In 1890, Karl Elsener invented the Swiss Army Knife. At the time, it was a marvel of utilitarian engineering. 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.
127 years after Elsener’s invention, Steve 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 the iPhone 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. There are elements of the health club environment that have remained virtually unchanged since the early 60s. What has changed is the technology used to manage these businesses and the interactions with the members who use them.
In the early days, club management software was like the Swiss Army Knife — a rigid tool designed to do several core things very well. Slowly, new companies surfaced that were not trying to reinvent management software, but rather, augment and integrate with it.
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.
The concept of connected ecosystems is what I believe the future of the fitness industry will evolve to. Instead of relying on a single-service provider, health club operators can now select from a menu of best-of-breed services. 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, while 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 they serve.
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, one that connects with the athlete and the recovering patient with equal relevance to our personal fitness self.
Exciting times — Mr. Elsener and Mr. Jobs would be proud.
Brian O’Leary is the director of strategic accounts and channel partnerships at Jonas Fitness. For more information, visit jonasfitness.com.