In 1890, Karl Elsener invented the Swiss Army knife. At the time, it was a marvel of utilitarian engineering. From its core emanated a range of blades as well as a can opener and a screw driver. In the decades since, the knife has evolved in dimensions and complexity with some models sporting 87 implements and 141 functions. The fact that the modern versions of this knife are still produced at a clip of 134,000 per day is testimony to the value of having a single tool that helps you accomplish many things.
I am not sure if Apple founder Steve Jobs ever owned a Swiss Army knife, but 127 years after Elsener’s invention, Jobs would introduce the world to the iPhone. Like its mechanical predecessor, the iPhone sported core elements of functionality – a phone, radio and camera. As the phone and business model evolved, so did the number of blades or apps. At first there were hundreds of add-on services, then thousands and ultimately millions, virtually guaranteeing that the phone would have a place of permanence in our lives.
So what do iPhones and knives have to do with the future of technology in the health club industry? Practically everything. Elements of the health club environment have remained virtually unchanged since the early 1960s. Health clubs are still buildings filled with varieties of equipment where people go to work out. What has changed is the technology used to manage these businesses and the interactions with the members that use them.
Principle among the technology changes are the ways that software has evolved. In the early days, club management software was like the Swiss Army Knife. It was a rigid tool that was designed to do several core things well. Adding blades of service to this tool was not something that software companies did quickly or with great proficiency.
Not long after the advent of the iPhone, the fitness software world began to evolve. Slowly, new companies surfaced that were not trying to reinvent management software but to augment and integrate with it. These companies often were focused on improving a singular aspect of the health club experience. From sales management to marketing, from member engagement to retention, from online scheduling to member rewards, technology evolved to provide health club owners and members an unprecedented selection of tools to help them. With the health club management software as the hub and these innovative companies as the spokes of service, the health club software model was transformed from a utilitarian knife to a technology-rich communication platform or ecosystem.
Through integration, multiple platforms are able to communicate seamlessly with each other. Instead of relying on a single service provider, health club operators can now select from a menu of best-of-breed services. They can realize the advantages of these specialized providers without the heavy lifting of supporting multiple independent applications. In short, technology has evolved to allow operators the ability to create their own technology ecosystem that is customized to their needs and budget.
The concept of connected ecosystems is what I believe the future of the fitness industry will evolve to. Already, club management systems are connecting not only to other applications but also directly to members through their own smartphone-supported ecosystem. Most, if not all of the major equipment manufacturers are creating applications that will connect the member with their workouts and personal health data. Personal coaching software is evolving to capture this data along with wearable-generated information to give the operator a clear understanding of usage and to give the member a historical perspective of health progress. Health care providers and insurance companies are taking a growing interest in these intersecting ecosystems as they hold the keys to improving health and longevity for the populations that they serve.
Ultimately, as the internet of things intersects with our business and personal ecosystems, the walls of the health club will become less restrictive and relevant. Health-minded individuals will be able to create and carry with them their personal fitness profile complete with connections and learnings gleaned from the health club. The digital health club will start to appear to and be engaged by more of the 80 percent of the population that would not go into a conventional environment.
The gym of the future, through its connected ecosystems, will be one that is as accessible in the digital world as it is in the brick and mortar world, one that connects with the athlete and the recovering patient with equal relevance and one that connects us with our personal fitness self while contributing to advancements in population health. Exciting times. Elsener and Jobs would be proud.
Brian O’Leary is the director of strategic accounts and channel partnerships at Jonas Fitness. With his 30 years of industry experience, O'Leary's primary role is to manage and develop the growing array of best-in-class channel partners that comprise the Jonas Ecosystem. Jonas Fitness connects its customers to the best technology and services in the marketplace by seamlessly integrating its industry-leading member management and billing platform with a growing array of partner companies. The result is a value-rich, bespoke solution that delivers extensible functionality, efficiency and ease of use. To learn why Jonas Fitness has long been the trusted partner of the largest and most successful operators in the industry, visit us at http://jonasfitness.com/.
This article was included in Club Industry’s 2018 report, “Forward Five Years: How the Fitness and Wellness Industry Will Change.” You can download the full report for free by going here.