Having worked as a systems consultant with hundreds of health clubs in the various verticals of our industry (commercial, hospital based, corporate etc.) I have come to find that the health and fitness is inundated with software vendors who claim their systems are the solutions to all the functional requirements a customer might have. However, it is important to note that there are two avenues club owners can take when building their internal software-based business management systems. The first is implementing best of breed (BOB) systems. BOB is the use of a specific software application or package for each feature or requirement your facility has i.e inventory, fitness testing, employee time clock, billing etc.
The exchange of data between the applications, can happen a number of ways:
- Information is captured from one package and manually input into the other.
- Products are linked using Application Programming Interfaces (APIS) or web services, which serve as “bridges” between multiple databases.
- The deployment “middleware” packages that provide varying degrees of integration. This is the most IT intensive system of integration.
Alternatively, clubs can and most often turn to fully integrated software (FIS), which refers to applications with a number of integrated modules to cover a range of features. There are generally a number of databases automatically linked by key fields such as a member’s name or number and typically come from a single vendor
In a health and fitness club the principle fully integrated software is the membership management system (MMS) or variations such as billing and payment systems, which have similar functionality. Some functions MMS packages handle well, such as check-in, series management, and contract or agreement management. Other functions MMS packages do handle but not generally as well as the best of breed packages, such as point of sale, customer relationship management CRM) and member facing apps and portals
Pros and Cons of Each Solution
The case for implementing either of the two solutions described can be made and there are good reasons for both. Below is a listy, which will help you to determine the right solution for your organization:
Pros of FIS
- Simplicity: Dealing with one company as opposed to multiple organizations is the best case for FIS. Customers often times express frustration when trying to resolve issues which involve multiple companies.
- Cost: The recurring cost of an FIS system tends to be lower than the implementation of BOB applications. For example customers can pay a single fee for support each month or year.
- Ease of Deployment: Deploying FIS software is less intrusive to your business in that employees need to learn one application as opposed to multiple systems. In addition, the hardware and network infrastructure required to deploy the software is typically simpler.
Pros of BOB
- Feature Factor: Since best of breed applications are “specialized” in one business area, the feature and functionality they provide within that area of your business exceeds that which FIS can provide.
- No Customization Headache or Expense: Many of the club operators I have spoken to express that the FIS membership system they invested considerable money in has failed to meet their expectations in one area or another. Furthermore, any requests are often put in a long to do list that seems to never shrink. Since BOB systems are more process focused, they are extremely feature rich and robust and the need for customizations is seldom necessary. In the event that it is, you can expect to see it in a future release.
- Reports, reports, reports: Imagine having as many sales and marketing reports as you have membership billing reports. Systems like salesforce.com and Microsoft CRM provide you with just that. The level of detail and the management functionality that you get is seldom duplicated by FIS.
What’s the right solution for you?
The decision does not have to be an exclusive one but is one that has to be thought out carefully. When we get sales inquiries, I ask the potential customer what they are looking for in their membership management software and most times get the “show me what you have” response. Its important that business owners understand exactly what they are looking for. Certainly, billing and credit card processing should top the list but when you make the decision to look at new software ask the different business owners in your company to put together their wish lists and determine which areas of your business you are focusing or intend on building.
Figure out what resources you intend on dedicating to the project. BOB implementations that require integration are much more resource intensive especially from an IT standpoint. Ensure you have the team available to deliver a successful project.
Most importantly do your research and if you decide to go with a FIS package, make sure to partner with a company that has a demonstrated commitment and success in partnership with BOB application providers so that if and when the time comes you can make your move easily.