Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The man behind AccelerWare®: Interview with Stewart Briggs

Over last couple of months I have been looking into software solutions to help me with keeping data at one place, along with helping me in design of workouts, year plans, testing results, training workloads and monitoring. Why – because I am sick of Excel.  Because Excel was never meant to be a database solution.

A lot of coaches struggle with this  - they have testing data in one sheet, year plan in another, workouts in third, training load in fourth, etc. They have the current athletes/squads in one folder, older squads in another. They have two computers, one at home, one at work (thank God for Dropbox though).

Connecting those databases might be really problematic and demand a lot of “manual labor”. Now with Power Pivot and DAX formulas data mining might be easier, but I am not sure how you can create a ready to print workout cards from exercise database and 1RM testing using it. Another solution might be to learn Access, a desktop database software from Microsoft which is also a part of the Office package (which I currently doing along with learning statistics/R).

If you have a lot of money maybe you can hire an IT guy to code cloud and in-house solution. Or you might go with already developed software like AccelerWare, Smartabase, EDGE10, Visual Coaching, etc.

While I was googling software solution for strength training I stumbled upon AccelerWare. I asked for a demo and immediately got a response by Stewart Briggs, the ‘father’ of the AccelerWare. He was kind enough to give me a live demo of the system and I immediately started using it. I must admit that AccelerWare is really great tool – especially for small/medium businesses/clubs and strength and conditioning coaches.  The price of AccelerWare is a tiny fraction of other professional solutions, besides - you pay month to month which is awesome. 

Stewart is one of the kindest guys I talk to and I was really enjoying time talking to him, so I decided to do an interview with him and introduce him and AccelerWare to my readers.

I hope you enjoy the interview and please make sure to check AccelerWare – you might find that this is the solution to your database problems and a lot more.

Mladen: Thank you for taking you time to do this interview Stewart.  Can you please tell us something about yourself – who you are, what do you do, your coaching/development history, most notable clients/athletes/achievements and your general training philosophy?

Stewart: Hi Mladen, thanks for having me.  My name is Stewart Briggs. I was born in 1973 in a small country town named Bundaberg in Queensland, Australia. I grew up on a cattle station and went to school, rode horses and motor bikes and generally worked and played sport throughout my youth. I went to boarding school for 5 years in Rockhampton where I discovered new sports and I began strength training.  This is when I first learned the affects weight training could have on performance. I then had a choice of a military career or to go to university to study Human Movements. I chose university but joined the army reserve to continue my interests in military activities. My interest in strength and power training was enhanced by the talented staff and graduate students that were coincidentally at Southern Cross University in the early 1990’s. Therefore, I volunteered to be involved with many studies which were ground breaking at the time and developed my foundational knowledge to become a quality strength coach.

During my undergraduate studies, I decided to open my horizons and do exchange studies in the United States in 1994. I then decided to do my Masters of Education (Developmental Kinesiology) at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). After graduation, I was immediately hired to work as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach under Mike Ward at BGSU.  During my 4 years there, I had the pleasure of training athletes who went onto the NHL, NBA, and NFL.

In 1998, I became the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. This position allowed me to apply the things I learnt from Mike Ward and implement new training theories I had read about or remembered from studies at Southern Cross. This was an extremely positive time of my career and one which I will look back fondly upon forever.  While at Drake, I was again fortunate to work with several players who progressed into the NFL, which was amazing considering the small size of the football program.

In the year 2000, I returned with my wife Vicki to Brisbane, Australia to live. That is when we decided to start a company called Acceleration Australia. Since then, we have worked with countless numbers of fantastic athletes who have accomplished some very cool things. Most prominently we worked with Libby Trickett (Lenton at the time) where Libby won Olympic Gold and attained World Champion status in Swimming. Also, the Brisbane Bullets won their first National Championship (Professional Basketball) in 20 years. We have trained over 8 other Olympic athletes and a large number of young athletes who have gone on to represent their country or to play professionally.

My training philosophy is simple, “Results”. We only do things that get results. If we discover that there is a better way to get results, then we adapt and change what we do. I do not, however, jump around to the latest fade or trend. Instead, I like to watch, listen and learn from people who have been doing something for years and cut through all of the mistakes they made and get to the point where we know we will get results – and FAST.

Mladen: What motivated you to build AccelerWare? What is the story behind it?

Stewart: In early 2002, I started building a software program to handle testing data so that athletes could attain their results without necessarily seeing everyone else’s results. When I was a college strength coach I really struggled with the testing days because it seemed like a waste of time because no one really analysed their test results and used the information to make the program better or improve performance. Anyway at this time there was nothing on the market that was remotely in this space – so I started building AccelerWare. If you want to read the rest of the story on our About Us page: http://www.accelerware.com/accelerware-about-us

Mladen: I as a strength and conditioning coach, I am mostly interested in a way to manage player profiles, testing scores and histories, workout templates, loads, attendance, injuries and possible some way of subjective feedback (like wellness questionnaire or sRPE). Besides that I have noticed that the productivity also depends on the way workouts are presented to the squad/athletes (design, description, instruction, etc). How can AccelerWare help me in that regard?

Stewart: You’re absolutely dead right! There are so many components to training athletes and getting results.  You have to collect, record and report on so many aspects of the individuals and teams you train. This is why we created AccelerWare in the first place.  In order to be successful, we had to develop a system to quickly, easily and accurately to deliver programs, collect information, process that information and work with it. So, the software is ready to manage player details, record testing results, save templates and track attendance and injuries – and heaps more! We pump a lot of athletes through our weight room.  To be efficient and productive, we’ve worked really hard on our training program design.  It is built in a way to allow a coach to write his/her programs in a smart progression which allows the athletes to flow through a weight room.  AccelerWare also gives you quite a few set and rep chart options that fill into a program automatically. Weights can be entered in live cells which are recorded for reporting purposes. Programs also include exercises from a database which allows each exercise to be clicked on to view: videos, photographs, descriptions and other information which means communication is clear and concise. There are many aspects that we’ve built into the system over the last 11 years to cut out any repetitive jobs and streamline the processes that would otherwise bog you down or be neglected.

Mladen: Is AccelerWare limited only to strength and conditioning specialists or medical staff, rehab specialist or even skill/sport coaches and gym owners can use it? How can AccelerWare integrate the whole coaching staff for a common purpose and make that achievable on the front lines?

Stewart: AccelerWare also works really well for specialist coaches, exercise physiologists, physical therapists, personal trainers, fitness centres and sporting clubs.  The reason why it can work for so many different people and industries is because it was designed with the dual purpose of running a profitable business.  It doesn’t matter what you do, you still need to perform some fundamental, rudimentary tasks. Technically speaking, AccelerWare is powerful because it is built around a database and within a browser or cloud format. Once you start putting data into a database, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can do with that information.  The browser or cloud format means that the software is almost organic in the way that it can adapt, grow and change to accommodate for how it works what you want it to do.

This also allows fast and effective integration of information and communication with not only your staff but the other pertinent people with whom you need to work with.  They say that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a lot of people to look after your athletes and/or clients.  AccelerWare effectively integrates with your ‘village’ being parents, board members, directors, surgeons, therapists, volunteers etc.

Mladen: Compared to other products like Smartabase, EliteForm and Visual Coaching, what makes AccelerWare unique?

Stewart:  Smartabase, Elite Form and Visual Coaching all have their strong points. AccelerWare is unique for several reasons.  The first is Time.  We’ve been around for over 11 years building and improving its systems. I don’t think the other companies can say that. The second is Testing.  I have three very busy training centers and many customers using this software every day.  If there is a problem, we find it and we fix it.  We have a dedicated programmer who works for us, and she’s a genius! The third is Access. Because AccelerWare is cloud-based, it makes sharing information and communicating quick and easy.  Not only that, but it means that your hard drives are clear of heavy, bulky software.  This also means that there are no annoying upgrades to do but you always have the most current version. The fourth is Adaptability. AccelerWare is totally customizable!  If you find something we don’t have, no problem. We’ll just work together to build it in!  Also, each component of the software is separate so you only pay for what you need. That hints to the last thing – Affordability.  We’ve made the pricing fair as it will accommodate for what elements you want to use, the size of your organization and the timeframe that you are using it.

Mladen:  Who are some of the prominent clubs and/or coaches that use AccelerWare?

Stewart:  We have over 25 organisations from all over the world using AccelerWare. The range of users is tremendous. I will list some of my prolific users of AccelerWare and then I would say to you to watch their space because they are likely to be very successful in their given industry. Why do I say that? Well, I have been around some bad teams, some great teams and some average teams in business and sport. The one thing I have always noticed is that it is much easier to be good if you are systemized and these people were systemized even before they started using AccelerWare. So, they are sure to continue to be successful.

Vector Health – Glenn Hansen (www.vectorhealth.com.au)
Willows Health and Fitness – Troy Morgan (www.willowshealth.com.au)
Perth Wildcats – Will Markwick (www.wildcats.com.au)
SNAPP – Joey Eisenmann (snapp.msu.edu)
Cal Baptist University – Chris Bates (www.cbulancers.com)

Mladen: How steep is the learning curve? How long is the transition time for an average user and what can one you do to speed the transition time to AccelerWare?

Stewart:  This is a great question! Mastering any new software can seem like a massive, time consuming task. Incorporating new software that runs your whole operation is going to take a bit of time however, we’ve broken it down into consequential stages that guide you along and don’t take a huge amount of time.

For example, to get going quickly it is best to upload your client/athlete details. Using enrolment forms, this takes about 10-30 minutes.
Then, you can look to add your staff member’s details.  Each person should take about 5 minutes.
Finally, you can start to look at the calendar system to organize everyone.  Adding one series of events will take only 5 minutes.
Another important stage that needs to be addressed early is your bookkeeping. If you are keen to use the automated invoicing, you’ll need to set up a few parameters.  That should take only 60 minutes.

So, you can see that after a few hours, everyone is set up and in the system ready to start working.

Some people learn faster than others, but feedback from various customers tells me that it takes from a few days to a few months to really get on top of what they want to do with AccelerWare. When you consider that AccelerWare is meant to manage EVERYTHING then I suppose you would understand that it will take a while to set up properly.  Besides, I usually spend a bit of time helping people in the first couple of weeks anyway. 

Mladen: Technology seems to advance more and more and data collection gets more and more automatic. How is AccelerWare following this “arms-race”? Is there a  possibility to develop APIs for more automatic data entry, for example data from timing gates and/or jump mats?

Stewart: Data collection is vital for all professions these days because managers and boards are asking for more detailed reporting than ever. The speed with which you can collect and analyse this data is very important – that is where the sharing of API’s comes in handy. We have already used API’s to automate the sales processes of creating invoices and collecting payments. So doing this is absolutely do-able!  However, each time I look at automations like these, I need to consider whether it is actually worth it.

Swift Performance Equipment (www.spe.com.au) and I have talked about sharing API from their software to AccelerWare. This is completely possible and the idea is really interesting as SPE’s timing gates and programs are really good.  However, I must say that we have not been in a rush to do this one because it doesn’t seem to streamline the testing process.  I’ve found that the time it takes to set-up people before testing might be just as long if not longer than simply typing the results in manually. So, when considering any type of API automation, we’ll need to decide whether or not it will cut out a few steps. If it doesn’t then the customization may not be worthwhile.

This is how we stay ahead of the “arms-race” - by thinking practicality to base our decisions. We are not trying to create a multifunctional toy, but a smart, efficient tool that actually helps rather than mucking up the system. The last thing we want is a convolute AccelerWare and confuse people with a lot of extras and add-ons.  In saying that, however, if there is a technology out there that improves the software and makes it more useful; we will certainly be all over that!

Mladen: Speaking of that, customization of the whole AccelerWare is possible. What are the most frequent customizations requested by the users?

Stewart: Actually, there isn’t one thing requested more than another. It really depends on the industry we are talking about. For instance, therapists are looking for consultation note taking and calendar usage. Fitness Centres are very business focused so the whole financial reporting etc is very important. Strength coaches are obviously interested in designing programs quickly, while reporting is becoming a bigger issue every year. Personal trainers are mostly interested in a one-stop shop for all their needs from business to training programs. Sports Scientists are interested in data collection and statistical reporting on recovery and testing etc.  Exercise Physiologists are worried about printing options because a lot of their clients are not technologically savvy enough to use the internet. So the requests are many and varied throughout the week.

Mladen: What are the next major updates of the software? New features? GUI improvements, drag and drop export/import, statistical analysis?

Stewart:  AccelerWare has had vast improvements over the past few years.  A few of the highlights are: automatic invoicing, a selection of calendar views, set and rep charts, import/export training load data, business analysis reporting and video embedding. The next very immediate project we are starting has to do with more weight prescription automations. The idea is so that a strength coach of a large sporting organization, like a college, can prescribe accurate weights for each and every lift over time. The biggest point of difference however, will be our ability to track the changes to those weights actually lifted. This means more accurate weight prescription in the future, plus faster reporting and analysis for the strength coach.

Mladen: Thank you very much for such insightful answer Stewart. I hope that this interview brought some attention to your work and excellent AccelerWare software.

Stewart: No, thank you Mladen! You have done a great job asking really good questions! It is people like you that will help AccelerWare remain one of the best cloud based software’s of its type in the world. I have learnt a long time ago that it is my customers who are the future innovators of AccelerWare. So keep up the hard work, mate because it makes a difference not only for you but all AcclerWare users around the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment