The Perfect Program

David Essman Comments
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Is there a perfect self-storage management software program? Sure! At least, I think there could be.

Over the past few years, I’ve seen many changes in management software, including the transition from DOS- to Windowsbased programs, as well as the introduction of several wonderful features, such as multiunit tracking, which simplifies payment and mailing tasks, and inventory control, which produces reports showing total sales and on-hand supplies. I must also mention powerful rate-change tools, which allow storage facilities to automatically increase monthly rental rates when occupancy reaches a desired level or a tenant has been renting for a given amount of time.

This list of features goes on, and the larger the storage facility, the greater the benefit the management software provides. A facility with only 55 units, for example, creates a minimal daily workload: processing move-ins, move-outs and payments, dealing with delinquent tenants, printing reports, and generating correspondence to prospective, past and existing tenants. A facility with 500 units is an entirely different story. The daily workload involves the same tasks, but on a much larger scale.

The latest self-storage management programs benefit a facility tremendously, relieving the manager of many duties that were once performed manually. A storage-management program, like any other program, runs on a computer; and computers are faster and more powerful than ever. They do more in a millisecond than a human does in an entire month, carrying out an unbelievable number of tasks. However, many good things also carry a downside. These workhorses save a great deal of time; but when a dreaded error message appears or something goes awry, you want to take your modern machine and send it to a distant harbor.

Program Performance

Many things will affect the performance of your management program as well as the other programs on your PC; but there are four in particular to which you should pay attention.

First is the computer hardware itself: hard drives, power supplies, the CD or 3.5-inch disk drive, the mother board with all of its RAM, and other components. All these devices work hard, some at hotter temperatures than others. Some are mechanical with moving parts. These components are expected to perform within very tight tolerances and, over time, the heating and cooling, expanding, contracting and spinning can cause them to wear out, affecting the machine’s overall performance.

Second is the operating system: Windows 98, 2000, NT, XP and ME are all popular and in use throughout the world. Each has its own characteristics and has been developed at different times. These sophisticated systems form the bridge necessary for the computer to process all programs and program information.

The third element is the software loaded on the computer: programs for business and entertainment and anything downloaded from the Internet. This also includes device drivers for anything attached to your PC, such as a printer or scanner, or any data-storage devices. These all add to your computer’s unique functionality; but they might, at times, compromise its performance.

The final factor is the individual operating the computer. Some people are experienced with computers and others are not. Some have had formal training and others haven’t. Experience and training aren’t always enough—the temperament of the operator and his overall attitude toward the PC makes a difference as well. I’m a perfect example—I doubt if anyone could hold a candle to the number of times I’ve caused a lock-up or error because of my erratic key and mouse movements. If someone pushed my buttons as quickly and randomly as I do my computer’s, I’d go into tilt myself. Most of us make mistakes and get a little impatient from time to time. Sometimes we forget how much time a computer and a few software programs save.

Defining Expectations

We all have different expectations of our computer programs. A program is designed to take information and carry out tasks in a certain way, and each has its own set of rules. A storage facility owner, manager or accountant may have his own idea of how tasks should be handled. For example, a report may provide all the necessary information for one person, but be considered incomplete by another. To one, the program layout and appearance may provide a comfortable work environment, but to another, it is confusing and tedious.

The only way to perfect selfstorage management programs beyond their current abilities would be to custom-build one for each facility owner. But then the manager operating the program may not be in agreement with the owner’s choices. There are a lot of variables that affect how a computer operates, how reliable it is and how fast it can complete tasks. The factors I mentioned above are just a sample of what can make the best management program look terrible or the not-so-great even worse. Many factors come into play when you turn on that power switch every morning.

Since storage-management programs are not customized, any program you purchase for your facility will involve compromises. For example, you should consider if an extra step to perform a standard function, like a move-in, would be worthwhile if tenant information were easily accessible and the screen were nicely arranged. Or would you prefer working on a less user-friendly screen if it meant needing fewer steps?

Don’t get too frustrated if you don’t find exactly what you expect in a program. There are only a couple dozen software providers in this industry, but tens of thousands of facilities for which they create software. Is there a perfect management program? Perhaps not yet. On the other hand, the software may be as perfect as it’s going to get—more perfect than you realize.

David Essman is director of marketing for Lakewood, Colo.-based Sentinel Systems Corp., which has manufactured self-storage software and security systems since 1975. Mr. Essman has been with the company since 1995. He has worked with computer-based products and electronics since 1983. He can be reached at essman@sentinelsystems.com.

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