There’s a growing demand among college students for smart lockers – a safe place on campus to store expensive belongings like smart phones, laptops and tablets while they’re taking a test or hitting the gym, a lab or a campus event. Equipping lockers with contactless technology can offer students a smart option for storing their valuables without having to remember a locker combination or wait in line for a rental. Instead, students simply tap their existing contactless campus card to engage the secure contactless locker. But how does the smart locker ROI – or contactless locker ROI – equation come together for campuses?[blockquote align=’right’]Institutions can make money off rental fees, and there are solid cost savings on the manpower needed to manage and maintain smart lockers[/blockquote]
The return on investment can be significant for universities that install contactless lockers. The potential exists for institutions to make money off rental fees, and there are solid cost savings on the manpower needed to manage and maintain the lockers. “A networked locker system eliminates virtually all the staff time required for locker management, as students no longer need help obtaining or using the system,” says Gerhard Pichler, business development manager for Gantner Technologies.
For decades, Gantner has delivered contactless technology for lockers in universities, athletic clubs, spas, hospitals and corporate centers around the globe. Now the company is bringing the technology to colleges and universities in North America.
Evaluating smart locker ROI in contrast to old school lockers.
In addition to revenue and cost savings potential, smart lockers can provide universities with intangible benefits as well. Contactless lockers can serve as a recruitment tool, positioning the institution as modern and tech-minded. And both students and their parents appreciate the security aspect of the lockers, which can feature alarm functions to protect electronics and other valuables.
The key to contactless smart lockers is that they are networked and communicate in real-time with the management software. This enables efficient assignment, monitoring and revocation. Gantner’s locker management software also offers occupancy monitoring, which helps the institution maximize locker rentals by identifying unused lockers and overstays.
Smart lockers deliver management efficiencies
Contactless lockers are still relatively new to U.S. higher education market. Charting the course domestically is Northeastern University, where in 2016 Gantner installed more than 1,200 networked, contactless lockers.
Students use their campus ID cards as their locker key, and they rent the lockers on a per-semester basis. Gantner’s locker management software automates the sign-up process. It also provides locker usage reports and remote locker control, so no staff interaction is necessary.
But Northeastern is not alone. Around the globe, lockers are becoming more commonplace in university cafeterias, libraries and testing centers, where backpacks are not allowed as a theft or cheating precaution.[blockquote align=’left’]Many campuses recoup costs by renting out lockers on either a per-term or per-use basis. Offering more intelligent locking systems can make a case for raising rental rates and expediting the return on investment[/blockquote]
Pichler says smart lockers can be a particularly good investment for that kind of environment. He points to the example of a campus testing center that had been using combination locks.
When students arrived at the center, they had to program a four-digit combination into their locker to store their backpacks and other belongings during testing. Given that students were about to take an exam, both nerves and adrenaline run high. When they finished the test two or three hours later, some 70% of students would emerge exhausted and with no memory of their locker combination.
Because of this problem, the university had to man the testing center with two employees outfitted with master keys to assist students. “This is where locker management becomes a big portion of the maintenance work,” Pichler explains.
Recouping costs: Smart lockers ROI
Most networked locking systems are wired, although battery locks are available as a cheaper alternative. Installation costs vary depending on locker layout and efficiency in planning.
Many campuses recoup these costs by renting out lockers on either a per-term or per-use basis. According to Pichler, institutions have historically charged rental fees of $25 or $30 per term. Offering more intelligent locking systems with an alarm function and digital features, however, should make a case for raising this cost and expediting the return on investment.
Additionally, organizations can pay for a locker deployment over time through either a financing plan or an income-share model. If an institution doesn’t have the operational capital needed for a locking system, a finance company can set up a plan to pay off the entire investment. Through the income-share plan, Gantner takes a percentage of the revenue an institution makes from locker rentals to offset installation costs.
New install vs. retrofit
Pichler says other U.S. universities want to follow Northeastern’s example. In general there are two scenarios: a new installation with all new smart lockers and locks or a retrofit whereby new electronic locks are installed in existing lockers. When it comes to networked, fully controlled locker systems, retrofitting tends to be a more expensive task than adding the functionality to new lockers.
“Retrofitting is possible and available, but it’s not as streamlined a program as a completely new installation,” Pichler says. It is also much more feasible on wooden locker doors than it is on metal doors due to the ability to embed components and run networking wire.[blockquote align=’right’]For students toting around a $1000-plus laptop and a $500 mobile phone, leaving a backpack sitting on the sidelines during a workout, an exam or an extracurricular activity is a risky proposition[/blockquote]
Obviously, the cost to retrofit lockers is also going to be higher due the additional labor involved.
A less expensive option in retrofits is to skip the networking and install standalone, battery-powered contactless locks. These units deliver the convenience of the contactless user experience and control via the student ID card, but they don’t deliver the administrative or user benefits of an online, fully controllable solution. Additionally, institutions have to factor in the expense of replacement batteries every two to three years, as well as the labor cost to replace them.
Still, Pichler believes retrofitting existing lockers with battery-powered locks can be a worthwhile option for institutions with a fairly small number of lockers.
“The management of 300 lockers is not that high or demanding, and it could easily be accomplished,” he says. At that quantity or below, maintaining lockers with battery locks could be manageable and cost effective, but not so for 1000 or 2,000 lockers, explains Pichler.
Contactless lockers in your future?
Modern students are toting more and more valuable items to campus at a time when institutions are actively working to increase student engagement in campus activities outside the classroom. And for students toting around a $1000-plus laptop and a $500 mobile phone, leaving a backpack sitting on the sidelines during a workout, an exam or an extracurricular activity is a risky proposition.
We are on the verge of a “perfect storm” for storage. As institutions address this rising need, networked systems are poised to deliver on the promise of strong ROI from smart lockers in a way that traditional locker solutions have never achieved.