By Hayden Harrison
Technology is always changing, and more people are becoming glued to their computers and mobile devices to keep up with the world and perform daily task. Things people once did in person, such as renting a self-storage unit, are now conveniently accessible online or through a mobile app. A self-storage facility's management software can help keep operators in step with technological advances, allowing the business to run smoothly and leaving customers happy with their experience.
When searching for the right self-storage management software, keep some important factors in mind: Software needs to be quick, easy to use and straightforward for employee training. Of course, operators need to consider the upfront costs, but they also need to think about long-term expenses such as equipment and upgrades.
Compatibility with a facility’s existing security and other technology components, such as a kiosk, is also critical. When looking for software, operators need to ensure all the facility’s technology will function seamlessly.
Self-storage software manufacturers are in tune with today’s technology trends and are incorporating them into their products. Updating their software frequently, vendors are adding features to streamline operation, increase revenue and improve the user experience. This year's highlights include mobile tools, online payments and reservations, revenue management, marketing tracking, and cloud-based services.
As smartphones and mobile devices become increasingly popular, people often assume "there's an app for that," or wonder why there isn't one. Realizing this, some software companies are adding apps to their products. For example, self-storage managers can use an app to conduct facility walk-throughs and check unit locks. They can also make notes on site maintenance, mark units for scheduled move-outs, and create online reservations and inquiries.
Centershift Inc., a company that provides two Web-based products, is planning to expand its platform to mobile devices, tablets and other non-desktop devices to extend "functionality for users into more convenient forms," says John Bilton, vice president of business development and marketing.
In late 2011, SMD Software Inc., provider of SiteLink management software, released the latest version of its mobile-reporting module, which allows users to view real-time software reports via the Web on any computer or mobile device. The module allows self-storage operators to look over reports by facility or as consolidated documents. It runs on all Internet-ready devices including desktop computers, smartphones and tablets.
Online Payments and Reservations
Self-storage customers want to do business from wherever, whenever. Software that allows renters to make payments and reservations online gives them the ability to do so at any time, even after hours.
“The online payment is popular for probably the same reason ‘pay at the pump’ has caught on—convenience!” says David Essman, director of marketing for Sentinel Systems Corp., a provider of self-storage management software and security systems. These two features are popular and now available from several software vendors, including Sentinel Systems and Empower Software Technologies. Empower will soon provide customers with a new facility-management system that runs as a standalone or Web-based program.
The prevalence of online marketing is one reason more software companies are moving toward Web-based products. “[Operators] made the transition [from] depending heavily on Yellow Page ads and print media for their self-storage property advertising to marketing their properties via their own company website,” says Alison Kiesa, sales and marketing director of Syrasoft Management Software LLC.
After getting online, the next step for self-storage operators was to accept payments and reservations via the Web. Existing customers can view their balance and pay bills from any Internet location with Syrasoft software. Other vendors provide similar capabilities. Reservations can be made by current tenants, so the unit will be ready when they arrive at the site.
Last year, Sentinel Systems added more payment options, including the ability to affix a transaction fee to its online-payments module. The new features also include greater credit card encryption to protect customers and tenants, Essman says.