We live in exciting times! The self-storage industry is going through some significant transformations. With new-facility development being stagnant, self-storage operators are turning their attention toward improving their current business and looking at new technology to help them.
Historically, the self-storage industry has been slow to adopt technology, but this is changing. Many of our leaders are younger than 50 years old and have grown up using technology in their everyday lives. This new breed of operators is not afraid of technology. They're open to trying and learning new ways of running their business, with the objective of improving their bottom line.
There are a few interesting technologies coming of age that, if used properly, can have a positive impact on your facility revenue. Let's take a look at them.
Like any new technology, "the cloud" has multiple definitions, with each slanted to serve the agenda of the company that created it. Here’s tech giant Intel’s definition:
“Cloud computing is an evolution in which IT consumption and delivery are made available in a self-service fashion via the Internet or internal network, with a flexible pay-as-you-go business model and requires a highly efficient and scalable architecture. In a cloud computing architecture, services and data reside in shared, dynamically scalable resource pools, often virtualized. Those services and data are accessible by any authenticated device over the Internet.”
Microsoft’s TV ads say, “You should go ... to the cloud” while you’re stuck in an airport waiting for your delayed flight, for example. No matter how you define cloud computing, it can deliver some valuable benefits to the self-storage industry, if implemented properly.
One of the key benefits of the cloud is data protection and global accessibility because all data is stored in a secure offsite location. Self-storage operators use a lot of forms that are all typically printed and stored in filing cabinets at the property. A simple-to-use, cloud-based document-management service could help operators save money, run a more green business, and have a better handle on lease agreements. Cloud computing means the option of going paperless at a self-storage facility is much closer to a reality.
Another cloud benefit is reduced need for local IT (information technology) staff. This is a by-product of not having to install, backup, update or uninstall software on local computers. The cloud vision is that any device that connects to the Internet will be able to use the services provided and access the data stored in the cloud. Therefore, local devices will not store any data and will be simple to replace if the device fails.
The pay-as-you-go benefit is the one many people feel is going to drive significant cost savings, but not everyone is convinced. While this model does eliminate most of the upfront software costs, it may not equate to savings over time.
Scalability is one of the primary benefits of the cloud. It doesn’t mean users can use as much resources as they want, but it does mean that when they need more, all they have to do is pay for them. This means no more running out of hard-drive space or upgrading computers that need more memory to run new software.
Since the beginning of time, self-storage has been a face-to-face business. Interacting with a live person behind the counter has been the core of all processes. Live video is not new, but it has required very expensive onsite hardware and software and lots of bandwidth. Advances in streaming video technology are also, ironically, cloud-based. These new cloud video services are significantly reducing costs and no longer require onsite proprietary hardware. Live video will put a new twist on the term "face to face."
Skype is a great example of this new technology. It allows people to collaborate in person in the cloud. Today’s self-service kiosks have recently replaced their old-fashioned speaker phones with VOIP (voice-over Internet protocol) phones, allowing a live person to assist a consumer at a kiosk. Some self-storage operators find live video gives them a way to supplement the staff at their facility with a virtual manager, saving them the cost of having a real person at the facility.