ViewPoint: What do you see as the biggest challenge in terms of technology for 2016?

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Question:
What do you see as the biggest challenge in terms of technology for 2016?


James Hafen
General Manager & Industry Principal, Self-Storage
Yardi

The cost of competing, specifically the costs of technology and marketing, in a space that is evolving very quickly should always be a primary concern—especially for those operators in larger markets going head-to-head with the REITs. Larger operators will likely spend more on lead acquisition and digital marketing than they will on all other technology concerns combined in 2016. This, in turn, raises the bar for smaller operators trying to keep pace without the economies of scale afforded to the big players. Coming into 2016 with extremely strong occupancy levels puts even more pressure on the REITs, and all operators, to find innovative ways to keep growing revenue. With finite inventory, attention turns to customer retention, revenue management, overall customer service, and providing new value that justifies increased rents and results in longer length of stay, and ultimately in better actualized customer lifetime value.

Better technology options need to be sought after that provide turn-key, holistic solutions. When we talk about these types of solutions it’s common for people to equate “complete solutions” with “complex solutions”, or that we are over thinking the problems faced by operators. In fact, the real goal should be to find systems that that are integrated natively and designed to more elegantly provide solutions that require less administration and hand holding. Moreover, better solutions will be those that allow agile responses to ever-changing market demands and quick reactions that don’t require re-inventing their technology wheel.

Jim Ferguson
National Account Manager
SiteLink

The biggest challenge for self-storage owners is simply realizing the technological advancements available today and how their business can benefit before looking to what’s “new”. Many self-storage owners don’t understand the capabilities they already have at their fingertips. Are they taking advantage of technology in their current environment?

It’s important for operators to see the huge impact today’s software tools have on their business. How else can they elevate their tenants’ experience, convert more leads to leases, and increase revenue? Are they communicating using the customer’s preferred channel (like texting)? Are they offering customers the ability to reserve, rent, and pay online? Are they spending too much time on tasks such as manually figuring out rate increases, reconciling credit card transactions, calling past due tenants, or remoting into a site terminal instead of having access from any computer to make real-time decisions? The challenge: Owners don’t know what tools exist, or they think they don’t work, or they think they’re too expensive. The technology is working now and available to owners for less than the REITs spend on their systems!

I recently bought a house; instead of meeting at the lawyer’s office to sign, my realtor sent me an email to sign items electronically. Imagine if you could send your future tenant an email with the facility lease they can sign via mobile phone and then email them a gate code in return—all without the customer having to first visit the facility. That functionality already exists in some self-storage management software.

Owners might set simple goals: lower delinquencies by 20 percent. How? Use text messaging, for example. Get more rentals. How? Make the renting process as easy as possible; offer online move-ins and an electronic lease. Talk to your software provider. If the gaps can’t be filled, shop for another solution!

Kevin Kerr
Marketing & Sales Coordinator
Empower Software Technologies
Data security is definitely a prominent issue that needs to be addressed throughout the industry during 2016. With the rise of cyber-criminal activity and their ever-advancing methods of subversion, giving strong consideration to cloud-based software would be a great starting point to any data security strategy. Some facility owners and managers may feel better knowing that their data resides on their hard drive, but anyone looking to poach that vital information will have a much easier time plundering the data locally compared to a cloud system hosted within a billion-dollar infrastructure.

Of course, if a reliable Internet for web-based software is not available for your area yet, you should still do what you can to protect yourself and your tenants. Maintaining basic practices for the security of your local information such as external backups and restricted user access should remain in place in order to maintain minimum security and avoid possible vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, the EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) liability shift to “pin-and-chip” cards that occurred Oct. 1, 2015, has also brought about a more secure system of processing payments to self-storage that is currently being under-utilized. These standards that have been placed before us are an integral part of your tenants’ security and should be upheld by every owner in order to decrease operational liability. According to the Pulse Debit Issuer Survey, 73 percent of all U.S. debit cards are estimated to be pin-and-chip enabled by the end of 2016 for the estimated 12 million point-of-sale terminals that need to be upgraded to accept these cards.

Data security will always be a critical segment of the development and implementation of new technologies, but if you are not keeping your practices current with the latest in security trends you become a target for those who mean to exploit your vulnerabilities.

Kat Shenoy
President & CEO
E-SoftSys

In 2016 self-storage operators have to pay more attention to the ever-increasing use of mobile devices by tenants for reserving and renting units or making a payment online by offering responsive design websites that are highly optimized for mobile devices and leading search engines. With growing popularity of different browsers such as Safari, Chrome, FireFox, etc., you need to make sure that your website and any customer facing web interfaces works on all leading browsers.

With Microsoft stopping support for some Windows operating systems, including Windows 8 and Windows XP, and introducing a new browser (Edge in place of Internet Explorer with Windows 10), you need to make sure that your business is prepared for this transformation in 2016 and beyond.

With the increased use of tablets and handheld devices by district managers and executives, who desire to have instant access to data and reports from anywhere, any software implemented at corporate or stores have to be tablet and mobile friendly.

With small and mid-size operators having to compete with the large REITs who have large IT teams, they have to look for ways to reduce costs, make every marketing dollar count, and bring in new sales. Use of advanced CRM and Call Tracking modules will be instrumental to improve lead tracking, lead management, and conversion of leads to rentals.

With SMS becoming more popular with consumers, you can leverage SMS technology to improve the cash flow by sending payment reminder messages and past-due alerts to tenants, which in turn reduces the time store managers spend on collection calls.

Storage operators should also start leveraging huge amounts of data accumulated over the years to obtain insight into the customer behavior, their length of stay, the correlation between occupancy, revenue generated versus discounts offered, etc., by implementing advanced business intelligence and analytics tools.

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