When self-storage facilities switched from DOS to Windows, they instantly enjoyed better functionality and integration with hardware such as gate systems, scanners, printers or cameras. Some systems even provide ties to other platforms, such as Peachtree Accounting and Microsoft Outlook, to assimilate e-mailing invoices and receipts.
Users of Windows-based systems continued to ask for the many functions the Internet can deliver. Web systems are not an alternative to but a natural evolution of Windows programs. The switch from Windows to Web is not a lateral one but a huge step up in money-making features for self-storage operators. The seismic impact of Web systems on the bottom line makes the DOS-to-Windows transition look pale in comparison.
Windows systems won’t stop running or disappear immediately. Instead, we see increasing numbers of users switch because they realize Web systems more than pay for themselves with added features.
Web-System Architecture: Superior by Design
Good Web systems are designed from the ground up using newer programming languages and databases different from their Windows-based predecessors. The winning combination in Web-system design offers more speed, faster operation and printing, added features and fewer clicks. Still, users should demand the same user-friendly look and feel they experienced in Windows programs.
It’s an engineering challenge to make self-storage software work fast over the Internet because each facility has so much data. One of the most popular is Microsoft’s approach using "Smart Client" architecture that 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. Plus, it 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.
A real draw to Web systems is their money-saving capabilities. They offer users better access and integration with other platforms and equipment. You can run the new product anywhere, on numerous computers, even simultaneously. Users no longer have to spend money on servers, networking computers, maintaining networks or making backups. Savings from better data safety, lower maintenance and faster setup are instant and grow quickly. Here are numerous other benefits of Internet-based systems:
Web systems have more direct, robust links to new technology such as call centers and kiosks, using application-programming interfaces (APIs). APIs are more solid, fail-safe methods than what Windows programs offered to link to other equipment and platforms.
These new Web systems also make enterprise-level accounting integration or batch importing one or more store's data into accounting systems a one-step process from anywhere. Authorized users access dashboard-style menus to make changes to one or more facilities. In older systems, users had to apply changes store by store. Plus, cost benefits are immediate and add up handsomely over the intermediate and long term.
Loading data on additional or new computers no longer requires use of software CDs, and monthly updates are made automatically over the Internet.
For security purposes, vendors of Web systems can keep data on at least two independent Web servers at a reputable data center and make backups daily. Separate servers can process reports. Therefore, resource-intensive reporting remains separate from the servers housing and processing your data. Moreover, you never have to worry about losing data. Web systems offer a level of security comparable to Windows programs backing up every transaction offsite—making these systems the backbone of your disaster-recovery plan.
The security and reliable interface to other platforms lets ACH/bank draft go mainstream, eliminating fees associated with credit cards, and letting managers auto-draft from tenants' accounts every month. Negligible draft fees mean big savings over the long run.
Web systems can offer modules to integrate with your website, letting customers manage their accounts online to view balances, itemized charges and payment history. Customers can make one-time or recurring payments on your website and see the update immediately.
Software vendors can tailor the integration with your website so you can customize settings on the fly. You can easily change coupons, office hours, post notices to tenants or change procedures, such as the number of days a tenant can be past due before being locked out of making payments online. Better access from anywhere and integrated certified-mail processing means less drive time and less fuel costs for everyone.
Good Web systems present owners with revenue-management functions in a user-friendly way to automate rate management. Web systems can analyze rates, filter out customers and units eligible for rent changes and send alerts. Because users have access from anywhere, owners and managers alike can monitor and execute rent changes and letter printing.
Web systems bring good news for operators abroad. Many vendors have systems that translate into different languages. For example, Microsoft's visual studio .NET offers Unicode language support for translating menus and screens.
Web services also make it possible to offer special tax options for countries such as Asia. Canadians have always been able to manage multiple tax rates in most Web systems. Now Australians can find their inclusive taxation, which totals tax and charges in the same software running in the United States and anywhere else.
ACH/bank draft or direct debiting of checking and savings accounts and automatic credit card billing in other countries are different from the United States. However, better, safer programming tools let good Web systems adapt to other countries’ conventions. Operators anywhere can share in the collective feedback and knowledge of a program's user base around the world.
New Program, New Pricing
Just as Windows programs were less expensive than DOS systems, in many cases Web systems should cost less than Windows programs. Only software vendors with the strongest focus on service can write and support Web systems. Owners’ benefits such as servers, backups, built-in redundancies and live updates take more work for a vendor to implement and maintain, but save storage owners big time. Vendors of Web systems have to work hard to ensure uninterrupted service.
For owners, there are no more large upfront investments common with Windows systems or long-term contracts. Web systems should be based on month-to-month plans or annual payment options. Because of this, software-as-a-service means owners have no more than last month’s low payment invested. Providers of Web systems are able to offer more features and services to consumers by increasing sales and installing more copies. Exceptional service keeps operators coming back.
Markus Hecker, COO, has been with SMD Software since 1996. SMD provides Windows-based 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.