New technology has made several new, money-making features available. Good Web-based systems are complete re-writes rather than add-ons or enhancements of older, PC-based programs. New programming languages and databases give you more speed, faster operation and printing, fewer clicks and more features. With the right Web system, you don’t have to learn a new program. Instead, you get the user-friendly look and feel you are accustomed to in your old Windows program.
What the Web Offers
While there are different options to design Web systems, Microsoft’s “Smart Client” architecture runs lookup, reporting and printing on local PCs. “Smart Client” means your data exists on each of your computers. Only active transactions, like payments, call up the database on the Web server. The new Web system works even if the Internet is temporarily out of service, and requires little training because it looks like a Windows (not browser-based) system. Microsoft’s method is safe because it does not require using a Web browser.
Here’s what you can expect from a good Web system:
- Operate from anywhere, on as many machines as you like, even simultaneously, without servers, networking computers, maintaining networks or making backups.
- Save immediately from lower hardware cost, easier maintenance via live updates rather than upgrade CD ROMs.
- Enjoy more features on a kiosk-based system.
- Tie in with your website. Online management modules let your customers view real-time data and manage their accounts online. Customers can view their balance, unit by unit, with itemized charges and their payment history. After the integration, owners can customize settings on the fly and change coupons, promos, office hours, etc.
- It’s easy to add more stores or just additional computers or users.
- Save money on software. Web systems are far less expensive than old DOS or Windows-based systems. Users should not have to worry about long-term contracts. Web systems should come with only month-to-month plans.
- Make changes via dashboard-style menus from anywhere. Apply changes to one or multiple stores.
- Download into accounting systems from anywhere. Enterprise level integration means it’s one download, whether you have one store or many.
- Give real-time access to your data to call centers that can enter payments, reservations and move-ins in real time.
- Offer online payments, even reservations and move-ins, from your website to customers.
Make the Most of Marketing
New software has taken favorite tools like marketing to new levels. More operators measure who their clients are, where they come from, how long they stay, and how they found the facility. Because advertising is costly and goes beyond the traditional Yellow Pages, it’s important to know which method works best and deserves the attention of your hard-earned dollars. New, more powerful management programs let you target marketing spending and rent increases.
Few operators who want to get the most out of their investment can ignore the concept of revenue management. Older programs do not offer clear, easy-to-use, sensible tools for managing rates. Good Web systems do. Now, it’s easy to analyze rates, filter out customers and units for rent changes, and send alerts to operators. Because Web systems offer access from anywhere, owners and managers alike can monitor and execute rent changes and letter printing. Unlimited access not only lets you make changes from anywhere, it also lets you link to other platforms like accounting systems.
Make the Most of Export
Web systems come with better export features. Expect to be able to save all documents as PDFs, Excel or text files. Flexible document formats and user access to powerful databases like SQL make mining and massaging data a cinch. Web systems have more fine-tuned categories for tying into accounting systems. Downloading data to accounting systems, be it for one store or many, is now a one-step process. And export features apply to most accounting programs, even less popular ones.
Integration with other platforms such as kiosks and call centers is much more seamless. Because Web systems were written from the ground up, developers have the chance to offer more features to kiosk users. Customers using these automated attendants find a full set of features including merchandise sales, pay-with-rent insurance, specials and more. Call centers, or any offsite user, now have access to stores’ data. Call center operators see pricing and availability, take payments, do move-ins, move-outs and more. All transactions from operators go right into programs, and reports show how many payments, move-ins and move-outs each operator completed.
Users have long had the choice between metric or imperial measurements or labels like “postal code” instead of the U.S.-typical ZIP code in their management software. Web systems better manage and itemize multiple tax rates like GST and PST. With Web systems, they can translate letters and notices now. New programming tools let end users translate all documents including leases, invoices, receipts and late letters.
Web systems have made credit card processing for stores more reliable and added online management and payments for tenants. Credit card payments in older PC-based systems use credit card software loaded onto PCs at the store. These credit card programs can be slow and limit operation to one user at a time. New Web-based management programs process credit cards via online gateways. These gateways eliminate network problems and slow processing speeds of PC-based systems. Web-based systems let you process credit cards on any computer from any office.
What’s more, Web systems offer owners a Web module integrating with their website. The Web module uses the same credit card gateway to let tenants make one or recurring credit card payments online. Online payments are popular if tenants can look up their balance and payment history. Owners, on the other hand, can set rules for online payments. They can force tenants to pay in full only and automatically stop payments if tenants are so many days past due.
The next logical, and imminent, step is completing interaction with Interac machines for processing pin-based bank or debit cards. Credit cards are less popular and less common than these bank cards in Canada. It takes so long for software vendors to link to Interac because the path to completion is tedious and expensive. First software vendors have to write the link, then have a processor audit both the software vendor and the integration, and finally give its stamp of approval.
However, years of working with processors in Canada has paid off for software vendors who forged closer ties. These software vendors now find it relatively easy to take the final step of the Interac integration. Look for it by the end of this year.
Markus Hecker is the chief operations officer of SMD Software, which provides Windows- and Web-based management software. SiteLink offers features such as revenue management, online payments and search-engine optimization. For more information, call 919.865.0789; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.smdsoftware.com.