By Ken Hendrickson and James Sorenson
Editor’s Note: The authors of this article own a company that provides Web-based self-storage management software. Their opinions are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
When looking for software to manage your self-storage facility, you want to ensure the program fits your needs and enables you to accomplish future goals. There’s a plethora of options on the market today, which can make it difficult to determine which is right for your business. In this article, we’ll discuss the available platforms (standalone, Web-enabled and Web-based) and their differences. Then we’ll specifically examine the benefits of Web-based programs.
Standalone, or PC-based, software is a traditional platform with which many of you are probably familiar. With this type of program, you download it to your main computer, and it stores all of its data there. The biggest drawback is it can’t facilitate online payments, reservations or real-time reports. It can meet many of your operational needs; however, it lacks flexibility and key features that make it much easier to manage a storage facility in today’s technology-centric environment.
Web-Enabled vs. Web-Based
Web-enabled and Web-based (aka cloud-based) are the two most common software platforms in the self-storage industry today. While they sound similar, there are many differences between them. People use the term “Web-based” pretty freely, but not everyone understands what it really means.
For example, a recent Inside Self-Storage poll asked participants what kind of management software they use. Thirty-nine percent said they use Web-based (cloud-based) software, and 25 percent indicated they use a Web-enabled software. But are those numbers accurate? Do those who are using a Web-enabled program believe they’re using a Web-based program? The number of users claiming their software is cloud-based seems high considering some of the biggest software providers in the industry are Web-enabled.
What does it mean if your software is Web-enabled? It means that while program is installed on a single computer, it communicates with the software provider’s servers for bug fixes and updates as well as the backup and storage of data. Many storage operators who think they have a Web-based program are really using a Web-enabled program.
The easiest way to determine which type of software you’re using is to try accessing it through a smartphone, tablet or some device other than the office computer. Can you fully access the program in its entirety without having to use a remote-access program? Another good way to determine which type of software you have is to ask yourself, “Did I have to download anything onto an actual computer to make the software work?” If the answer is “yes,” then your program isn’t Web-based.
Now let’s talk about Web-based (cloud-based) software, which isn’t installed on a computer. Instead, it’s accessed by logging onto a website through a browser such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Safari. When you use a Web-based software, you can access it through any computer, smartphone or tablet that has an Internet connection. You can log in from anywhere: home, work or another remote location.
The Benefits of Web-Based
So now that you understand the differences between the three platforms, why should you care? So you can make an informed decision about which platform to use. Here’s why some self-storage operators are leaning toward a Web-based platform:
Updates, bugs and backups. With a Web-based program, you don't have to worry about software updates—they’re typically done at night, take just a few minutes of downtime, and are ready to go the next time you open your program. You don't have to download or install anything. You never need to worry about updating to Windows Vista, 8 or 10. The software is always live and up-to-date.
You also experience fewer “bugs.” Because the software can be updated so easily, any problems can be fixed, tested and updated quickly.
Finally, you never have to worry about backing up data or losing it due to some catastrophic event. The software company is backing up the data in multiple ways and places to prevent any kind of loss.
Accessibility. One of the biggest advantages of Web-based software is the many ways to access your data. This is ideal for self-storage facilities that don’t have staff on the premises around the clock. Being able to access the software remotely to take a payment, rent a unit or look up a gate code is a huge benefit. A widely accessible program can increase the efficiency and profitability of a storage business almost immediately.
Not only are there huge benefits for facility owner, there are benefits for the end user, too. Potential tenants have a better experience, and current tenants are taken care of quicker and more efficiently. It doesn't matter where the owner or manager is or what time of day it is, they always have access to the software and, ultimately, to the information they need to take care of business.
Online tools. With a Web-based program, you gain important online tools such as recurring billing, online payments and rentals, and e-mail and text-message reminders—all ready to go. You don't have to figure out how integrate your website with your software. Since both are Web-based, most will integrate seamlessly. Some vendors can also provide a website as part of their program. You can be up and running, taking online payments and rentals in hours, and the process is smooth.
Cost. Because Web-based software is easily updated and supported, it’s typically inexpensive. This is a win-win for the provider and facility operator.
Support. One of the most important factors for any software is support. Web-based programs are more easily supported than Web-enabled ones. This is because the provider can access the information alongside the user, see exactly what the user sees, and often fix the issue quickly. It’s one of the main reasons these programs are inexpensive.
When picking a self-storage software platform, it’s important to identify your business needs and wants. Then make a thoughtful and logical decision that best fits your operation going into the future.
Ken Hendrickson and James Sorenson are co-owners of Easy Storage Solutions, a provider of Web-based management software for small to mid-sized self-storage facilities, and RIZE Marketing, a full-service marketing agency serving self-storage operators. For more information, call 888.958.5967; visit www.storageunitsoftware.com or www.selfstoragemarketing.net.