Hot company, hot image, hot growth sector, cold showers... not every part of Virgin glows red in the warm light of success. Image Source: Black Media

Ever had a cold gym shower in November? Richard Branson and team will adopt the IoT for predictive maintenance intelligence, eventually, probably, hopefully.

As a daily gym goer, one tends to get attuned to the nuances of service provided by the local gym facilities, especially when the annual membership fee seems to creep up pound-by-pound (or dollar-by-dollar) on a year-upon-year basis.

Virgin Active Smugglers Way in London UK is a beautiful facility, potentially. Listed high up on the firm’s grading list, apparently – only the Kensington Facility (which boasts Kylie Minogue as a member, allegedly) – comes in higher on the scale.

Or is that the David Lloyd group with Kylie? It doesn’t really matter, we have a point to make here.

Ouch! That’s cold!

One can only admire Branson and his empire thoroughly. He embodies the spirit of entrepreneurialism to the core. But despite this, he runs (very arguably in this case) like many companies what is essentially still a data-disconnected firm that could do so much better if it were a true digital business, which, today… it is not.

Yes, I had painfully cold shower this week at Virgin Active.

I also worked out on shoddy equipment that had faulty TV screens and broken bike saddles. Okay so yes the doggy doo doo on the cross-trainer pedals doesn’t really fit into the IT argument here, but it didn’t help either and it helped drive the creation of this story.

Digitize the pipes of business, please

Where Virgin Active has failed, obviously, is in the true digital sensor enablement of its business operations. The boilers crash out, but who gets alerted? Answer: nobody. That’s why the members get cold showers.

In the future, the very near future… firms will be able to implant Internet of Things (IoT) level monitoring devices, sensors, readout dials, business dashboards and all manner of operational-level digital devices from front to back.

This will enable firms like Virgin Active and everybody else to a) know when devices fail but b) more importantly, they will be able to run real time-based diagnostics on the equipment they use to create the infrastructure of the businesses they seek to provide.

In the meantime, yes, it’s cold showers if you’re unlucky.

What else could Virgin Group do?

Looking wider scale at how the entire Virgin Group could improve, it is clear that there are many avenues from its train operations to its aircraft to its ‘whatever the next Branson idea is’ project that could benefit from a greater level of digitisation.

Could Virgin start to use some form of tracking to sense whether people had brought in doggy poo and their training shoes (sneakers or tennis shoes) had left a smelly deposit on the cross-trainers? That could be a tough one to bring online. If the firm can pump out a hot shower at least then maybe we can deal with it.

Virgin Active reaction, encouraging

Update: Subsequent to running this story, Internet of Business received the following update from Virgin Active’s Tasha Young in her role as customer journey & retention director.

“With regards to the points you’ve raised regarding the use of IoT level monitoring devices to enhance our club operations, this is something that we’re already trialling to varying degrees across our clubs, with a view to gaining real-time information and alerts regarding state of repair and critical systems. We currently run a Building Management System (BMS) in the majority of our clubs, which digitally monitors a number of important metrics, including water temperature and air temperature on a daily basis,” said Young.

She explained that Virgin Active’s stance is one of agree in terms of comments made relating to the importance of working in real-time and having the ability to predict issues before they happen, which is why the firm is also currently trialling a solution which triggers immediate alerts where required.

“We hope that this will enable us to communicate with members, quickly resolve any problems that arise and run a smoother club operation in general going forwards. Whilst we appreciate that members won’t always be aware of the presence of these systems in our clubs, you can rest assured that we’re committed to identifying and trialling a wide range of operational-level digital devices and software ongoing, in order to continually improve our service levels. Of course, we also understand that from a brand perspective, our members expect to see us at the forefront of technology wherever possible,” she noted.

Takeaway thoughts…

Yes, Virgin Active was unlucky to have a tired journalist who writes for an Internet of Things title getting a cold shower on a chilly day. But it’s not a perfect world is it? Well, it could be more perfect with more IoT data insight, so we will all get there, eventually.

Disclosure: Virgin Active has offered to follow up personally in an extremely professional and personal manner.


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I am a technology journalist with over two decades of press experience. Primarily I work as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, I am also an analyst, technology evangelist and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, my own editorial purview has also broadened. I have spent much of the last ten years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices and data management. I have an extensive background in communications starting in print media, newspapers and also television. If anything, this gives me enough man-hours of cynical world-weary experience to separate the spin from the substance, even when the products are shiny and new.