The one constant in the realm of technology is that it’s always evolving, and club management software (CMS) is no different. Keeping up with so many updates to CMS platforms can be tricky, and sorting out which new features or services align with your club’s goals can be even tougher.
“A lot is changing in the industry — the cynic in me would say, from experience, CMS platforms usually offer more hype than function when it comes to new technology,” said Andrew Nelson, the chief technology officer of Seraphic Group and an industry technology consultant. “CMS providers are constantly bringing many new features to the table.”
To help see past any hype and get to true functionality, it’s important to remember the true objective of CMS for your business, regardless of the multitude of updates and new features you’ll see.
“The primary goal of CMS is to make sure you have a reliable database of all member activity, and that you have reliable billing and revenue flow,” said Bill McBride, the president and CEO of Active Wellness. “Additionally, clubs should be using member data to better serve the consumer and monetize products, programs and services.”
CMS continues to establish itself as a necessity in the fitness industry, for both club owners and members — with the tap of a finger or click of the mouse, operators can view usage statistics and monthly revenue totals, while members can pay membership dues and schedule classes. “As the CMS is the ‘system of record’ for most operators, it is important it delivers benefits for the club and member,” said McBride.
Due to how critical the automation and convenience of CMS have become in clubs’ daily operations, the demand for innovative software solutions and the data they produce are at an all-time high. As a result, an unfortunate trend Nelson has seen developing in the industry is for some CMS providers to up-charge club owners for access to their facility’s data.
“The culmination of the move toward a true software as a service (SaaS) model in the industry, along with the consolidation of CMS platforms, is leading the CMS market to leverage their control of the clubs’ data and, unfortunately, hold it hostage for additional revenue streams in some cases,” said Nelson. “Some CMS providers are charging fees that are often excessive to club operators and the integrators offering innovative solutions, impacting what new features are available.”
In short, this demand for more comprehensive solutions can mean higher service fees for club operators when accessing data, and more limitations on the solutions third-party integrators are able to implement when working with a club’s software.
This new tendency to “hold information hostage,” as Nelson puts it, as well as limit the capabilities of third-party integrators, has led several gym owners to call for change.
“There’s been a demand from operators that CMS companies are more collaborative and open with third-party applications to better integrate solutions,” echoed McBride.
In other words, according to McBride, clubs are calling for CMS providers to focus more on their customers’ experiences than generating immediate revenue. “The question from the supplier side should be, ‘How do I help the operator — our customer — with the best solution for them, regardless of the product mix?’” he explained.
It isn’t all doom and gloom in the CMS world, however. The fact of the matter is management software has drastically changed the way clubs are able to do business. And as a club operator, you’re always looking for the providers who treat you like a valued partner. The same is true for CMS providers.
When you’ve settled on a company you have a good partnership with, there are several benefits to CMS you’ll want to take advantage of and aspects of it you’ll need to understand, particularly data and analytics, application programming interface (API) integration and preventing “data silos.”
In club management, everything starts with data. “The data is the lifeblood of the club,” said Nelson. “The software is simply an interface to that data and the club needs to be aware that without that data, all they have is the physical building and equipment therein.”
Data drives decision-making. When you’re buying new equipment, you review usage statistics to better account for wear and tear. When you’re planning your class schedules, you check participant data to help popular classes translate to higher membership sales. Understanding the numbers you’re looking at is just as important as having that data in the first place.
“Information is not the same as data,” advised McBride. “The goal is to get beyond the noise and be able to make intelligent, actionable decisions that enhance the business. Look for patterns that indicate causal behaviors in comparison to just patterns that show correlation.”
Analytics are only as powerful as the data you provide your CMS. The more accurate your information is, the better understanding you’ll gain from the numbers you’re seeing. “Practice GIGO: garbage in, garbage out,” said McBride. “Make sure you are diligent with the information put into the system regarding accuracy and formatting, etc.”
Paying due diligence to your data entries will deliver more actionable information, thus driving more informed decisions in your club.
According to Nelson, API integration can be a difference-maker for the effectiveness of management software. “This is one of the top things for a club operator to understand when they are shopping for a CMS,” he said.
API integration, which McBride describes as “critical and necessary,” makes life easier for club operators by giving them the flexibility to collect and view data in a personalized format.
“The capabilities of the API in CMS enable the club to collect and report on their data in novel ways,” said Nelson. “A good API provides connections to and from third-party services for sales, services and analytics.”
According to Nelson, starting out with quality API integration when shopping for CMS solutions gives an advantage for growing alongside an evolving tech industry. “A decent CMS with a great API can grow with the club, integrate with new technology and be turned into an amazing platform,” he said.
Organizing all of your data under one umbrella can be difficult, especially if your facility provides a wide variety of services with their own data points. As a result, many operators end up putting various technologies or databanks into data silos, and access them separately and only as needed.
According to Nelson, this requires research into which platforms work best with your current CMS. “Choose platforms that integrate and select technology based on club requirements and level of integration,” he advised. “Does the technology being considered integrate with the CMS? Can it read and write to the CMS?”
If you’re already committed to a certain CMS provider and can’t determine a solution for more centralized data within your own staff, it’s worth looking for help from a third-party integrator to simplify your systems.
“If the preferred solution doesn’t integrate with your CMS, consider talking to an integrator that can create a central repository for normalizing data from numerous platforms,” said Nelson.
And when in doubt, reach out to industry connections. “When the solution seems impossible, ask around — use your industry connections,” advised Nelson. “I’ve been in the business a long time and someone, somewhere, has seen your same problem and found a solution.”
Understanding the evolving features of CMS can be tough, but having a firm grasp on available management features, as well as the best practices for putting data to work for you, opens up a myriad of new possibilities for your club.