By Dallas Dogger
Disclosure: Dallas Dogger is CEO of Centreforce Technology Group, which is the Australasian representative for SMD Software Inc.'s SiteLink Web Edition, a Web-based self-storage management software.
Choosing management software for your self-storage facility is one of the most important tasks you can undertake. It’s the tool you use every day. So how do you pick the one that’s right for your operation? Here are some things to keep in mind.
You don't need to be a computer expert to work out what you need, but you do need to work out how you want to do business. Do you have major competitors close by? Are they multi-national operators? The reason this matters is because they might not deal with customers the same way you do. They may use call centers or even kiosks. If you're going to compete with them, your management software of choice may need to be able to interact with these types of services.
Are you a single- or multi-site operator? Do you intend to add more facilities to your portfolio? This can also affect whether the software purchase you make today will be suitable if you expand your business.
Client/Server vs. Web-Based
One of the most important questions self-storage operators need to answer is whether they’re looking for a client- or server-based software program or one that’s Web-based. Even older software vendors are starting to deliver a Web-based solution, and there’s no doubt the growth in the industry in the last five years has been in Web-based arena. These programs have rich tools to interact with websites, kiosks, call centers and much more, including real-time reporting.
However, standalone software is still available and marketed by a number of suppliers. It may use a variety of database architectures but most commonly use Microsoft Access. A number of vendors sell client/server management software, and many offer up-to-date features.
One of the biggest advantages of client/server software is you don’t need an Internet connection. Not all areas enjoy adequate Internet connection or speed, which can greatly hamper a self-storage facility’s operation.
If you choose to use software that runs on your local PC, make sure it has Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) certification. This helps you maintain credit card security and compliance. Also be sure the client/server software runs on Windows 7 and Windows 8 in both 32- and 64-bit versions.
Guaranteeing security could be one drawback of standalone software. If your computer is stolen, a moderately smart computer person could extract credit card information, and you can guess the rest. It does still happen.
Data security is of paramount importance, and this is where standalone systems and Web-based systems differ the greatest. PCI certification and Service Organization Controls Report (SOC 1) certification of software provides an additional level of data security and accuracy. Not all self-storage software data is accurate. Certified products have been independently tested to make sure the numbers add up the way they should.
Standalone systems rely on a local backup to a CD or thumb drive. This is satisfactory only if the device is stored in a remote location at the end of each day. In disaster areas, self-storage facilities without good data protection have been vulnerable to data loss. The last thing you want to worry about is the security of your customers’ information when dealing with a fire or flood.
Fortunately, backups have become a lot easier with USB-type drives, ensuring data is protected. A good backup strategy for client/server software is very important, so don't take it for granted. Test it regularly.