Running a business can be a virtuous pursuit that is fundamentally about employing people and adding value to the lives and businesses of your customers.
Every time IBM's Watson wins a game of chess against the world champion or Google moves one step closer to the driverless car, we all get a little nervous. These developments conjure images of the Terminator, iRobot and the Matrix and remind us of our Janus-faced relationship with technology as we try to balance our affection for our iPhones with our fears of robot domination.
At Datanomy, we use data analysis and machine learning to help hospitals and other organizations become more efficient and make better decisions. As Datanomy’s CEO, I make it a point to regularly open up communication with clients and my team to fully address these fears of “evil algorithms.” I'd like to share with you the five concepts we always discuss before embarking on any new initiative or product to ensure we are pursuing the right data for the right reasons to benefit the right human beings.
1. Are we building or destroying?
Efficiencies and cost savings are important, but not if they come at the expense of quality, service or healthy growth. Data can bring to bear amazing opportunities for your business. It is a waste to get caught up in a downward cycle of using it strictly for expense management.
2. Do we have specific objectives?
How will we measure success? Analytics is current and sexy, but it is useless if you don’t determine what you are trying to achieve and figure out how you can measure it. Be sure the ends justify the means lest you get caught in the cycle of analytics for analytics’ sake. Worse yet, you could fall into the trap of identifying and focusing on something that isn't really there, i.e., overfitting, in which your statistical model describes random noise rather than sound analytical relationships. Mining data for the unknown can be a very expensive dance with disaster.
3. Is it O.P.S.?
Analytics can certainly improve internal operations, but at Datanomy this acronym means: Is it open, private and sustainable? If the new initiative will jeopardize transparency, data privacy, or the overall sustainability of the core business, it's a no-go. It is never worth losing the trust of customers or employees, full stop.
4. Who benefits?
Running a business can be a virtuous pursuit that is fundamentally about employing people and adding value to the lives and businesses of your customers. If the initiative does not benefit your employees, your patrons or the world at large, don't do it. In the long run, it will be a losing venture anyway.
5. Who has the final say?
Computers are smart, but people are smarter. Never let the data tell the entire story or jump to a conclusion without gut checking what the data is telling you. You are the CEO. You have the strongest neural network in the room and you always have the last word regarding decisions about your company.
With these five thoughts in mind, I encourage you to use data and technology to dominate your industry—with full confidence that you can stay human while doing so. Tell me about your wins (and failures) on Twitter at @daynasessa.
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