By Tom Garden
In these changing times of exponential technology growth, cloud computing and Internet everywhere, self-storage operators should ask important questions and garner some assurances before taking the management-software plunge. When considering a Web-based program, keep the following considerations in mind.
When it comes to management software, what’s the difference between “Web-based” and “Web-enabled”? Many of you have been deluged with these terms when shopping for software to run your self-storage facility and may be confused by them. You may also be unclear about which software companies provide which model.
In self-storage, “Web-based” is sometimes misused to include a PC-based Windows application that’s accessed via Terminal Services (Remote Desktop Service). The program runs on a computer in a distant location but can be accessed through a remote desktop connection.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll use two characteristics to define Web-based software: The application resides on a computer you do not own and to which you do not have physical access; and you pay a monthly subscription for access to your software.
When you use Web-based management software, all of your customer and facility data is stored on your software provider’s servers. As the author of the data, you own it, but there are some risks to consider with this software model. Before handing your information over to the vendor, take certain steps to ensure your decision is the right one.
Get It in Writing
Get a written agreement, preferably in advance of data transfer, that states the exact nature of data ownership and confidentiality. It should also prohibit the aggregation of data, either for your site alone or your site along with others.
Take steps to secure all data elements. This includes all information, not just sensitive information such as Social Security and credit card numbers.
The agreement should include a mechanism for prompt return of the data to you upon request. Specify the exact format in which the data should be returned, the timeliness of the return, and the penalties for non-performance. To avoid business interruption related to delays in data access, specify a time frame for the return of data once the agreement expires.
Read your contract thoroughly to determine any restrictions. How much notice is required to terminate your monthly payments? Is there an “evergreen” clause that commits you to another block of time if you fail to cancel by a certain date?
Placing the core functions for uninterrupted business operation in someone else’s hands―be it a software, phone-services provider or some other vendor―requires you to take responsibility for all legal and operational planning of appropriate safeguards. Consider involving your attorney. It’s far less expensive to have him draft a document beforehand than pay him to research applicable case law while your business grinds to a halt. Have your attorney review all contracts of this magnitude before signing.
Struggles surrounding the retrieval of data are not new, and case law is available going as far back as the breakup of AT&T in the early 80s. Medical providers are now fighting to get access to their own patient records from the electronic medical records system owned or operated by hospitals.
If you’ve already given your facility data to a software provider, request the above-outlined guarantees in writing as soon as possible, even if you have no intention of switching vendors. If the provider isn’t willing to accommodate you, develop a plan to cope with a potential emergency situation in the future. With a bit of planning, you’ll be able to minimize the risk of a management-software interruption. You owe it to yourself and your business to do so.
Tom Garden is the president of Syrasoft LLC, a provider of management software to the self-storage industry since 1991. Mr. Garden previously built and operated two self-storage facilities in the Syracuse, N.Y., area and presently serves on the boards of directors for the New York and New Jersey Self Storage Associations. To reach him, call 800.817.7706; visit www.syrasoft.com .