You're across town having lunch with a business partner. You open your briefcase and, within seconds, you are both reading an up-to-the-minute analysis of the occupancies and delinquencies at your storage facility. You run a few revenue reports, review the profitability of your move-in specials, and transmit special instructions to your manager. By the time dessert arrives, you are watching live video of your manager showing a vacant unit.
This is not science fiction--all you need is a laptop, special software and a portable Internet connection. You can use almost any laptop made in this decade; however, lighter is always better when creating a portable office. I recommend the Sony Vaio-SRX77 (www.sonystyle.com) or the Compaq N200 (www.compaq.com). Both are incredibly thin, weigh less than three pounds and sell for less than $2,000.
You will also need an Internet connection. Several companies offer dial-up, DSL (direct subscriber line) and cable Internet connections. All of these solutions require that you remain attached to a wall plug. For true mobility, you will need a wireless Internet connection, but I am not referring to the wireless web that comes with most cellular phones. Telephone web browsers are not suitable for the task of remote management. However, a cell phone can serve as a wireless modem for your computer. This will provide Internet access in every major city and most places in between. Contact your cellular provider to confirm your model cell phone can connect to your computer.
Using a cell phone for Internet service results in a sluggish data rate of 9,600 bits per second--four times slower than a standard dial-up connection and 40 times slower than basic DSL. With this solution, you will need patience and a phone plan with a generous allotment of minutes. Fortunately, not all wireless solutions require a cell phone. For example, Verizon (www.verizonwireless.com) offers a wireless modem card that slides into the PC card slot of your laptop computer. The resulting Internet connection is slightly faster, but this type of service is only available in select major cities.
To accommodate a remote connection, the storage facility must also have an Internet connection. Earthlink (www.earthlink.com) and America Online (www.aol.com) offer unlimited "connect on demand" dial-up service. For a more responsive experience, consider installing a DSL connection from your phone company or a cable modem through your local television-cable company.
Using the Internet to complete a remote link to your self-storage business also requires special communication software. For example, PC-Anywhere (www.symantec.com) runs on any computer with a 266 MHz processor. The company's newest version has a street price of $140 and gives you complete control over the remote computer as if you were there in person.
To go live from your portable office, start the remote software on your laptop and enter the Internet provider (IP) address of your storage facility. If your storage site's IP gave you a static account, that address will always remain consistent. If the provider issued a dynamic IP address, your manager will need to provide you the site's current IP number each time. Some management-software vendors offer IP logging tools that will automate this task.
Once connected, you will have secure access to your facility's management, security and surveillance systems. At your command, you can see current reports that instantly evaluate the effectiveness of your recent advertising and promotional campaigns. You can schedule rental-rate increases and review the daily transactions of your staff. If any delinquent tenants used a credit card to guarantee their rent, those charges can be instantly processed.
If your security and surveillance controllers are properly integrated, you can review tenant gate access and the electronic snapshots captured from the cameras in your access keypads. It is just as easy to watch live or pre-recorded video from any of your surveillance cameras. If you want to know when your manager came to work, you can recall that video on demand. Just ask your security vendor if it supports the features you want. Adding remote connectivity may be expensive, or impossible, once your security system has been installed.
With traditional remote software, like PC Anywhere, you and the facility manager have simultaneous access to the same viewing screens. If you use a remote connection to enter a secure area of your management software, anyone behind the management counter will also see everything you see.
To keep your actions private, you will either need a private connection or to perform your work outside business hours. With a private connection, your work is concurrent and independent of what the manager sees and does. Ask your management-software vendor if its products can create a private remote session.
The World Wide Web Consortium, known to insiders as W3C, is a worldwide collection of 275 companies, organizations and government agencies. The W3C is a truly international organization and it defines the future of the Internet. It has approved several new standards that will vastly improve speed and security for everyone using the Internet.
IPwireless (www.ipwireless.com) is incorporating these changes to provide Internet data speeds up to 300 times faster than current cellular solutions, which is far more than what is needed to provide a seamless remote-control session to your site's management and security systems. "We use the new 3G Standard so you remain connected, even while driving across town," says John Hambidge, senior director of marketing for IPwireless. The company maintains a fully operational test system in Las Vegas and expects to market new service to select cities this summer.
Airvana, BeamReach Networks, Iospan Wireless and Navini Networks are also hoping to release competing high-speed wireless Internet solutions. The result will be an extremely competitive market that offers fast transmissions and fewer lost connections than with the current cellular technology.
Remote management allows you to maintain greater business control using far less of your time. You can stay connected in any situation and remove barriers to your mobility. Technology has finally reached the needs of business.
Doug Carner is the vice president of marketing for QuikStor Security & Software, a California-based company specializing in access control, management software, video surveillance and call-center products for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 800.321.1987; e-mail [email protected]; visit www.quikstor.com.