Technology seems to come and go more quickly than anyone can get a handle on. There's always something big on the horizon. Remember when phones had cords and weren't in back pockets? Remember, gasp, cassette tapes? Heck, even VHS tapes are becoming phased out as DVDs reign supreme in their high quality and easy usability (can you remember the last time you rewound a movie?).

The fitness industry hasn't ever been accused of being quick to latch on to the next big thing, even though quite a few other industries use cutting-edge technologies to advance their profession. Are we slow, or are we smart?

Here's a look at the top three trends in software, back-office systems and overall technology according to those who should know — manufacturers in the industry:

  1. The One-Stop Shop Has It All

    One of the things almost every manufacturer we talked to said was that the one-stop shop (including everything and anything from retention services to marketing) was smart for club owners and good for the industry.

    • “I would think that further integration is wise. As you move down the road with complex systems of thousands of people, you would like to see it all work together.” — Dr. Mark Brittingham, president of BSDI.

    • “The main thing is software that will do everything for [club owners], so they don't have to go out and get individual packages. Overall, people are looking for ease of use, flexibility, price and good service.” — Bonnie Schmidt, sales and marketing manager of Coral Springs Software.

    • “I do see that we are talking with and being approached by a lot of management software companies to be able to offer our service to their members. That's a wonderful thing.” — Richard Eastrom, president of Retention Management.

    • The benefits are a seamless fit with the rest of their system, and the other huge benefit is support. There's only one call to make and one person to ask if there's a problem with it. It cuts down on [club owner's] frustration considerably.” — Jonathon Ross, director of business and development at CSI Software.

    • “We've always tried to tell different clients that you need to leave back-office management systems to people who have the support team to do it. So that [club owners] can do their job.” — Randy McCollum, sales manager for Fair Finance.

  2. The Wonderful Web

    With more and more club Web sites popping up, this trend is a no-brainer. Manufacturers overwhelmingly said that bridging the Internet with software has been great for the industry by moving us into a paperless environment that also offers endless documentation of member trends and numbers. In addition, members are coming to expect it.

    • “Really, the new technologies are Web based. The advantage is that it reduces the initial startup costs and allows all the infrastructure to be outsourced, such as virus checking, updates, upgrades. You don't have to have your own staff do that. Just about everyone has one of those [Web sites] these days.” — Bill Nichtberger, executive vice president, Aphelion.

    • “Putting things online for clients to see anytime, anywhere is probably the biggest thing. They [club owners] can get it right from their computer — night, noon, weekends. It's just that accessibility to information is what people want now and in real time. It's like everything else in life. People are used to getting stuff right now.” — Tamara Valdez, vice president of marketing and communications at ASF.

    • “I think you'll see the emergence of technology for marketing. People are more acclimated to the Web. What we've been able to see is that if you have the right application, you can customize that application…When you're designing a Web site, you need to be two steps in front. You want to be able to build on that design as things change.” — Pete Diffendal, vice president of marketing for MembersFirst Inc.

    • “The acceptance of email has exploded. This trend is only going to get stronger, and clubs that are interacting with their members via email are doing it more efficiently, more timely, less expensively, and for most members it's preferred.” — Richard Eastrom, president of Retention Management.

  3. Technology for Technology's Sake?

    If one thing's for sure, it's that some technology seems really cool at first glance. But from what we've heard, the sci-fi gimmicks don't always stick. For a new technology to be successful it has to be useful, have staying power and make financial sense. Some of the latest techno trends are fingerprint, eye and hand scanning. But in many ways the fitness industry is just now coming around to a few tricks other industries have been using for years. And for some club owners the technology doesn't matter at all.

    • “I find the industry to be more wait-and-see, and it takes considerable time to introduce a new technology…Maybe there's nothing bad about this. What value does it add?” — Benson Fine, president and CEO of Conexion, LLC.

    • “Fingerprinting is not as accurate as some of the other kinds [of biometrics]. Even eye scanning isn't as accurate as palm. There are some challenges with thumbprints. Older folks have challenges because of dry skin. There's a few clubs that use that now, but most have abandoned it. We're looking at hand-scan technology, which has a low failure rate.” — Ron Poliseno, director of client development for CheckFree Health and Fitness.

    • “There is beginning to be a bigger demand for gift cards in the industry. It's very similar to other retail businesses.” — Carole Oat, sales manager at Twin Oaks Software.

    • “We really stress the circuit and cross training and anything that can give our clients a better workout. It's not really about technology. If we have the technology to give them a better workout, then that's what it's all about.” — Tracy Barrett, marketing coordinator for SCIFIT.

So, there you have it. The top three things you can look for in the coming year. But, don't be afraid to speak up and talk to the manufacturers about what you want and what your facility needs. Most say that they welcome feedback and ideas.

Also, make sure you're using your technology to its fullest potential. One manufacturer confided that most facilities using club management software only use about 20 percent of the capabilities offered. Without incurring any further cost those clubs could utilize 50 percent, look at the trends and help them decrease spending and increase profits.

The take home message though is that clients and potential clients shouldn't be afraid to ask for more.

“People don't look carefully enough and see if it will work with their facility. Demand more,” Brittingham says. “The biggest revolution in technology is when people realize they're not stupid and actually computers are too stupid for them, and then vendors will have to build it better. That should be the revolution.”