When Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, noted in the January 2012 issue of Club Industry that the fitness industry had not yet matured, one reason he offered was rudimentary software and technology. Some club management software companies took issue with the statement, but at least one executive says Caro has a point.

Andy Wigderson, vice president of sales and marketing at CSI Software, Houston, says that systems at some software companies may be rudimentary, but he lays blame on two factors. The first is that many club management software companies are really billing companies that offer their software (and often computers and training) to customers for free in exchange for being selected to process the club’s transactions each month.

“It creates a perception in the industry that software is not something that you should spend a lot of money on or need to spend a lot of money on,” Wigderson says. “It creates an issue for the few companies that are out there that are true software companies. I’m not knocking the billing companies. They are in business to make money like we are, but it makes it difficult for companies like us to charge what we should be charging.”

Fitness facility operators also have been slow to embrace technology, Wigderson says. Other industries typically spend 6 percent to 7 percent of their revenue on technology, according to research Wigderson has done into industries such as retail manufacturers and hospitality businesses.

“I don’t know what clubs spend because I’ve never seen any research on it, but I can guarantee you that it’s not 6 to 7 percent. It’s not even close,” Wigderson says.

Despite these issues, technology is slowly advancing, Wigderson and others say.

Advancements have come in the value that club management companies offer in their software by focusing more on enhancing the member experience and affecting clubs’ bottom lines, especially as concerns about member attrition grows, says Al Noshirvani, CEO of Motionsoft, Rockville, MD.

Motionsoft offers a data analytics engine that provides club owners with insight into the movement and profiles of their members and prospects.

Analytics and dashboards seem to be all the rage at many software companies, including Twin Oaks Software, Berlin, CT, where Carole Oat, sales manager, says the company provides its club owners with statistics and results as they want them.

ABC Financial Services, Sherwood, AR, also focuses on reporting, says Steve Ayers, the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing.

“Business analytics and dashboards have come to the forefront in the last year,” Ayers says. “We have designed a fully integrated dashboard inside of the software that gives users key business metrics.”

Dashboards allow club operators to input goals and budgets, and compare actual numbers to goals. The reports can be set up so that staff members see only the numbers that apply to them but the owner can see the overall business, Ayers says.

Club owners also want their technology to help them generate more revenue from their existing membership base, says Sid Nelson, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Paramount Acceptance, Holladay, UT. The analytics show them how many of their members participate in personal training, group training, tanning, group exercise, child care and corporate fitness, so they can define their membership and target these people for more specific services.

Access to dashboard statistics through iPads, tablets and smartphones allows owners to have their finger on the pulse of their business, Nelson adds.

Immediacy of these reports has become vital, says Sean Kirby, national sales director for ASF International, Highlands Ranch, CO. ASF International’s system allows immediate access to data anywhere an owner has an Internet connection with a laptop or a connection through an iPhone or iPad.

“This is especially important to owners who are hands-off or who run multiple locations,” Kirby says.

Owners are not the only ones who want immediate and remote access. Members do, too.

“We are focused on allowing clubs to extend their reach beyond ‘brick and mortar’ and empower their members to more effectively use their services,” Noshirvani says.

Motionsoft integrates its club management system to the club’s website. By doing so, members can update personal information, review their balances, make payments and integrate to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Twin Oaks sees the value of integrated online joining, booking, scheduling and purchasing, but its system also allows members to check into their clubs using their smartphones rather than their bar coded card, Oat says.

The avenue for mobility comes in mobile applications.

“We are seeing a lot of interest in mobile apps, online sign-up and online member portals,” Ayers says. “With everyone being so mobile today and with everyone having iPhones or Windows phones, they are conducting their lives on these mobile devices.”

Apps allow members to sign up for classes, purchase personal training sessions and complete other club-related transactions.

Eric Speers of Club Systems, Sugar Land, TX, says maturation in the industry’s technology is all about connections.

“For today’s software to be effective, it has to be about connections—connections to the market, connections to existing members and connections to potential new sales,” Speers says. “Whether it’s transforming customer service with a member online access module or increasing membership sales by having products and services out in the global business world, access to data via the Internet allows facilities to take their business the next step further.”

One way to take software further is to improve contact management, says John Ulrich, president and CEO of Aspen Software, Spring, TX.

“If someone doesn’t want to sign up right away, the software makes it easy for the sales staff to follow up with them via email or text messages,” Ulrich says. “Then, when someone does join, the software assists staff in continuing to reach out to these new members, especially for the first six months, to make them feel welcome.”

With complicated systems, club operators are looking for simplification, too. They want all their programs consolidated into one, says Todd Kelley, marketing manager, Affiliated Acceptance, Sunrise Beach, MO. It all ties into making life easier for club owners and club members.

“Over the last year, we have simplified some of our software,” Kelley says. “They still have the same features, but they are easier to use. We wanted to be able to create a better user experience so they can get through their tasks more efficiently.”

Shape.Net is another company that has simplified systems into one. The company provides an all-in-one cloud-based management system for health clubs—one system and database that can manage a club’s entire business, including check-in, scheduling, billing, collections and CRM, says Larry King, owner of Shape.Net Software, Colts Neck, NJ.

With advancements in software come advancements in the security of the collected data, says Matt Zagrodzky, vice president of iGo Figure Software, Houston.

“The good news is that security has come to the forefront for most software companies,” Zagrodzky says. “In addition, the credit card industry has set a high standard for data security, and software companies are constantly addressing this, since most software applications end up handling credit card data and are thus required to meet the credit card industry data security standards.”

Data security means club owners must be aware of and trust any partners that their software providers use.

“For example, Retention Management has an excellent member retention program,” Zagrodzky says. “As a software company, we looked at whether it made sense for us to create a retention management program. Instead, we decided to integrate with Retention Management.”

Despite all of these advancements in club management software, greater advancement will only come once club operators value technology, embrace it and start spending on it instead of seeing it as a necessary evil, Wigderson says.

“You need to understand the importance of it and be willing to spend the money on it—the staff, the solution,” he says. “Make it a real priority in your spending. That is what has to start happening here. It is starting to go that way, but we are just a little behind the time and starting to catch up.”