New technological products on the market include keyboards that reduce hand fatigue, read driver's licenses and credit cards, or have an integrated trackball. Wireless microphones provide hands-free typing, and there are printers so complete they fax and copy, or so portable a manager can print a lease while standing beside a rented unit.
If your site is large, you may have one staffer who spends most of his day entering data into the management computer. This level of use can lead to a repetitive strain injury that reduces his typing efficiency and may burden you with a worker's compensation claim. The problem is a standard keyboard causes the human hand to twist at an angle. The easiest solution is to use a split keyboard like the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite 2.0 ($30).
Another clever keyboard is the UniTech K2724 ($150), which has a built-in magnetic card reader. If your management software supports on-demand credit-card processing, this keyboard with save you time and reduce typing errors. You'll also receive the lowest merchant-banking fees available.
Management software requires constant hand travel between the keyboard and mouse. The DataDesk TrackBoard ($63) has an integrated trackball that replaces the mouse. Unless you have ever tried a trackball, you might not appreciate its ease of use. Having a trackball in the keyboard minimizes hand movement while your eyes stay focused on the management screen.
Voice-recognition software is an alternative to using a keyboard. The software installs on your management computer and analyzes your voice commands. This is a great tool for writing letters and issuing keyboard commands. When paired with a wireless microphone, you have a powerful office tool. The ever-popular Naturally Speaking Preferred 7.0 by Dragon is only $145. However, voice-recognition software won't save you time entering a new tenant's information when the name or address is difficult to pronounce.
A more common input tool is the scanner, which is a tabletop unit that digitizes leases and driver's licenses for permanent storage within your management computer. Scanner software lets you print copies or translate the image into a text document. A good quality 600x1200 resolution scanner will run you less than $80 and represents an indispensable office tool.
You can acquire a single unit that is scanner and printer, but combining hardware does not ensure the best of both products. In fact, these do-everything units use complex software that may be problematic to your computer's stability and performance speed.
It is safer to purchase a printer as a separate device. Personally, I am partial to the Epson brand. Its units are fast, quiet and rarely need servicing. Epson paper trays are large, and the ink cartridges are reasonably priced. If portability is your strongest need, try the Canon I-70 color bubble jet ($280). It weighs only 6 pounds (with an optional I-50 lithium battery) and is quite portable. When used with a wireless laptop, it can print lease agreements from anywhere on the facility grounds.
My favorite computer accessories is the Flash Pen Drive. My CD Cyclone 64MB ($40) allows me to easily back up data files and critical programs in seconds. I just plug the thumb-sized unit into my computer's USB port and I can instantly drop and drag the files I need to copy.
Finally, I recommend you put a sound card ($25) into your management computer and add some speakers ($15). Some self-storage software includes dozens of video tutorials that use your computer's sound system. This is a fantastic way to train new employees and refresh the experienced user. This alone can reduce your expenditure on technical-support calls.
There are dozens of other gadgets that connect to a computer, but it is important to remember this is a business machine. The management computer should be powerful enough to get the job done but not so heavily accessorized as to make it unstable or a source of distraction for the manager. I remember one facility where the manager had installed dozens of multimedia programs and then wondered why his management computer became unreliable. My advice is to keep it simple.
Doug Carner is on the Western-region board of directors for the Self Storage Association. He is also the vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, digital video surveillance and corporate products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.quikstor.com.