Better Data Strategy: Play the Short Game, but Win the Long One

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

Tracing the Evolution of Business Intelligence Through the Rise of Embedded Analytics

Forbes published an interesting opinion about the costs of investing in health care data, and I think it makes some worthwhile points that relate to other industries and possibly all data-related projections.

We talk a lot about achieving ROI and the business case for data investments, but are we playing the short game when we really need to be playing the long one?

Right now, answering questions about a person’s health is a lot of experimentation and luck, writes Colin Hill, the CEO and co-founder of GNS, a big data analytics company devoted to health care.

And it’s not cheap. Hill quotes one stat estimating that one-third of current healthcare spending is pure waste. He believes data is the key to changing that. It will take time, and the investments may not offer a clear pay-off at first, but eventually, it’s worth it, he contends.

“Learning from data can help fill in these knowledge blind spots in a much faster, more direct way,” he writes. “As access to data and our computational tools continue to improve, we are using data to address the problems above, giving health plans and providers tools to deliver personalized, evidence-based care to healthcare consumers and patients.”

But it is going to take time to figure out how to actually analyze the data and understand what it all means.

“We have massive amounts of data aggregated in the healthcare system, but we still need to bridge the gap between merely having data and actually unlocking its value,” Hill writes. “The key is to take the data from the places it is stockpiled and make it liquid, so that we can use it across disciplines and across industries to generate new knowledge.”

Of course, that’s going to take integration, which means time and money. It’s also going to require some serious analysis. None of this is cheap or quick, but it is nonetheless worth pursuing. As Hill says:

'This illumination of known unknowns will allow us to build a system that continually improves through the use of feedback loops. …As our known unknowns become known knowns, we create new evidence for future care, particularly personalized medicine.'

It’s really the age-old IT argument about pursuing a strategic goal versus low-hanging fruit. The reality is, you sometimes have to aim for the low-hanging fruit just to get budget approval. But the real payoffs—the life-altering, business-transforming payoffs—those are almost always in the long game.

Google is quite good at this. They always play the short game, although they’re not always successful. Their first healthcare records effort, Google Health, was a flop. Personally, I think it was premature and also I was never clear on how it worked. Was I supposed to scan things in and upload it? Ask my doctor to do it? I never knew, and I never had time to work it out.

But ultimately, Google is always focused on that long game victory. And so this week, it announced “Calico,” a new health care records initiative.

What’s different this time around is that Google is setting it up as a new company, rather than a project that had to compete with Android, as ZDNet notes. I assume Calico will build on Google Health (the low-hanging fruit) and apply the lessons to more strategic ends. As is often the case with Google, it starts out inconsequential and then aims high, and this time, the goal is no less than applying technology to saving lives. The press release even includes this quote from Apple CEO Tim Cook:

'For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.'

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