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3 Technology Trends Impacting Self-Storage Facility Security

After decades of little improvement in self-storage access control, three major technology developments are changing the way facility operators secure and provide access to their sites. These advances help them control and manage their properties remotely while enhancing the customer experience.

For far too long, self-storage access control has gone relatively unchanged. Over the past three decades, little was done to address the limitations of access-control and keypad systems. That’s changing now as many high-caliber, smart security tools enter the market.

In the past year, we’ve moved from systems that, in many cases, were little more than a keypad and a gate, to smart-entry and -locking technology that allows facility operators to automate operational processes. These systems also provide a more convenient and secure way for tenants to access the property and their individual units.

Three major developments have dramatically impacted the landscape of self-storage security:

  • The cloud helps operators control and manage their sites.
  • Smart phones are the new mode of entry.
  • Smart locks have improved the customer experience.

The Cloud

“Cloud” has been a buzz word in the technology world for several years. Any time you hear about a new software platform or app, you’re bound to hear it. Cloud computing has changed the way we structure our organizations, how we operate, and even where we’re able to work. But with all the noise we hear about the cloud, many people are still a bit hazy as to the “why” behind it.

Remember the ‘90s? The Baja Men were wondering who let the dogs out, Michael Jordan was hitting game-winning shots, and you were spending 12-hour days in the office. You were tied to your desk because you couldn’t access the data you needed from outside. Today, we can get into most of our programs and data from anywhere in the world, provided there’s Wi-Fi. The ‘90s version of you would be envious if he could see you now, and not just because you had the sense to ditch that neon windbreaker.

To put it simply, the cloud uses remote servers that allow you to access resources over the Web. We can now run our businesses from anywhere. Additionally, it means onsite servers are rendered a thing of the past. There’s no need to worry about the constant threat of a power outage or server crash.

The cost savings are significant as well. When a server crashes, you need to have someone come out, diagnose it, and then repair or replace it. This is costly from a cash perspective as well as a business-interruption one. Cloud services, on the other hand, have built-in redundancies to prevent the threat of a server crashing and impacting their service. In fact, a cloud outage is rare. When one does occur, you can message Google or Amazon (the largest cloud providers) to clear it up quickly. So, using cloud-based platforms not only saves you money by making it unnecessary to have PCs or servers on site dedicated to running certain programs, it makes business interruption due to hardware issues far less likely.

Options for cloud-based platforms in certain areas of self-storage have been limited. This has made it difficult to access some data remotely and finding enterprise-level solutions for multi-facility self-storage operators nearly impossible. The most glaring example of this is smart entry. Traditionally, industry access-control systems used software that needed to be installed on a PC or server on site via a CD-ROM. What happened when feature enhancements or bug fixes were needed? It had to be done onsite.

Cloud-based smart-entry solutions can be updated remotely, so you can get available enhancements quickly and effortlessly. In the world of technology, the fast kill the slow. If you make an investment in tech tools, you want to ensure you can stay on the cutting edge by getting exciting new feature updates swiftly and remotely. Today, thanks to smart-entry platforms using the cloud, you can view and manage facility activity fast and access it from anywhere in the world. Even if there’s a power outage at your property or your computer goes down, you can view dashboard, reports and activity logs from the comfort of your home, or wherever you are.

Better yet, with the use of smart locks in a cloud-based smart-entry system, you can do a lock check remotely. Tenants can also be overlocked and released automatically. Think of the time and effort you’ll save by not having to physically put overlocks on all delinquent units. Your customers benefit as well. If they pay their bill, their access is immediately restored, even if no one is on site!

Going Mobile

When The Who said they were going mobile in 1971, it meant driving a van from New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Today, going mobile takes you a bit farther. We now live in a world where we can live in Tennessee while working for a company in California, and check e-mails while on vacation in Wyoming. Our smartphones make us mobile in a way no one could have conceived 20 years ago.

From texting to Tweeting, Snapchatting to FaceTiming, we’re constantly using our smartphones throughout the day. They’ve become our tool for everything from shopping to scheduling haircuts. Mobile technology has become so entrenched in our lives that no one bats an eye when they see an octogenarian taking a selfie to post on Instagram.

We’ve never seen a new technology catch on with such global reach. Consider the automobile. In the United States, we’re used to most people having cars, but they haven’t caught on with the global scale of smartphones. The car has been around for more than 130 years and there are 1.2 billion drivers worldwide. The smartphone has been around for just 12 years and there are 2.1 billion users worldwide. Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs stepping on the stage to launch the iPhone in 2007 revolutionized the way we communicate, entertain ourselves and even how we work.

While Millennials are up on mobile tech, the wave of people transacting by phone is across all age groups. By making it easier for self-storage customers to interact with you on their mobile devices, you can take you storage operation further than we thought possible a few years ago. By enabling them to rent, pay their bill and access your facility via mobile, you increase the likelihood that you’ll see these clients come back the next time they have storage needs. Why would they go somewhere else when they know how quick and easy it is to store their stuff at your facility? Going mobile can make your customer experience stand out from the competition and, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re all after.

Leveraging smartphone apps goes beyond meeting customers where they are and making rentals and payments more convenient. One of the most exciting advances in smart security over the past few years is using smart devices to authenticate access, monitor activity, and allow the opening of entries and unlocking of doors from a mobile device.

This technology was proven in the hospitality space when Hilton rolled out digital keys across its entire portfolio in 2015. Marriott soon followed, and now customers of both hotel giants can reserve a room online or via mobile app, check in, receive their digital key and view their room number, open their door, access the fitness center or other common areas, and even check out—all from a phone. This allows hotel guests to avoid lengthy check-in/check-out lines just to pick up and drop off their room keys. It also enables hotels to run their properties with less overhead.

For self-storage operators, this same type of high-tech customer service has now been made available. Mobile solutions with digital keys and electronic smart locks enable a fully automated move-in/move-out process.

Smart Locks

The advances in cloud software and mobile technology aren’t the only ones in self-storage security. Enter the age of smart locks.

The access-control systems of the past served some purpose, at least on the exterior. Twenty years ago, keypads and cameras might’ve caused a would-be thief to think twice about breaking onto your property. Today, we all know that facilities with gates, keypads and cameras are raided often despite the security measures.

Perhaps we see this because much of the theft at self-storage facilities is internal, usually in the form of current tenants breaking into units that don’t belong to them. Why is this so easy? Your tenants know your property well. They know when your managers are on site and where cameras are located. They also see when and where expensive items are stored. Cars, motorcycles, ATVs and much more are all a mere set of bolt-cutters away. We also see many thefts occur and go unreported for months because a replacement padlock was put on the unit after it was cleared out.

Google the phrase “padlock picking” and you’ll see countless inexpensive tools, devices and video tutorials using common household items, all designed to help people open a disk lock or traditional padlock in mere minutes. The same is true of cylinder locks. With so many ways to easily work around exterior padlocks on self-storage unit doors, it comes as little surprise that electronic locking solutions are a breakthrough for industry security.

It’s important to note that not all electronic locks provide the same level of security. Those attached to the door’s exterior can still be removed or defeated in much the same way as padlocks. That’s where interior smart locks come into play.

“Once our tenants have seen how the inside door electronic lock works, the safety of it, the security of it, not having someone on site doesn’t matter,” says Josh Boyd, who owns an unattended self-storage facility in Birmingham, Ala. “They don’t really care about it because most people know that if something is going to happen, it’s most likely going to happen in the hours after the manager has left, and people kind of know how easy it is to cut off a lock.

“I have a guy who has a battery-powered grinder that can get a lock off a unit in 10 seconds. Inside-the-door electronic locks have really changed the game for security because it’s inside the unit. It’s like a personal ADT system. So, we’ve advanced the calls of security while removing someone from being on site during business hours.”

Boyd also notes the convenience and efficiency of interior smart locks and how they’re enabling automation in ways that was previously impossible. “The convenience and access is another big point for us. We can do 24-hour access and things that other places may not because we have these systems in place to allow that,” he says. “The account management can be done from our app or done online. It’s really come full circle on the customer/tenant side—to be able to provide this high-quality experience without having a manager on site. From an owner’s side, the numbers are pretty compelling regarding automation and why it’s so important.”

Will DeBord is the nokē Smart Entry product manager at Janus International, a global provider of self-storage doors, hallways and smart entry and smart locking solutions. For more information, e-mail will.debord@janusintl.com; visit www.janusintl.com/products/noke.

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