How Public Storage uses cybersecurity investments to fuel growth

Technology enables the self-storage company to lower labor costs
Sheryll Poe
NRF Contributor

When people think of traditional self-storage facilities, they might think of driving up to a gate and being let in by an on-site manager, then using a key to open a lock on the storage unit door.

That’s a far cry from the innovation and technology that powers the industry today, according to Paul Miller, vice president of IT operations and engineering at Public Storage.

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“We are enabled by a lot of the same technology that you’re going to see in other retail,” Miller said at NRF Nexus. “We have a mobile app. We have keyless entry for all of our properties. We have a highly rated customer experience. We have remote customer care. We have about 400 properties that aren’t staffed. We do that all remotely with technology.”

With 3,000 properties in 40 states, Public Storage is the largest company in the self-storage industry. It operates as a fully integrated, self-administered and self-managed real estate investment trust and has over 5,000 team members. However, when it came to technology and cybersecurity, Public Storage and Miller’s team worked with Palo Alto Networks to create and implement digital property management, including remote management and the contactless eRental system.

“We want to be able to drive the labor costs down for our properties in a safe way and to do that we have to enable it with technology,” Miller said. “We’ve been in business 50 years — before cyber was even a topic — and now we’re in the throes of growing, expanding and acquiring in a very different landscape.”

But while Public Storage is at the forefront of introducing new technologies in the self-storage industry, it’s done so with an eye on cybersecurity, Miller said. Many members of its board of directors and executive team have technology backgrounds and inherently recognize the value of strong cybersecurity solutions and protocols.

Nevertheless, “the internet is a dangerous neighborhood. We want to leverage it and take advantage of that technology,” Miller said. “The reality is, we want to move quick. We want to be innovative, and cybersecurity cannot be the roadblock to that.”

By partnering with other segments of the business — including the legal department as well as the executive team — and communicating the risks of not integrating cybersecurity into everything the company does, Miller says he’s been able to build relationships and confidence in his team’s abilities over the last eight years he’s been at Public Storage.

“Translate the risk in a way that puts it into context,” Miller said, while pointing out that security leaders can also talk to company partners about some of the unintended benefits involved in cybersecurity solutions as well, including gathering more data on customer behavior.

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For example, security cameras or keyless entry can provide much more than security information. The data can also give an idea of how often people are using a particular entry point or any bottlenecks in the entry system.

For retailers just starting out or overwhelmed by the scale of what needs to be protected, whether it’s physical stores, shared devices, network or infrastructure, Miller suggested focusing first and foremost on the data a retailer collects and stores.

“You have to follow the path to where the data is,” he said. “You have to look at what the data is, why it’s important and what the risk is if it’s not secured. Data center and cloud practices — that’s important and where the investment should be.”

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