By John Fogg
In the world of technology, compatibility is todays buzzword. With changing operating systems, Internet providers, software platforms, computers and hardware devices, making sure multiple products work together can be challenging. Fortunately, the way of the world is to provide or make available interfaces for various programs and systems. In the self-storage arena, this hasnt always been the case.
For a self-storage operation, its important that the management of rental accounts links easily with the management of renters movements through the propertyand, of course, to deter the activity of any unauthorized wrongdoers. The goal should be to have a smooth-running office by linking valid software products designed for self-storage.
The word compatibility implies a relationship. In this case, the relationship may be between several different companies and their products. For example, the management software may need to communicate with the sites access control, alarm system, kiosk, accounting package, video surveillance and the Internet. When marrying software developed by different manufacturers, some limitations are bound to exist.
As new products, features and companies are added to the mix, software modifications and additions are necessary to keep things working efficiently. When you receive updates or upgrades from one of your providers, it doesnt always mean the new features will work with another system. There are several considerations to ensure systems work in harmony.
Your management software is where most transactions originate, so its the first component to consider. You may expect the program to communicate pertinent information to your gate and keypad software. New move-ins and move-outs, denying access to late tenants, and restoring immediate access privileges are accomplished. Keypads will need to communicate with individual door alarms to disarm the appropriate door, based on the code entered. Therefore, the keypad and door-alarm systems need to be from the same manufacturer.
The management software may be from different manufacturer than the security software. If this is the case, youll need to purchase the interface from both vendors. One will not have access to the others product. If youre switching from one management program to another, it may require changing a part in the existing keypad and re-educating your customer to a different passcode sequence. In this scenario, ask your new management-software provider what it requires.
To ensure you have the functionality you desire, confirm with all manufacturers that the systems youre buying will work together. Beware of representatives who say, Yes, we interface with so-and-so company, or Yes, the interface is included across the board. Youll need to be specific which products youre trying to marry. Each company and its products may be different.
You should also expect companies to charge for the interface service. Interfaces take time and development money to write and support. So ask all companies involved prior to purchasing if the particular system youre considering will interface.
Working With Other Programs
With the need to be compatible with additional operating systems, providers and programs, software has become more sophisticated. For example, some operators have linked their operation to an accounting package, such as QuickBooks. Without an interface to the management software, entries would need to be made twice.
Another system with which your management software may interact is a kiosk. Its function is to take payments and process new rentals at an unattended location. The management software will communicate any new information to the gate software, such as a new move-in code or a late customer whos settling debt. (Beware that a vacancy seal or overlock may still need to be removed from a unit in this scenario.) Most management software now has an interface to kiosks.
In some cases, because of distance, the communication from the management computer to the gate-control module will be reliant on an Internet service providing a static IP address. Web-based software or one that uses features enabled through the Internet may specify which service provider you choose. The ability to take online payments and reservations directly through the management program and to e-mail notices and letters will be dependent on a provider with a proven track record. Consult your software provider for advice when making this choice.
Guidelines for Processing Credit Cards
Credit-card processing through management software can greatly automate the sales process, from swiping the card and getting the authorization, to depositing the funds in a facilitys bank account. Automatic renewals may also be completed.
New credit-card industry guidelines, which took effect in July 2010, established much stricter handling of credit-card information. Software providers had to scramble to make their programs compliant with these guidelines. To ensure youre in accordance, consult your management-software representative before making a decision on a provider for credit-card processing. Ask him to recommend a processor, which will eliminate your risk and help you be compliant.
Do Your Homework
One way to eliminate some of the compatibility legwork is to choose a company whose products can handle more of your facility functions needed at your facility. For example, look for a vendor that provides management as well as gate-access software and products. Similarly, choosing management-software provider that hosts its own online payments and reservations can strike the need to seek a third party. If you plan on using a call center, ask your software representative which centers can interface with his companys products.
The moral of the story is to do your homework. Work with the representatives of the various companies as consultants. Beware of those who say they can do everything, or those who are inflexible. Most of the time, you can accomplish the operation you desirethough it may not be accomplished exactly in the way you thought. If you do this up front, you will have a smooth-running, well-oiled operation for years to come.
John Fogg has been in the self-storage business for 25 years. He is the general manager of Sentinel Systems Corp., a Lakewood, Colo.-based manufacturer of property-management software and security-access systems, individual door alarms, wireless door alarms, camera packages and more. For more information, call 800.456.9955, ext. ext. 405; e-mail [email protected] ; visit www.sentinelsystems.com .