How Freeing Your It Staff of the Nitty -Gritty Can Boost Your Growth

For franchise operations that manage hundreds or thousands of locations at once, a strong IT staff is critical to keeping franchisees up and running, secure, and on top of constant advances in technology.

Similarly as important is your tech team’s ability to innovate and create new tech capabilities that elevate your brand and keep you competitive in the marketplace. But if your IT team is within a growing company – as is the case with most franchise brands – and it handles every aspect of your network, it can be easy for the staff to become consumed in day-to-day tasks and let new projects and innovations fall by the wayside.

Take, for instance, Massage Envy Spa, the pioneer and leading provider of therapeutic massage and spa services in the United States. Not too long ago, my IT team and I handled all of our internal servers, email and more for our rapidly growing operation. We were quickly reacting to every issue that emerged. There was little time to consider or even focus on long-term projects and quick wins as our operation was on its way to growing  from 692 franchises in 2011 to 960 locations in 49 states to date.

Our IT story – specifically, is how we moved from a reactive IT operation to a proactive one – and this should prove informative and useful to your own IT operation. It’s a story of transformation that today enables us to:

• Work on critical bottom-line business issues.

• Enhance our point-of-sale technology to better serve customers.

• Create new revenue-growth applications.

• Become better partners with other departments and our franchisees.

My Top Goal as CIO of a Growing Franchise

When I arrived at Massage Envy Spa more than five years ago, I had a single major goal in mind: lead a proactive IT department with a clear roadmap of where we wanted to be in the future. Rather than functioning as a  maintenance focused operation, we needed to deliver new innovations quickly to improve the experience for our customers and our franchisees.

A franchise’s core IT department should be a true business enabler that delivers real value to the company. It was vital for our IT professionals to vanquish labor intensive day-to-day duties and let someone else handle those items, freeing the tech team up to innovate. Otherwise, what can occur is that the IT team is viewed internally as only a cost center that is merely responsible for keeping email working and laptops fixed. If your tech team is proactive, on the other hand, and has the bandwidth to, for example, assist the marketing department to automate their processes online, the IT department can be a true enabler that adds value to the franchise operation.

Our team recognized that we couldn’t make the leap from reactive to proactive if our help desk was being overloaded or our servers were unavailable. Candidly, it’s hard for company leaders and colleagues to listen to a new project plan, no matter how groundbreaking, if everyone is living with daily IT issues that affect the entire organization. You need to address those first.

The Decision to Outsource

In order to maximize my team, I knew we had to strategically outsource some functions, particularly the heavy maintenance items. We needed to identify and use a managed IT host provider with cloud-computing services that would keep our rapidly growing franchise locations up and available.

That was crucial since any outage could limit our franchisees’ ability to serve our members and guests. The impact would be felt on nearly every point-of-sale interaction at our 960 locations. For our franchisees, we must be available a minimum of 20 hours a day, seven days a week.

One of our key selling points to our customers is the ability for any Massage Envy Spa member to go to any location nationwide and use their membership for massages or facials. Our technology facilitates this. So keeping our systems up-to-date and our technology available delivers the proper customer experience – regardless of which spa location a customer uses anywhere nationwide.

This is important because our initial goal for our current technology platforms was to have integrated systems where every franchisee receives the same software, same training, same reporting and the same processes in  place. And this has held true as we grew from 300 units to more than three times that number.

All franchisors can benefit from this approach in several ways. Having the mindset that you can leverage IT platforms on cloud technology to deliver to the business helps you deliver innovations on a faster timeline than traditional desktop-based tech, and keeps you from reinventing the wheel. Most likely a vendor has 95 percent of what you need, so you will not have to start from scratch and build something internally with existing resources. This frees up your time, and the time of your team, and brings down your cost significantly.

A Solid Disaster Recovery Plan

It is also essential to create a solid disaster recovery strategy, and having a managed enterprise cloud provider you can partner with allows you to gain expertise in that creation. When a website or database goes down for  any extended period, it is already too late to do something about it. This is the reactive part of IT that is not fun for anyone. A formal and strategic disaster recovery plan provides a proactive strategy that keeps that system up and running in a crisis and even though it is more work upfront, saves a large amount of time and pays dividends later on.

Inclement weather, especially hurricanes and tornadoes, have played havoc with computer and IT systems around the country. Even if your system uptime is exceptional, you may not be able to access the Internet – and  that hurts your ability to transact business, which can lead to lost revenue or lost customers.

Massage Envy Spa relies on two data centers as well as a team of outsourced expert IT specialists that serve as a true extension to our IT staff, and if one data center goes out, the backup in a completely different region and quickly goes into action. This also makes our system upgrades in our data centers seamless to our franchisees, members and guests. We always have a backup location that is ready to go.

Selecting a Vendor and a Partner

I can give you some of our criteria in selecting a managed enterprise cloud provider. First, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of an IT provider’s reputation. Reliability and security are essential to our business since  any loss of data or extended downtime period can trigger financial implications.

Since our members have the ability to visit any one of our locations across the country, having an unreliable system would prove unacceptable to both our franchisees and our customers. Any outage, regardless of how  long, would impact a large number of our point-of-sale interactions.

Ultimately, we selected SunGard Availability Services for our critical systems and for their capacity and capability to scale our network and cloud-hosting environment. The Wayne, PA, company handles larger maintenance needs, or the keep the lights on activities, while we concentrate on new projects and innovations.

As part of us looking forward and being more proactive, we were able to put massage sharing into effect for our members. It allows our members to transfer their unused massages to their friends and family. We have also  have launched an online booking tool, currently in one of our markets, and enhanced our reporting structure. This year will also see the launch of more innovations in the mobile space for our company. If our department was still reacting and being overburdened by increasing maintenance needs and costs, we would not have the bandwidth to launch initiatives that improve our customers’ experience and ultimately, our franchise as a whole.

Dan H. Miller is Chief Information Officer of Massage Envy Spa, based in Scottsdale, AZ.

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