There's an APP for that
Many government and council transactions also happen online, and of course internet shopping is growing exponentially. So too is the self-storage industry migrating to an automated model that relies on technology to handle many of the daily activities of running a facility. Searching for and booking a storage unit online, paying for it by credit card and keeping an email record of the transaction is virtually universal now.
But according to Ben Parsad, general manager at PTI Australia, security is the primary motivation for investing in automation technology. “In short, it’s what runs the facility,” he told Insider. “It’s the mechanics behind access to the site. If there’s an issue with access then there is a problem for the business, but it can take just a few seconds to fix the issue. “Security automation now covers access control, and monitoring everything at the facility from anywhere in the world. Going back seven or ten years ago, the only way a manager could monitor a facility was to use a computer, with remote facility software and cameras to monitor it, with a back-to-base alert system. “The security company would then call and tell the manager that something was happening on the site. If the facility didn’t have that kind of system the manager had to drive to the facility and check it physically — when they find out something has happened,” he said. Many large storage companies now have fully automated sites, considered a valueadd for customers for their security and ease of using the site’s facilities.
Mobile automation takes hold
One of the most significant developments in the past decade has been the evolution (or perhaps more accurately, revolution) of hand held devices, especially mobile phones. Their extraordinary growth in numbers and capability has changed the world we live in. For many, the mobile phone is an essential component of everyday life for communication, business activities, financial transactions, keeping records and monitoring the world at large. “Along with everything else, self-storage technology is now moving to handheld devices like mobiles,” said Ben. “Apple has released all sorts of apps, and that basic idea has driven technology to migrate towards handhelds to utilise technology in day-to-day operations.” Storage operators were quick to see the benefits of mobile technology applications, and most have, or are, implementing them in their operations. How far have we come with apps?
“Very far,” said Ben. “With apps, we see the ability to inspect the property in the palm of your hands. With a few clicks you can see what’s happening on site, you can see who’s there, if there’s a customer who needs a hand, and you can help them. “That’s where we’re driving this, so that customers get all the ‘bells and whistles’, even though there’s no staff on site to assist them.” Ben suggested that a major reason for using apps in self-storage is efficiency, but safety also plays an important role. They can instead use an app to analyse everything and make a decision to call the police or take another course of action,” he said. Sites have varying degrees of automation, depending on the owners’ predilection for technology. It can be a manned site with managers and staff, with perhaps a keypad at the gate, or they can be fully automated, with keypad access for customers, fully automated lighting control for every zone in the facility, alarm disarming capabilities for the customer’s unit, and automated entry to the unit. In some instances, facilities have given management of the facility to a real estate agent, so the site is unmanned and run by remote. Customers are processed online or at the agency office, given PINs, they pay their bills at the office or online by credit card, and gain access to a unit on site. And all this can happen in a few minutes.
Why use an app?
Of course the first question for facility operators is cost benefit. There are extra investment costs in high automation for a complete site. These costs must be carried through to storage fees. Does a customer wish to spend a little more for what could be considered a more secure and professionally run site, or would they prefer to save some money and use a site reliant on a time honoured mechanical lock and key system? Do they still want personal service at a storage site? According to Ben, the majority of storage customers are now looking for the kind of facility that can offer automated security, and the latest technology to ensure that their storage experience is easy to arrange, simple to access, yet tightly secured. In his opinion, in the vast majority of cases customers are prepared to pay a little more for that convenience and peace of mind. But that is not necessarily universal, said Ben. In regional or country areas, security is less of a concern, often because of familiarity with the business owners and the local community. In large urban areas, tight security is a much higher priority, with personal service less so.
Where to from here?
Energy saving technology is one of the next areas of new development, predicts Ben. “Facilities can save on power through using LED lighting or low voltage lights, which can easily be integrated into a security system,” he said. Ben Parsad also pointed to customer focused apps on mobile phones which they can press when approaching the facility to open security gates, log them in, turn on lights and open their unit. These apps can also be responsive to customer concerns. They can alert customers to the fact that their PIN has been used, or their unit has been entered, and appropriate action can be taken immediately. Records can also be meticulously maintained for tracking activities at their unit. Governments and councils can take advantage of these automated records to track traffic in an area, the movement of people and materials, and more.
There’s no doubt that technology in self-storage will only accelerate from here, and if used judiciously will provide greater customer convenience and higher profits for self-storage businesses. Perhaps the only real drawback will be the loss of personal service and customer interaction that will inevitably follow. The industry will have to decide which is more important.