Feature Article - September 2004
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Automation Realizations

Technological streamlining can make facility management easier and more efficient

By Kyle Ryan


SHINY, HAPPY PEOPLE

Hoping to please patrons as much as possible, the Prince George's parks department didn't want to hold back when it upgraded. That meant implementing four different software modules: program registration, point-of-sale systems, membership and task management, and facility booking/rental.

"We decided to go whole hog all at once, connect everybody," Brett says. "And the driving force for that piece of it was more from the staff side and automating all the accounting and processing and doing away with the forms and onerous cash-reporting system that we had."

It took about 18 months for Prince George's parks to implement the system once they decided to do it. Despite a rough start, the centralized database they now use is infinitely better than its predecessor, according to Brett.

Part of that has to do with the experiences of literally thousands of other similar businesses. Today's software companies create programs based on what they've learned and the feedback they've received from their clients—so you don't have to be the trailblazer.

It's something Rich Hale, director of LA Workout clubs, discovered when implementing a new system for his company. Located in and around Los Angeles, LA Workout has three clubs, including one that uses the name but is independently managed. Prior to deciding to work with a software company, Hale would manually generate business reports in programs such as Filemaker Pro and Microsoft Excel. While such a stopgap solution worked, it left a lot to be desired.

"[We didn't] have the experience of thousands of other clubs around the world," Hale says. "Whereas the types of things this club-management software offers to us are things that someone had decided when they were two or three clubs…so by the time we reach that level, it's ready for us. We don't have to create it every step along the way."

ORGANIZED AND CENTRALIZED

Those other businesses discovered as they blazed the trail the benefits of a centralized database. The difference in workload is startling, as Dave Gray, senior community services supervisor for the City of San Mateo (Calif.) Parks and Recreation Department discovered. The city, located about half an hour south of San Francisco, has one full-service recreation center, a pool and numerous, tiny, no-frills recreation centers.

"We had a registration program that was developed in-house, but it didn't keep track of customers," he says. "So every time a customer came in, we had to re-enter the information. So that's a lot of wasted time, and there's a lot of mistakes being made in that. We had no way of tracking the customer other than print-outs at the end of the year."

All facility rentals were handled on paper calendars, which, not surprisingly, led to double bookings. The department's accounting software also had problems, like staff members' ability to override any aspect of the program.

"When we started, it was an excellent program," Gray says, "but technology passed us by."

That was then. Now San Mateo uses a centralized database to track customers, facility rentals and program registration. All the different aspects of the software communicate with each other to share the same information. Not only does this prevent double bookings at facilities, but it means Gray can work from one center and see what's going on at another.

Thanks to a push for credit-card payment, customers can log onto the city's Web site any time to register for a class, a benefit that's been "huge," according to Gray.

"We have a store," Gray says. "Customers can come to our store, pick out the merchandise, pay for it and walk out, and for the most part, we don't have to have a clerk in the store, if you consider the Internet a store."