By Tim Schlee
As rapidly as technology progresses, it’s easy to get lost in a whirlwind of new advances and terminology when trying to stay up to date. But staying abreast of recent innovations can be vitally important to the success of your self-storage business. You don’t want to ignore any cool new gadgets that make your workflow more efficient or boost convenience for the customer, do you? Especially not when your competitors are taking advantage of those same features!
Cloud-based software is one of the recent tech innovations that’s changing the way people look at data storage and computer programs. Using the convenience of the Internet, cloud-based providers are able to streamline storage, installation, updates and virtually every other facet of the computer software they offer. It’s not without its critics, however.
If you’re not sure what cloud-based software is or whether it’s right for your storage operation, read on. I’ll address the major benefits and potential drawbacks you could encounter in switching to this new technology.
What ‘Cloud-Based’ Means
Let’s begin with a little background on cloud-based software. If you’ve ever heard mention of the “cloud,” it’s a term that refers to off-site data storage. In traditional software, your computer is the data-storage site. You input numbers, names, dates and any other information directly into a program that’s installed on your computer—and that’s where the info stays.
In cloud storage, however, your data is stored by a third-party vendor, not at your facility, and you access the info via the Internet. Cloud-storage vendors operate warehouses (sometimes quite large) that house servers, the databases in which your information is stored. A complex of servers offers far more computing power than the typical office setup and allows a specialized team of professionals to maintain the server farm’s safety and security.
Using Cloud-Based Software in Self-Storage
The popularity of cloud-based software is quickly growing. If you’ve ever used Google’s Gmail, Dropbox or Google Docs programs, you’ve taken advantage of the convenience of cloud storage. Its use in the self-storage industry is more recent and less widely accepted, though cloud-based software providers are growing in the industry.
Cloud-based software can be used in place of any site-based program. There’s a wide range of products that offer a variety of services including:
- Payment processing
- Management software
- Call tracking
- Security systems
Whatever computer programs you run at your facility now probably have cloud-based counterparts that offer innovative new features not available in conventional software. If not, then it’s likely you’ll be able find a cloud-based counterpart in the near future, as the use of cloud storage is growing.
By taking explicit control of the storage and maintenance of your data, cloud-based vendors relieve you of these duties and offer a number of advantages that other software providers don’t.
Convenience. The most significant advantage is the incredible convenience cloud-based software offers. Because you connect to the cloud via the Web, you can access your information anywhere you have Internet capability. This means you can access your software and data at home, on your laptop, from your smartphone, etc.
You can be stuck at home in a snowstorm, for example, and still have access to all your billing reports. You don’t have to go into the office to send invoices or apply late fees. You can check your security cameras late at night, or use your cloud-based call-tracking software to see which leads called back on the day you were out of the office.
The new software also offers a degree of control not previously possible. Even when on vacation, the facility owner or manager can still check in on a laptop or mobile device and make sure everything is running smoothly. This expedites your response to problems and allows you to take greater control faster to set things in order.
This feature is especially important in the self-storage industry, where some owners operate several facilities in separate towns or even across different states. With cloud-based software, they can now exercise as much or as little power as they like based on the needs of their facility managers. Other conveniences include:
- Rapid implantation
- Quicker updates and upgrades
- Improved scalability
- Improved system availability and disaster recovery
By exploiting the ease of access most people now have to the Internet, cloud-based software providers can offer a level of flexibility and personalization not found in most conventional software.
Security. This is one of the biggest concerns many people have with cloud-based software, but in actuality, it’s often much safer than keeping information on your computer in the office. This is true for two major reasons: encryption and redundancy.
Encryption is the process of encoding information to make it inaccessible to people who aren’t authorized to access it. The computing power required to crack the encryption keys of most cloud-based software providers is far too much for the average hacker. By comparison, what security measures do you take to protect the data sitting on your home or office computer?
Another common security mechanism is the use of redundancy, or storing the same information on multiple machines. This ensures a backup of all your information at any point in time, so even if one of the provider’s servers were to crash, your info would be safely stored on another.
Cost. While the cost of cloud-based and conventional software can vary widely, it’s often easy to find it for a cheaper rate than conventional software. The upfront costs are lower because the entire process is simpler. Cloud-based software doesn’t need to be mailed to your facility on a disk and then installed on your computer. Many programs can be operated right in your Web browser.
Operational costs are often lower as well. Because of the ease of access—both from the customer and provider—maintenance and support is significantly simplified, which often translates to lower prices for the end user.
Largely because of how new the technology and cloud-based providers are, there are some potential drawbacks to switching.
Internet dependency. There’s no getting around the fact that cloud-based software requires Internet access to be functional. In the event of an outage, your information will be perfectly safe at the provider’s server facility, but it will be temporarily inaccessible to you. This can be ameliorated by investing in a faster, more stable Internet connection, which may be an easy task if your new cloud-based software is saving you money each month.
Vendor lock-in of information. Third-party storage of your information can sometimes result in third-party ownership of that info. Read your contracts carefully. Some cloud-based software providers stipulate that, because they are storing your information, they legally own it. When you sign their contract, you give up ownership of your data.
This can cause problems down the road, especially if you ever want to move to a new provider. The company that owns your information can refuse to release it to you, meaning you won’t have it when you try to start over with a new company. Be wary of vendor lock-in to ensure you have complete control of your data. Ask each provider about this issue before making the switch to any new software, cloud-based or not.
Potential lack of support. Cloud-based software providers tend to be newer, smaller companies operating newer products. As such, some cloud-based programs don’t have the level of support that established, conventional programs do. It’s a good idea to inquire beforehand about a company’s support to ensure you don’t waste time and money training employees to use a software without any support.
Determining What Works for You
Cloud-based software offers a number of advantages, but ultimately, it’s up to the facility owner and manager to determine what’s appropriate for their business. Budget and need both play a role. If your current software provider is relatively inexpensive, there might be no motivation to switch, even with the added convenience. On the other hand, if you operate a company with facilities in various locations, the convenience of accessing your information from anywhere might outweigh any budgetary concerns.
Whether you choose to invest in a cloud-based software for your facility or not, it’s important to remain up-to-date about new technologies so you can operate your business and serve your customers in the best way possible. Take a look at some cloud-based options and see if they’re right for you.
Tim Schlee is a Kansas City native who studied English and linguistics at Truman State University. He is a content writer for StorageAhead, which offers Web-marketing technology for the self-storage industry, including lead-generating search engines and facility-management software. For more information, call 913.954.4110; visit www.storageahead.com.