By Tony Gardner
Technology is relentlessly progressing, so it's not surprising that the way self-storage facilities are managed continues to evolve. For decades, owners have used standalone management software to run their single-facility operations. But what do you do when you own multiple sites? That answer depends on several factors. The great news is the leading software vendors have taken the hassle out of the process.
Let's start with the different software technologies you can use to manage your multiple self-storage facilities. A model some companies use is called a "thin client." This is where all your site data is stored on a remote server, and the facility computers link to it. A browser, such as Internet Explorer, is used to access the data over the Internet.
This model works well when you have a fast and reliable Internet connection at each of your sites. However, any Internet problems will prevent you from doing the most basic of operations such as taking payments or moving a tenant into a unit. There are speed issues as well because every transaction must make the roundtrip between the site and the remote server data.
The next technological leap is called "SmartClient" technology. This platform, similar to thin-client architecture, houses data on a remote server, but the facility computer also has a copy of the data. Using real-time synchronization, the two data sets are always the same. The advantages of this approach are many, including instant transactions, less reliance on Internet speed or load time, real-time data backups, etc. Both models offer advantages, so do your homework and ask your preferred software vendors which technology it uses and why.
Once you choose a data model for your facilities, youll need to choose a software company that supports that model and has the features you need. Shop around for enterprise management software that offers the same look and feel as your site-side management software. A manager should be able to navigate through the site's interface just as easily as he does the corporate side of the software. This goes for reports, making payments or moving in a tenant. This will reduce the learning curve throughout your organization and provide a better sense of uniformity for new employees.
When shopping for software, look for key features that will allow facility owners, managers and call-center operators to effectively access information from each site in real time. These features will vary between vendors, so ask questions about their operation and how user-friendly they are for the site manager and corporate user.
For example, consolidated reporting is one of the greatest tools an owner or management company can have when managing multiple sites. Good reports will provide necessary data across an entire portfolio, a specific district or any combination that works for your business. This reporting permits you to tailor advertising, specials and other incentives to adapt to a given market.
Making Changes and Announcements
When you own a single self-storage facility, its fairly simple to make setting changes on the fly, whether you want to modify your gate hours or change your delinquency settings. But what happens when you have 50 facilities spread across 10 states? Making those changes typically requires a district manager to go to each site and update the settings, which increases the possibility for human error and reduces efficiency. Through the use of global settings in enterprise management software, you can select all your facilities, those only in specific markets, or even a single facility and modify all settings at once from the comfort of your corporate office or home.
Enterprise management software is meant to narrow the geographic divide between facilities by allowing owners to view data and effortlessly communicate with managers. One way to do that is through a softwares instant-chat feature. This tool is typically accessed directly in the corporate side of the software and allows an owner, call-center operator or regional manager to send an instant message to the facility manager. The better tools allow you to carry on a full dialog not only with one but several facility managers simultaneously. This time-saving tool is great for broadcasting messages to all or only targeted facilities to announce new promotions or specials.
Working With Call Centers and Kiosks
Depending on your operation and the number of facilities you have, you might also use an in-house or third-party call center. Your site-side management software should provide a notification when a rental, payment or reservation is made at the call center. This alerts the manager when a new tenant reserves a unit or a delinquent payment is made so theres no need to call the tenant. Ask your software vendor how it handles site notifications. E-mails are good, but you really need something that will pop up and get the manager's attention.
One part of enterprise management software that is often overlooked is that which interfaces with other products in the storage industry such as kiosks or online-reservation aggregators. A strong interface that allows these products and services to obtain real-time unit information or take and record payments is just as important as any of the other features mentioned. Ask your software vendor how it manages such an interface and what tools or products it offers to directly expand your presence on the Internet.
Technology continues to shape how we build our brand with prospective tenants, allow tenants to make payments, or even how we rent units. From allowing a district manager to access any of your companys facilities from his laptop to renting units through a call center halfway across the country, your management software shapes your business and allows you to manage multiple facilities as if youre sitting right there in the facility office.
Tony Gardner is vice president of QuikStor Security & Software, a one-stop-shop for security and software products in the self-storage industry since 1987. For more information call 800.321.1987; visit www.quikstor.com for a free software demo.