John O'Connor

From Google to grocers, innovative firms are finding ways to tame data in ways that give them a unique advantage. More than a few long-term care operators have begun to take notice.

The terms applied to this harnessing of information still vary. Some call it analytics. Others like big data. And a few of the old stalwarts in the senior living field still prefer data management. But while the labels may be different, their goal is essentially the same: allowing users to better manage and exploit information.

But for all of big data’s promise, many operators remain skeptical about how best to proceed. Rightfully so. As quite a few long-term care businesses have learned the hard way, it’s very easy to throw good money after bad when new tech toys come along.

As a person who breaks out in a cold sweat when it’s time to balance the checkbook, I’m glad there are some real pros out there who can help. In fact, two of them — Dominic Barton and David Court — teamed up to write an eminently readable piece on this subject for the October issue of Harvard Business Review. These experts from McKinsey note that it’s important for big-data converts to do three things well:

1.     Choose the right data

That means finding deliberate and creative ways to identify usable data you already have, and exploring other sources of information. As a part of this step, you’ll need to source data creatively. Just as important, you’ll need to get the IT support you need. This part of the equation alone may take years to accomplish, they note. So be sure to work with your chief information officer to prioritize requirements.


2. Build models that predict and optimize business outcomes

It’s rare that the best approach to building a model starts with the data. Simple data mining easily can turn into a fool’s errand. It’s usually more productive to identify the business opportunity and determine how the model can improve performance.

3. Transform your company’s capabilities

A common problem related to analytics is that managers often fail to understand or trust big data–based models. That’s why it’s so important that you develop business-relevant analytics that can be put to use. Equally critical, make sure analytics are embedded into simple tools that front-line employees can use. Finally, you’ll also need to develop capabilities that let you exploit the insights you are gaining. For example, that may mean that you do rehab care better than hospice, or vice versa.

There’s little doubt that analytics are beginning to take hold in the long-term care sector. And it’s possible some executives will be tempted to massively overhaul their firms. That’s likely to be a mistake. You will probably be much happier in the long run by doing the three things mentioned above.

These steps will lead to insights and will allow you to remain flexible. And given the likely road ahead, knowledge and being nimble are likely to be essential for any senior living operator planning to stay in business.