Contributed by OpenTech Alliance Inc.
Just about everyone in the self-storage industry has come in contact with an automated teller machine (ATM) at some time, but few reflect on how similar technology has impacted our own industry. Self-storage rental and payment stations, referred to as kiosks, resulted from a string of innovations, inspired by the rise of self-service in places like banks, gas stations and grocery stores.
It wasn’t until 2003 that hardware, software and electronic equipment was put to the test in the storage industry. Before kiosks, facility owners used every bit of manpower to drive occupancy and deliver service face-to-face inside a 50-hour work week. Manual methods were (and continue to be) very reliable, but widespread industry growth forced a need for better ways to compete with neighboring properties. This is the story of how one company met that need.
The Birth of OpenTech
Celebrating its 10th birthday, Phoenix-based OpenTech Alliance Inc. was found in July 2003 as a garage start-up company. Robert Chiti, along with former colleagues Mike Connolly and Davin Dameron, drew up plans to develop and market a self-service teller machine to benefit the storage industry, similar to the way the ATM has done for banking.
The scope of the concept, however, was much bigger in comparison, as ATMs were not capable of actually generating new customers. The genius of the project was to drive new self-storage business in addition to providing 24/7 payment convenience without human assistance. What's more, the screen would be customized with a telephone and, ultimately, two-way video to help customers with rentals and payment transactions.
Through the union of hardware and software, OpenTech paved the way to help the industry reduce the task of a workforce. This was revolutionary, and for the first time in self-storage, vast amounts of work did not have to be done by human hands. Thanks to pioneering integration and cooperation from many of the industry’s top management-software vendors, the INSOMNIAC brand has effectively led the world's supply of self-storage kiosks for more than a decade.
Adding New Services
More innovation followed when OpenTech announced the launch of INSOMNIAC Live, The Self-Storage Call Center, in August 2009. Dedicated exclusively to this industry, the service was built to support tenant rentals and secure real-time payments day and night. Today, more than 100 storage counselors serve thousands of facilities throughout North America.
As the world was seeing all kinds of convergence in the online and mobile-channel markets, OpenTech piloted the establishment of an online, real-time rental application to transform a self-storage facility’s stationary website into an automated and functional self-service rental channel. In February 2012, the company released INSOMNIAC Online, which allows for Web-based rentals through a centralized computer in the cloud. A year later, hundreds of storage facilities have been armed with this technology to convert website rentals on the spot.
In June, OpenTech rolled out a pay-by-phone and a website-chat service to help self-storage owners increase revenue, prevent fraud and reduce operating costs. XpressPay offers tenants a secure channel to make payments over the phone through touch-tone prompts. The product integrates with a facility's management software in real time so accounts are immediately updated. Live! Chat offers a personalized service to support website visitors who need assistance. Both products are offered on a pay-as-you-go model and are supported by OpenTech's team of professional storage counselors.
In August 2012, OpenTech announced a partnership with PTI Security Systems to be the exclusive distributor for its electronic unit-door locking system, known as the INSOMNIAC ILock. The strategic joint venture combined PTI’s manufacturing capabilities with OpenTech’s marketing muscle and business network to grow the security product.
The wireless, battery-powered ILock secures the door on individual self-storage units by preventing movement of the hasp to the open position. The multi-talented technology provides individualized unit security and access, an automated overlock process, and added protection for vacant units. Not surprisingly, quick growth in the number of user facilities brought about an increase in demand and growing engagement with this technology.
From the onset, OpenTech’s business model was built to encourage fair competition for independent self-storage owners. The goal of INSOMNIAC was to seamlessly integrate with multiple property-management software systems. After gaining vendor support, the kiosk sparked the “integration movement,” a noble cause (and effect) that changed self-storage forever.
Since its conception, OpenTech has defined a new standard for how vendors work together to simplify the life of industry operators. Today the company’s more than 100 employees serve thousands of locations across the globe. OpenTech has grown to provide valuable solutions that connect storage owners with tenants. Through its complete line of onsite, remote and website rental services, the INSOMNIAC brand has become synonymous with self-storage; and OpenTech has become a place for self-storage owners to find reliable, around-the-clock sales and support.