UL: Please tell me about yourself and Sensorberg
Sensorberg was founded in 2013. It started out as a beacon company, but soon the team realized that IoT was the way to go. From the first use case, it was apparent that access control was the best application for our IoT platform. Our first customer was a large coworking space in Berlin, where we installed over 200 hubs. In 2018 when I joined, we were already working with many co-working spaces. If you come to Berlin, you will find that most of them rely on our technology for access control. We are also present in residential spaces. In essence, at Sensorberg, we are doing everything around the digitalization of smart spaces, living quarters, access control, bell systems, packet boxes – you name it.
Recently, after a project at a co-working space where we installed access control on lockers, I was passing by a self-storage, and I thought to myself – self-storage is essentially a locker, so our technology must be applicable. We started doing self-storage in 2019. Of our three verticals, it is the fastest–growing one. We are currently active in all the major European markets. However, I have worked myself many years in Asia, and I think it is an exciting market and a sensible direction for the future.
UL: Can you share one of your recent implementations with us?
We have many projects and implementations, but a recent interesting one was the Kimba K 21. It was a mixed-use project. The K 21 is a commercial space that combines office spaces on the top floors with storage spaces on the bottom floors. They could benefit from our platform because we support many use-cases, which was an excellent opportunity to highlight the versatility and flexibility of our applications. Both the office and storage spaces can run from the same platform. I believe that the future is in these mixed usage facilities.
UL: So you see potential in using self-storage as a hybrid space for storing and working?
We see that with several customers already. Small B2B customers want a small office and a storage location. One customer example is a lady who owns a coffee shop, but she also sells coffee–making machines and needs a small storage space alongside her office within the storage facility.
UL: What are some of the benefits of intelligent access systems?
First and foremost, you get rid of the key handing. This is a major benefit, especially in buildings with many different users. You can get more versatility too. Think of applications like booking meeting rooms or the famous cleaning example: A smart room equipped with sensors that detects whether it needs cleaning or not. Depending on that it can grant the cleaning staff access.
UL: How will intelligent access systems change our lives?
We need to differentiate here. Life can be changed for tenants, the users, and the operator. As a tenant user, I have a handset, and I use it for banking, communication, recently your vaccination record, and many other applications. It is only natural to use it as a key. Besides, it is safer and more secure if you use face or fingerprint recognition. The experience is more personal, too, at least for me. As an operator, you can easily share access to your Airbnb or storage with someone. You don‘t have the risk of keys or fobs getting lost and you having to replace the lock or the door. With this said, you can still open with keypads or NFC, but the trend is moving clearly towards using handsets. It opens many opportunities for unmanned storage too.
UL: How do you see the accessibility aspect of this technology, especially if we consider that a target demographic for self-storage is the elderly, who often are less tech–savvy?
There is some data in the Fedessa study from July: For people below 50, the acceptance is much higher than for people above 50. We have some customers who have partly digital partly analog storage. But especially during the pandemic, we saw the adoption rates of digital solutions grow. Our app usage doubled. You will always have customers that might not want to use an app. The beauty of the platform is that it is versatile and can accommodate different solutions, for example, a pin pad on a screen. We implemented another niche example for a client, for a long-term tenant who used a wheelchair. We fitted his wheelchair with beacons. Whenever he approached, the doors would automatically open. This is not a mainstream solution, but it shows that anything is possible, and there are many use cases and applications in accessibility.
UL: Specific to the self-storage industry, can you describe how Sensorberg is implemented and the key benefits for the operators?
I could talk about this for hours, but I will try to make it short and crisp. The implementation of our solution is straightforward. We use a click-and-done principle, meaning we use a LAN cable on each door that connects to a connector from which you can open 32 units. The system uses Bluetooth, so even if you have no internet, which can happen in self-storage, especially in basement units, you still have access to all units.
Now, the benefits for the operator: Let me start with an example of a user with an unpaid bill. Typically, the operator will overlock the padlock with this famous red lock. The tenant arrives at the box and sees this, has to go back then and pay, then they need to call, an employee has to confirm the payment, and another operator employee has to come back and unlock the overlock. You can see it‘s a lengthy and frustrating process and can even take a couple of days. With a digital solution, the customer sees in the app that the box is locked. With mobile banking, they can pay right away. The moment the bill is covered, the system will automatically undo the lock. It saves hassle for the tenant and saves the operator the personnel costs to go to the units again for unlocking.
Another example is a more practical one: Sometimes, tenants, when they move out, lock on the padlock. The operator has to get a locksmith to break into their storage. That cannot happen if you have a digital door. Because if the tenant moves out, the access rights are automatically withdrawn.
Returning to the B2B example, you can open the front gate and your unit for the postal delivery service when they come. It can all be done remotely, which is the exciting bit of the technology. It gives you more control over access control.
Data is another factor. Of course, it must happen within the limits of data security and laws, but theoretically, you could know who opened a door, when, and for how long. Through digital access, operators gain a huge amount of usage data.
In short, you only stand to gain from digitizing. Even older analog boxes should be retrofitted for a more digital experience.
UL: What do you see as the main differences between the European, North America, and Asian intelligent access service markets?
In general, the market and the adoption rates are in the early stages. I think that Europe might be on the top of that development, leading it, at least in front of the US. I recently attended a US Conference online, and they were presenting an ‘innovative‘ pin solution that would be sent to a user‘s phone. I would strongly disagree here. First of all, it’s not innovative, and secondly, it‘s not very secure.
On the other side, I think Asia is open to using apps; everything is more gamified. They are swift in adopting new technology. This market is actually perfect for this kind of digital access. The downside is that they are so tech-savvy that they have already started with innovative access control systems. So they already have solutions in place, and the question is – how do you persuade them that your technology has the edge over the existing one. But I think Asia is a market with potential. The US too, but we currently do not have the capacity to expand there.
UL: Any final thoughts on intelligent access control systems?
Access systems should be dynamic and open. I mean that the access system must always continue to develop. We should use open standards and APIs. That is a significant benefit of using a platform like ours because we can remotely update all hubs, devices, and applications. We add new functionality to the system, year by year. It’s a little bit like the Tesla approach. For example, today, it might be opening the unit with a video call, but in the future, a tenant can be notified when an alarm goes off and can decide what to do. In general, it’s about moving processes away from the operator and towards the tenant. This reduces the effort for the operator, gives the tenant more decision power over their unit, and helps to lock in your tenant. They feel a sense of ownership over their unit. I also see many developments in self-storage marketing once we start using all the collected data. Exciting times lie ahead.