole. No transmitting database information off to a secondary processor with the opportunity for data to be corrupted. No handing off from one program to the other with the opportunity for the data to be tampered with or overridden without an audit trail. These are the benefits to choosing an integrated solution.

Deciding what is right for your business should be an informed decision. Making sure the products you have chosen work together is even more critical. If all is well, you should never have to think about how different functions are interacting. This should be the goal. One management program might be more comfortable, and you might like a unique feature on a different security program. Chances are they will work fine together, but keep in mind the benefits of an integrated solution when weighing your decision. It might just be the best for you in the long run.

Joe Burt is the international sales manager for Sentinel Systems Corp., a manufacturer of mini-storage and self-storage software for property management, gate-access security and individual door alarms. Founded in 1976, Sentinel continues to lead the way in self-storage security and software solutions. For more information, call 800.456.9955; visit www.sentinelsystems.com.