If you’re thinking about adding records storage as an ancillary service to your self-storage operation, one of the most perplexing decisions is the selection of software. This article discusses the factors you should consider.
About 10 or 12 years ago, records storage was considered an anathema in the self-storage business. These days, it’s the No.1 ancillary service for added long-term revenue. Hundreds of storage facilities have joined the ranks of commercial records management.
There are many considerations to make when starting a records-management service, including space, marketing and labor costs. But one of the most difficult decisions is which software to buy.
To begin, the cost of software should never be the most important factor in your choice. The majority of records-management software providers are high-integrity companies with many users around the globe. Each has a small business package priced for initial entry to the business. Each includes the software, training, technical support and, usually, at least one bar-code scanner with the purchase.
These software packages are typically similar in their initial pricing but have uniquely structured pricing for the long run, so you’ll need to understand what happens after the initial installation and in the year after the business is in full operation. One way to get this information is by asking each software vendor for an online demonstration of the product.
Here are some questions to ask every vendor when shopping for records-management software:
- What is the cost of the software in the initial version and what does it include? (Software version “X,” training, technical support, bar-code reader, etc.)
- How does the price escalate? Is it based on the number of items in storage, revenue, transactions, or some other factor?
- What are the training options?
- How many people can receive the initial training and what does additional training cost?
- What are the hardware requirements (get this is writing) including computer(s), network connectivity, Web access, Web seat licensing fees, Web page with portal to the operating software, firewalls and security, printers, scanners, fax and other devices?
- What are the bandwidth requirements: DSL, cable or T-1 line?
- What are the technical-support requirements on the vendor’s side for initial setup and support? Are there any technical-support limits during the first year?
- What are the annual licensing fees and do they include technical support and annual upgrades? (Typically, this ranges annually from 18 percent to 22 percent of the initial investment.)
- Does the software have an imaging module or interface, a document repository feature, or support “scan-on-demand” features?
- Is there a user group? If so, how often do users meet and where?
- Is there a software blog or forum to discuss issues within the community?
- Is there a Web-based client interface (shopping cart) for order processing?
- Does the company provide user-friendly documentation to train clients in Web-based ordering?
- Is the system work-order-based? How does it operate in actual practice?
- Is there an error-reporting system?
- What are the internal controls to assist the user in avoiding critical mistakes and losing control of inventory?
- Is there a backup system included in the software? What happens if a backup is lost? Will the vendor assist with recovery?
- Does the software include a billing system? Will it bill at the company, department or user level?
- Does the billing system interface with an accounting system such as QuickBooks, Peachtree or others?
User-Friendliness of the System
These questions are common for the purchase of any operating software. None of these systems are completely intuitive; they require the manager to understand the system and how it works on an intimate basis. Operating software for any business is more complex than using Microsoft Office or QuickBooks. It requires business, accounting and technical knowledge, and “power users” are few and far between.
My purpose is not to frighten you away from the commercial records-management business, but to provide sound criteria for good judgment in choosing the right software that fits your operation’s needs. Speak with at least two or three users of the software after viewing the vendor’s demo. Ask for references, and then ask each reference for other industry referrals.
Choosing records-management software is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Make sure it’s the right one for you and your business.
Cary F. McGovern has been in the commercial records-management industry for 32 years. He has assisted more than 500 companies in 23 countries enter and excel in this unique business. He is a member of ARMA International and PRISM International, and is a speaker at numerous industry tradeshows and conferences. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.fileman.com.