Increase Productivity Through Computer Networks

Doug Carner Comments
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What if your staff could simultaneously answer questions, process payments and perform tenant move-ins? What if you could manage your payment specials, change rental rates and modify company policies from one centralized location?

The vast majority of self-storage facilities have two managers who share one computer. Managers quickly learn to rely on printed reports to keep the computer available. It becomes nothing more than a data-entry terminal, a mere fraction of its true potential. If this site had an office network and the managers understood the benefits, productivity would dramatically improve.

In business, a network is a group of interacting industry professionals and potential customers. But to technologists, a network describes computer stations interacting securely within a defined geographical region. The most common network configurations are the local area network (LAN) and the wide area network (WAN).

Local Area Network

A LAN is typically confined within an office or home. It allows several computers to instantly share data files, applications, printers and add-on equipment. Typical add-ons include a shared high-speed Internet access, privacy firewalls and remote-access software. Employees can collaborate on documents, and the accounting staff can review up-to-the-second site data. Each employee has his own password and security rights valid on all LAN computers. With a computer always available, your staff will fully benefit from your facility's management software; and because you need only one scanner or printer to service a very busy office, a LAN will save you time and money.

Configuring a basic LAN network is quite easy. Each computer is called a node and each node connects to the LAN using a data cable or wireless link. A basic network kit includes the router, network interface cards (NIC) and patch cables necessary to connect up to four office computers. These kits can completely integrate the busiest self-storage office. The simplest and least expensive LAN is the peer-to-peer network. With peer-to-peer, each computer is an equal partner within the network and defines which files and printers can be shared and by whom.

Expanding With WWW

The office LAN is a very private and secure network. By contrast, the Internet is a global network connecting millions of computers. Often referred to as the World Wide Web, the Internet is a chaotic blend of meaningful and useless information. Each computer on the Internet is independent and connects through an internet-service provider.

Several of this magazine's advertisers produce specialized software that uses the Internet to expand the boundaries of your LAN. By moving far beyond your local area, your network is now called a wide area network (WAN). In the self-storage industry, a WAN lets you run real-time reports and perform transactions from anywhere in the world using an ordinary phone line. You can use the WAN to instantly know the current vacancies at your other facilities. You can even complete a remote reservation without bothering another manager.

Even with an Internet-based Intranet, your company information is kept secure through data encryption. Because the Intranet software handles the communication, a web browser is never needed. This eliminates the risk of employees visiting questionable sites and downloading objectionable material. Thousands of self-storage facilities use a call-center and/or remote- delinquency software as their Intranet application.

A hybrid between the public Internet and a private Intranet is the Extranet. This is a private network with limited and secure public access. An Extranet allows customers to make secure rental payments over the Internet. Another example of an Extranet is the automatic-update feature offered by several software and security companies. This allows your software to automatically find and install free software updates as they become available.

LAN, Intranet and Extranets can be powerful extensions to your business model. They each have minimal book value but provide extraordinary marketing and efficiency value. If you want to increase your customer service, employee efficiency and business control, it is time to get connected.

Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, video surveillance and call-center products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail doug@quikstor.com; visit www.quikstor.com.

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