Integration Nation

Tom Lewellen Comments
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Integration allows two or more diverse products to work together to perform a function. In the past, integration in self-storage was limited to a keypads working with gate systems, and tenants typing in codes for entry. This was a big step beyond the old tire-bell system, in which a car drove over a line, ringing a bell and waking up a sleeping attendant, who manually opened the gate.

Self-storage owners are always seeking better products to make their businesses run more efficiently. Technology has answered the call in many ways. Integration makes these technologies even better. Just about everyone prefer keypads to tire bells, right? Today’s technology allows credit card systems to work with management software, which also works with keypad gate access, door alarms and video systems. The bottom line is integration works, saving time and money. When planning your system, you want to keep it top of mind.

Seamless Integration

The best integrated systems work together seamlessly. Multiple systems that are incompatible or require manual input create extra work and the potential for human error, both of which are costly.

Integration should involve as many functions of self-storage operation as possible:

  • Door alarms should work with access-control systems.
  • Keypads should relate to intercoms and built-in cameras.
  • Customers should be able to make payments at the gate.
  • Management software must have real-time credit card processing.
  • Video should integrate with the event log to allow instant high-quality viewing.

All said, the more a business is integrated, the easier it is to manage.

Integration Automation

Integration that requires manual intervention misses the point. For instance, a system that allows the customer to pay via the Internet is great, but not if the site manager receives card info via e-mail and then has to manually process the payment and credit the account.

An integrated credit card payment over the Internet should process the card through the management software, bill a customer’s account, release the unit if suspended for late payment, and provide a receipt for the customer. That is true automated integration.

Two-Way Transfer

Most integrated operations require two-way information transfer. In one-way transfers, management software creates files of updated customer information. The data is then transferred from the management software to the security software, which reads it.

Total integration and two-way transfers allow dynamic back-and-forth communication between security devices and management software. A tenant might swipe a card at the gate, triggering the management software to process the transaction. If the transaction is approved, the management software signals the keypad to open the gate. This is one of many great features of two-way integration.

A World Awaits

Ever since the first gate keypad, security vendors have worked with customers to design products to integrate other technologies. At first, keypads handled a single code, but were advanced to accept multiple codes, each of which was assigned to individual tenants. Today’s keypads can be configured with message displays, intercoms, cameras, proximity card readers and credit card readers. Individual door alarms have been added for additional customer security as well as to alert site owners against illegal entry.

Other benefits of integration include elevator and lighting control as well as biometric readers (for fingerprints) to provide heightened security for higher-risk services such as wine and gun storage.

Vendor Benders

Three types of vendors have designed products for self-storage:

1) Management software providers 
2) Security products manufacturers 
3) Suppliers of both management and security software 

Each aims to provide great products with exceptional features, but suppliers of both management and security software have a clear advantage. They specialize in fully integrated products and features. Single-product vendors can’t achieve this level of sophistication. The result is integration of unique features such as:

  • Manager access to video recordings.
  • Internet access for customers to rent units, make payments and use other account services.
  • Tenant payments at the entry keypad.
  • Delivery of custom messages to tenants (to let them know about specials or just to say “Happy birthday!”) via the keypad.

Foundations for the Future

Quality integration requires access to information anytime, anywhere. Therefore, you want your applications to be Internet capable, highly secured and flexible.

Internet communication is based on TCP/IP, the communication protocol for wide area networks as well as local area networks used for office PCs and printers. Applications and equipment that network over the Internet are a great resource, making TCP/IP critical to any vendor’s solution.

Additionally, applications need to be Internet secure. Databases used in the 1990s to develop management and security solutions don’t work with the online solutions demanded by business today. Too often, they’ve been copied onto a memory stick or downloaded off the web to be used by thieves. Hardened solutions (Microsoft SQL or Pervasive) are required for today’s applications and tomorrow’s more sophisticated, integrated solutions.

Scalability, or the ability to size the integrated products to your needs, is highly important. Any integrated system should be able to grow with your business, handling small, large and multiple sites. If the integration isn’t capable of expanding, conversion to a new system will be difficult and costly.

When shopping for new technology, don’t overlook the benefits of integration. Some facility owners prefer to work with a single vendor, believing the components will work better together than if they are supplied by multiple makers.

Good integration eliminates duplicate entry, manual activity and unsatisfactory service. In the long run, smooth operations and satisfied customers yield high occupancies. 

Tom Lewellen is the commercial business development manager for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based PTI Integrated Systems, which offers a complete line of integrated management software and access-control systems for self-storage facilities worldwide. For more information, call 800.331.6224; visit www.ptisecurity.com.

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