Software On Tap. Part 3

17May

The final stage of evolutionary development is to deploy line-of-business software applications via the Web. Think in terms of distinct business processes within your facility and begin aligning them with the efficiency and power of the Internet. For instance, how do your members schedule a training session, track their progress, review their monthly statement, etc.? This is where the electronic bond with your members will become strongest. This is also where the need for ASPs will be highest.

As ASPs begin moving businesses from the second stage (dynamic/interactive) to the final stage (business applications) of Website development, certain issues will need to be addressed.

Security/privacy. Check with your vendor, discuss how security is maintained and ask for a privacy statement. Your members may not appreciate their demographic information being sold to marketing lists.

Availability and disaster recovery. The entire Internet infrastructure is being overhauled to address disaster recovery. See if your vendor has a Service Level Agreement (SLA), that guarantees a minimum level of service. If you are paying for applications delivered over the Internet, you expect them to be up and running when you need them. Also, ask to see a disaster recovery plan.

Data management. Find out who owns the data that drives the applications you are using, and what restrictions, if any, there are with getting periodic downloads. Also, find out with what frequency you can access the raw data and if there are additional charges for this service.

The future is now

Over the next year, the fitness industry will begin to see traditional software applications start to emerge as services offered via the Internet. These industry-specific ASPs will initially transport existing software applications to a Web-based version that perhaps will provide a hybrid between both desktop and Web-enabled applications. This will provide a safe migration path for existing customers, while new and enhanced processes are identified and automated. You can expect to see complete back-office functions, such as billing and accounting, move to online services that will offer operational efficiencies within 12 to 18 months. More customer-facing applications will emerge faster (see Table 1).

Also, there will most certainly be an explosion of “free” services that provide fairly rich interactive content in exchange for high volumes of Web traffic. The services will be free to visitors to get people to the Websites. Over time, however, site revenues must justify their expenses as investors and advertisers become concerned about profits.

As we approach the new millennium, expect to see more and more exciting developments surrounding the Internet. If you have not already begun, it is time to begin planning for how your facility will capitalize on the advantages that the Internet offers. The fitness industry is a prime candidate for taking advantage of the Web-based applications that will enhance the high-tech services that your members are now expecting.

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