“Just sign right here on the dotted line …”
At this point you are (unrealistically) expected to understand all the intricacies of your intended management software and be willing to commit to a new method of operation. The right choice could mean a smooth transition, seamless workflow, and increased revenue potential, but the wrong choice could lead to frustrated management, unhappy tenants, and a hefty case of buyer’s remorse.
While there is no one-size-fits-all management software, there is definitive criteria that you should find out before making your final decision to ensure that the software you choose is the best fit for your business.
Stand-Alone and Web-Based Software
The first decision you will be faced with is to choose between web-based and stand-alone (PC) software. The decision itself may seem simple, but it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of both.
It’s widely accepted that web-based software can offer the best possible experience for your business. Not only is your data located on hosted servers for additional security and accessibility, but it also allows for added features for both you and your tenant.
What are the typical web-based features you should expect?
The ability to integrate with partners who can also access your software’s online services is necessary in order to provide web features such as online rentals, online payments, SMS text messaging, and further website integration.
Who owns my web-based data?
Data ownership is an extremely important topic and should be discussed before moving forward with any web-based software purchase. While most providers should (hopefully) provide you with your own data with little to no trouble in the case that you want to switch software, termination fees up to $1,000 have been seen by users just to simply get back their own data. These brutal tactics are meant to make you second guess your decision to leave, but can easily be avoided by finding out before you have made your initial decision.
Will my price increase over time?
To properly gauge the return on investment for your self-storage software, it’s important to understand all of the costs involved, especially if those costs are going to potentially skyrocket in the future. Before finalizing your decision, it’s important to ask for references and to have your software costs guaranteed in writing before committing to your purchase. This will help to avoid being blind-sided down the road with reported recurring cost increases as high as 15 percent, according to users on the Self-Storage Talk forums.
Stand-Alone (PC) Solutions
For those who may be hesitant about “the cloud” or for those who simply cannot access a reliable Internet connection for web-based software, choosing a stand-alone option can still carry many advantages. For example, using stand-alone software avoids the recurring costs of web-based, instead favoring a one-time purchase approach.
If you are thinking about using stand-alone as an alternative to web-based, it’s important to choose a system that maintains current technology standards and, as the buyer, be prepared to think about the long-term choices as well.
Are you actively updating your stand-alone software?
Unfortunately, some software providers will offer a stand-alone platform to potential buyers without letting them know that the system is outdated in many ways. If it can accept EMV payments and is actively being updated with new features, you are probably on the right track. Otherwise, they may just be peddling an older software package that isn’t quite on par with today’s standards.
What features will I be unable to access using the stand-alone software?
Most stand-alone software providers will host their services directly within your system. If you have a decent computer, this can provide a very fast response time for your software but diminishes the overall features that you can use. For example, you may be able to use texting on a stand-alone depending on the provider, but you won’t have access to online backups or online payments directly through your software.
Can you transition to web-based in the future without purchasing new software?
When purchasing a stand-alone system, it’s important to think about what comes next. If you are unable to connect to a viable Internet connection to support web-based software now, that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to in the near future. New Internet service providers (ISPs) are making themselves known regularly, and the more well-known ISPs are always expanding their coverage. With that in mind, you may want to look for a software that provides both stand-alone and web-based software to avoid the time and cost of having to transition again for a web-based solution later.
Knowing these important details of your software will give you a great foundation to move along in your research for a new management software.
On-site payments within the self-storage industry have been dramatically affected by the EMV (Europay, MasterCard, and Visa) mandate of October 2016. The new standard using these “pin and chip” cards hasn’t been happily received by all; nonetheless, it is a mandate that you shouldn’t brush off without careful consideration.
“EMV has been a major shift for all businesses including those in the self-storage industry,” says Bill Lodes, EVP, Strategy & Business Development for First American Payment Systems. “The key to this shift is to understand how EMV will impact your business and what you gain from offering it as a payment solution. Our recommendation to protect your business and your customers, as well as avoid chargebacks due to not having EMV, is to deploy an EMV payment solution in order to provide a higher level of security for card present transactions. EMV isn’t the only solution for payment security, but it’s a key component that self-storage businesses should utilize.”
The main point of the October 2016 mandate is shifting liability for fraudulent charges off the credit card companies and onto the business owner in the case of non-compliance. This means that if a stolen credit card is used at your facility and you are not using the proper EMV equipment, the responsibility and cost falls on you.
The good point in this mandate is that you and your customers will be adding another layer of security to protect yourselves. While the United States may be one of the last big markets to adopt this method, it has already been received as a standard for much of the world. According to Visa, chip-enabled merchants already reported a 43 percent drop in counterfeit fraud compared to October 2015. And with MasterCard reporting a 77 percent increase in credit fraud from those who have not yet moved to EMV, it’s simply naïve to think it can’t happen to your business.
EMV-compliant equipment is great. The majority of available models offer a sleek, compact solution to integrated payments and have been seen as a huge improvement over their clunky predecessors. And with the overwhelming availability of these devices, you should have no trouble picking up one. Your management software provider should have integrated options available to you typically anywhere from zero dollar leases up to $300 for a new device.
I’ve heard rumblings within the industry mentioning that EMV won’t affect us and that it’s not important to be compliant. Unfortunately, that statement is just not true. The same was said about PCI compliance, but if you haven’t jumped on that train by now, I’m sure you’ve noticed the additional PCI non-compliance charges on your statements as well. According to CardFellow.com in March 2017, reviewed statements by processors have begun to show “EMV Non-Enabled” fees associated with businesses accepting payments without the proper equipment. This means that if you haven’t started to see the fees associated with non-compliance, you can bet they are well on their way. If your current merchant processor says that EMV isn’t important, it may be time to start looking for one that can actually provide you with this integrated solution with your management software.
Hosted Online Payments
If you don’t think EMV applies to you because you don’t take any on-site payments, then you may want to consider integrating a hosted online payment page with your website and management software. These hosted online payment pages act as a gateway to the merchant processor and are used to transfer credit card data securely online.
Getting started with hosted payment pages are usually very simple and can often bypass the need for additional developers. The most common use of these pages is by an external redirect that brings you to the hosted page after pressing a “Pay Online” button on your website where you can complete your transaction.
However, for those who wish to keep the payment screen on their website without the redirect, using an “iFrame” is always a safe alternative. This method does require additional website knowledge to set in place, but once done it offers a seamless transition for your tenants when making payments.
The good news is that because neither you nor your software provider ever actually have any contact with the credit card data during this process, it keeps you completely out of scope of PCI compliance. Your online payment liability also drops to zero when the card information never comes to you.
Data hosting is the backbone of your web-based software and should be given serious consideration when choosing a software. An established hosting platform (such as Amazon or Microsoft Azure) can ensure that you have a reliable connection to your data and increased response time. These incredible data infrastructures undergo constant security testing and can provide up to 99.9 percent guaranteed server uptime.
Data centers are measured by a tiered classification (I-1V) by the Uptime Institute standards and widely vary by their security and guaranteed server uptime. For example, a Tier I data center could be a simple server used for a small business or even hosting a blog, while the powerful Tier IV data centers are equivalent to those used by the United States government in both uptime and security. While the exact standards may be more extensive you can summarize them as the following:
Tier I – Basic infrastructure (lacking redundancies) and 99.671 percent uptime
Tier II – Redundant capacity components site infrastructure and 99.741 percent uptime
Tier III – Concurrently maintainable site infrastructure and 99.982 percent uptime
Tier IV – Fault Tolerant site infrastructure and 99.995 percent uptime
The difference of data uptime between these standards are a staggering 28.8 hours of interruption per year at Tier I to a minor 0.8 hours of downtime per year for a Tier IV.
For obvious reason, you want your data hosted on the best platform available. Selecting a software that utilizes these higher tiered data centers via established hosting platforms guarantees that your management team stays connected to your data and that your data remains secure from malicious threats.
On the other hand, a provider that hosts their own data privately may maintain a lower standard of security and a much larger potential for slower speeds and server downtimes. This can be quite noticeable when you are unable to access your software for hours at a time or if you have run into excessively slow reporting capabilities. If you have any of these issues while retaining a reliable Internet connection, it may point to a poor hosting platform that puts you and your tenants’ data at risk.
Don’t Become A Target
It’s undeniable that cybercrime and cyberattacks have been increasing exponentially in both frequency and severity. This means that it is absolutely critical for your hosted data to remain secure for you and your tenants’ sake.
In the 2016 Symantec Internet Security Threat Report, it shows the “spear-phishing” campaigns (targeted attacks from a known or trusted sender sent to reveal confidential information) have risen by an astonishing 55 percent last year, while Juniper Research estimates that cybercrime will be costing businesses over $2 trillion by 2019. Bottom line: Take a good hard look at your data security. As other businesses are improving their security, attackers will focus their efforts on those with lower standards of protection.
Data Location And Availability
Another important aspect of data hosting is the geographical location and number of these data centers available to you. If your provider is hosting data from one centralized location, you can be potentially sharing the same data center with an unbelievable amount of other facilities. This can easily cause a bottleneck effect just from the sheer amount of data being transferred at certain times, especially end-of-day reporting, and a weakened response time for those who are farther away.
To avoid these debilitating issues, you can use a platform that has the ability to host your data from multiple data centers. This not only disperses the data being transferred throughout multiple centers across the country (or the world) to avoid bottlenecking, but it also guarantees that you are going to be using the data center closest to you for the fastest possible user experience. In the event that one data center becomes unavailable, it can also give you the ability to automatically switch to another location that hosts your data without experiencing any downtimes.
Putting It All Together
Management software acts as the central hub for an astonishing amount of utilizations for your self-storage facility, but the features that each can offer are only as important as the technology behind them. Unfortunately, the fact that you aren’t using these tools to their full potential is usually found after disaster has already struck. Whether that comes in the form of user frustration, additional costs, or compromised security, it will come.
Kevin Kerr is the marketing and sales coordinator for Storage Commander, a Murrieta, Calif.-based supplier of self-storage management software. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.storagecommander.com.