Using analytics for health, commerce and more

Data analytics can be applied across numerous domains. Here's a company that's putting it to work for a variety of businesses in the health, fitness and wellness space.
Written by Andrew Brust, Contributor

We know big businesses see the value in Big Data, and derive benefit from it. But what about small and medium businesses, especially those that cater to individual consumers? In fact, such businesses are not Luddites -- many smaller businesses have for years used software to run their back offices. But are they in a position to use analytics?

Think about it: your gym has probably been doing a barcode scan on your membership card to check you in for quite some time, and the front desk at the medical practice you go to has been semi-automated for a while too.

The systems that have made these automations possible usually come from vendors who specialize in working with businesses in specific industries. Just as with their client, those vendors are not always so, especially in industries where one of them is dominant. So advances in cloud and analytics technology may or may not be kicking in for smaller businesses. But examples do exist.

Old, meet new
Consider MINDBODY, which provides both back office and mobile location-based marketing for gyms, spas, acupuncture practices, and other smaller providers of wellness services. Here's a company that has been around for a long time and yet has kept up with technology trends and advances. And MINDBODY is in a unique position: its technology is in many ways cutting edge, but because it's been around for a long time, it has a huge and longstanding corpus of data with which to build its analytics platform.

MINDBODY provides CRM as well as staff management/payroll back office systems for gyms, salons, spas, yoga studios, skincare clinics and even mixed martial arts schools. What these places have in common is that they all book people into classes or individual appointments, often operate as independent businesses and yet need to get new customers, and keep existing customers coming in, getting value and renewing.

Self-service, but analytics-driven
With those requirements in mind, MINDBODY also provides class and appointment booking services, not just on the back end, but on mobile platforms platforms as well. This enables smartphone users to book classes and appointments at specific facilities. And if customers can book appointments on their own, then they can be fed promotional offers to help drive those bookings.

Powering those promotional orders is real analytics. Yes, MINDBODY systems provide over 100 conventional reports, but the company also employs a data science team to find trends in the aggregated data across customers, going back for the many years MINDBODY has been in business. Those trends are then used to inform the marketing campaigns.

Move to new technology enables new business
MINDBODY started as an old school software package. It ran on-premises, and was written as a 1st-gen intranet Web application using Microsoft's Active Server Pages and replicated Access databases. An upgrade to ASP.NET and SQL Server came some time later, then came a move to the cloud and the Software as a Service (SaaS) model, as MINDBODY Software became MINDBODY Online.

All this time, MINDBODY was a business-to-business affair. Then the company added consumer lifestyle to its bag of tricks, with its mobile application, the MINDBODY app, which handles not only appointment booking but also uses cohort analytics to highlight particular promotional offers to particular customers.

Data architecture
What are some of the other technologies used behind the scenes? In addition to the aforementioned Microsoft SQL Server, Redis is used for application caching; Amazon Redshift is used for MINDBODY's Data Warehouse and its individual data marts; and logging data is stored in Azure storage. Within its actual applications, MINDBODY uses a JavaScript library called HighCharts for visualization, though Tableau is used internally.


Booking via MINDBODY, on Google.

MINDBODY uses its tech-savvy approach in contexts that go beyond mobile. In fact the company has partnered with Google, such that many results from searches for wellness providers (for example, a search on "Yoga NYC") contain "Reserve with Google" links that, when clicked on, reveal that they are powered by MINDBODY (see embedded image, at left). This partnership started as a three-city pilot and is now available for facilities across the US.

What it means
The technology mix and history demonstrates something very important: that today's use of data science and the cloud is within the grasp of companies who are today's small businesses.

The vertical market software vendors of yesterday are the SaaS providers of today, and yesterday's banded reports have given way to analytical databases, data lakes, data visualization and predictive analytics.

Small and Medium companies have Big Data, and they have data science needs, too. MINDBODY proves that, and shows how businesses of all sizes are going through data-centric digital transformations.

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