The expanded use of devices that integrate the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to reduce inefficiency, improve operation and grow profit for self-storage businesses. In fact, IoT use isn’t new in our industry. Access-control systems have leveraged its capabilities for years. But recent developments allow facility operators to do things such as control electricity usage, monitor for leaks, adjust building temperature and control digital signage.
There are still many more ways in which the IoT will help us advance in self-storage, and frankly, the previously unexplored possibilities can bring the biggest benefits yet for facility owners, staff and customers. Implementing this technology may present initial challenges, but the potential returns far outweigh the drawbacks.
Let’s Start With Some Basics
In the simplest terms, the IoT is the connection of everyday objects through the internet. “Smart” thermostats, door locks, vacuums and lights can be controlled with your voice, phone or computer, thanks to the web. A smart lock can engage itself once you move a certain distance from the door, while a smart vacuum might know to begin cleaning once that door locks. Similarly, your smart thermostat may turn off your air conditioning when it detects that no one’s at home.
These capabilities are intended to make life easier and more convenient, no matter where they’re applied. Devices used within a self-storage environment can communicate with each other as well as with devices controlled by the owner or customer to make everyday operation more efficient. Here are a few examples of how IoT is already being used in this industry:
- Smart lights: These can be controlled remotely and set to know when they need to be on or off to help reduce electricity costs.
- Smart locks: These can be locked and unlocked via a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a phone. You can grant tenants access to your front gate and their assigned unit remotely through a mobile app.
- Security video powered by artificial intelligence (AI): You can now use software with your surveillance cameras to gain more information about onsite activity. The software analyzes recorded video footage to detect suspicious behavior. If the subject of the video is jumping over a fence, for example, the software can trigger an alert.
‘Already Here’ Benefits
Many modern self-storage facilities are equipped with technology. The tools of today provide customers with the same seamless experience they enjoy when using a digital wallet at the grocery store or checking their home security cameras from bed. And much of that experience is facilitated by IoT devices.
Beginning with a facility’s website, prospects are able to easily find a unit that fits their needs in just a few clicks. They can then rent that unit directly through the website and complete all the steps a manager would traditionally guide them through on site, including identity verification. The renter can use their phone to take a picture of themself and their government-issued ID to verify who they are. The storage operator can rent out the unit confidently without ever having to meet the person in the office.
After the customer completes the rental process, you can send them a link to download a mobile app along with access to unlock the facility gate and their unit door. The added benefit of this contact-free process is you can rent units outside normal business hours. If your facility is open 24 hours per day, tenants can move in whenever it’s convenient for them.
Looking Into the Future
One of the biggest inefficiencies in self-storage is the time between a unit being vacated and a new tenant moving in. The goal of every facility operator is to minimize this lag, because as long as a space is empty, it isn’t generating revenue.
The time it takes to know a unit has been vacated depends on whether the tenant bothers to notify anyone and how often units are inspected. It might take a few days or even weeks for a manager to spot a move-out. Any gaps equate to lost revenue, but IoT devices that detect and report on tenant activity can reduce or eliminate this deficiency and help you improve revenue. Sensors can help you track how customers are moving throughout your property and provide real-time information about how they move in and out of their units.
Another area where IoT will continue to gain ground in self-storage is video surveillance. Facility operators want a more sophisticated way to know when abnormal activity is occurring on site. That need is being met in part by AI-powered cameras like the ones being used in driverless cars. These devices can learn and flag suspicious movements. For example, they can come to understand that a person hopping over a gate is a situation that should trigger a notification.
The biggest challenge with integrating IoT services into a self-storage operation is centralizing data. For your interconnected system to work, you need a central source of information that can manage every point of data generated by each device.
For example, let’s say you want to use an AI camera to detect when a vehicle at the gate belongs to a current tenant and, if so, grant access. For that to happen, the camera needs to know which cars belong to legitimate customers and which don’t. To accomplish this, you can connect it to your facility-management software, which could house the necessary license-plate data. But that’s just part of it. The camera also needs to communicate with the access-control system to open the gate. This can be solved by connecting to the access-control software.
As you can see, the seemingly simple task of opening a gate for a current tenant requires a lot of data exchange between multiple devices. If you don’t have a centralized source of information that provides these types of integrations, you lose the benefit of your IoT-enabled technology. It can be daunting to ensure all this data flows smoothly through your operation, but if you manage it successfully, you’ll reap great rewards.
Associated Costs and Revenue Gains
The amount you’ll have to spend to integrate IoT devices into your self-storage operation can vary depending on the vendors you use, but there will be costs for equipment and installation. Many IoT devices also have recurring costs, such as monthly subscription fees. Still, the upfront investment can be well worth it.
Leveraging the power of IoT can help you drive revenue in two ways. First, it provides tenants with an exceptional experience that warrants higher rental rates. Second, it can lower your operating costs and boost your bottom line.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine the value an IoT device can bring to your business. In the past, self-storage operators would sometimes wait several years between facility upgrades, but things move much faster these days. The best advice now is to upgrade whenever it makes economic sense. If the math suggests that implementing this technology will help you generate a better return, the time to use it is now!
Eric Gandarilla is the lead content writer for Tenant Inc., a Newport Beach, Calif.-based developer of real estate technology and services. The company’s platform is designed to create customizable solutions for self-storage operators, including property-management software, website technology, digital-marketing services and more. For more information, call 949.894.4500.