Differentiate Your Fitness Facility in the Cloud

Hundreds of thousands of companies operate daily in the cloud, deploy cloud applications or use the cloud for storage. IDC predicts 2014 cloud spending, including both technology and services, will reach $100 billion. Now a decade old, cloud computing has lived up to the hype.

Looking for an edge in the crowded health and fitness market? Yes, the cloud has proven to kill costs and boost performance. But smart companies have used the cloud's speed and flexibility to test new ideas and explore new markets, differentiating themselves in the blink of an eye.

Cloud platforms enable facilities to capture both growth opportunities and efficiency gains, eliminating IT headaches and empowering business users. Just as important, cloud technologies are blind to company size or industry demands. So whether your organization was an early adopter or needs a nudge into the cloud, the same principles apply. Moving forward, we will dig deeper into cloud benefits and then talk migration strategy, including how to evaluate vendors.

Housekeeping Items

First, let's reinforce that health and fitness companies both large and small qualify as cloud candidates. In fact, small and medium businesses are particularly vulnerable to legacy hardware and software limitations because installation and maintenance eat already scarce IT resources. Cloud architecture helps liberate these IT resources and refocus IT energies on revenue-generating projects, flipping IT from a cost center to a profit center.

Second, let's address those security concerns haunting the cloud since its inception. Experts agree that cloud security is as good, if not better, than conventional digital security. And good security is often the byproduct of good processes and not technology gaps.

Forrester Research claims leading public cloud providers have made big strides in both security and compliance, and cloud encryption is gaining traction.

"If you're resisting the cloud because of security concerns, you're running out of excuses," says James Staten, principal analyst at Forrester.

Cloud Pitch

Cloud solutions allow health and fitness companies to tap an on-demand infrastructure that never sleeps. Think speed, scale and security across one platform that can be fired up in days, not months. Once installed, business users can access resources, increase capacity and knock out variable workloads without waiting for IT. And SaaS platforms ensure you pay for only what you use. Nothing more.

Cloud technologies have spawned new business models, allowing new companies to start up almost overnight at a fraction of what IT used to cost. Microsoft even included this phenomenon as one of its top business trends for 2014. Why would existing facilities care about new business models? The cloud frees up money and brainpower to chase big ideas and secure new revenue streams. Really, the cloud allows you to rethink what your business can be.

Health and Fitness Benefits

On-demand self-service. In a self-service environment, heavy workloads – planned or not – become routine. And non-technical employees can accomplish traditional IT tasks. Ad hoc projects and busy days are no longer a problem because business users enjoy fast turnarounds when adding usage power.

Fast deployment. Go live in a fraction of the time legacy applications take. Cloud speed and agility lower the risk factor, too. Legacy systems often require an "all or nothing" approach with murky outcomes. We never know how members and staff will respond to new applications, so having an exit strategy is nice.

No hardware investment. Simple math says no hardware equals dramatic cost savings. But what about the IT expense needed to configure and maintain legacy equipment? Hey, now that's your cloud vendor's problem. Wouldn't it be nice to put your IT talent on the offensive—thinking strategically and growing your business—instead of always playing defense?

Empower everyone. Business users can dive in quickly and access critical applications using a point-and-click interface. Data gets democratized because IT can be bypassed as a function of design. Instant connectivity also extends to mobile devices. Collaboration will help drive the next decade of cloud computing.

Scale and upgrades. How big do you want to be? Cloud platforms are truly scalable and adapt to your goals and visions, not the other way around. Upgrades are seamless and automatic, adding to your savings of time and resources.

Strategy and Evaluation

Look to the future. What are your long-term business needs? Cloud vendors aren't all built the same, so make sure your future plan matches your provider's current capabilities.

Go beyond IT. By nature, cloud apps target business users. Get input from departments outside of IT during the selection process. However, most cloud migrations are top-down decisions. IT may resist the disruption. Rally the troops and align IT skills with cloud architecture.

Change the culture. Again, not everyone will be thrilled with a switch to the cloud. Listen to David Linthicum, cloud guru at InfoWorld, who said, "Changing hearts and minds around the use of any technology is a process that begins with engaging everyone in the evaluation and implementation of the technology."

Define processes. Think process before solution. Bring clear and tangible process requirements to the table when meeting with a prospective vendor. Then, choose a vendor flexible enough to meet those process requirements.

Don't price shop. Real cloud savings start after connecting to your first application. Back-end savings are so great it is not worth skimping on the front end. Start strong by choosing the right vendor, not the low-cost provider.

Experience matters. Like cloud offerings, no two industries are the same. Ask questions. Do you have health and fitness customers? Do you have the chops to migrate my data management system? If so, how will my existing applications perform in your cloud? Health and fitness is different. So don't settle.

APIs, APIs, APIs. Get comfortable with APIs. Be able to talk APIs with your vendor. We live in a developer's world, and developers are helping shape the cloud. APIs are the developer's canvas, and the cloud has triggered an application explosion.

Learn more about what SpectrumNG and CSI Software does in the cloud.

SpectrumNG helps usher your club into the dynamic age of cloud computing with a complete data management solution, without the overhead. CSI Software now leverages Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, offering a true SaaS (software as a service) model and PaaS (Platform as a Service) in the cloud.

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