Why Shouldn’t You Only Look at Metrics

Companies have been developing reports and dashboards to perfect their business intelligence for years, but with buzz around the “Big Data,” all of a sudden everyone seems to pay way too much attention simply on metrics, reports, or dashboards to diagnose business performance.

And that’s just wrong.

Former business professor Aaron Levenstein once said, “Statistics are like a bikini. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.” A recent Harvard business review article “The Hidden Biases in Big Data,” further argues that “data and datasets are not objective.” The article also mentions that most people are disguised by “data fundamentalism,” that is, correlation always indicates causation, and that massive datasets and predictive analytics always reflect objective truth.

Big data aren’t flawless, but I want to raise another point: Don’t look at metrics when you don’t know what are your goals and objectives.

<p>Another Forbes article, “Meeting the Big Data Challenge: Don’t be Objective,” weighs on the importance of intuition versus analysis. The article says, “The existence of Big Data and more rational, analytical tools and frameworks places more or less on the role of intuition.” Before web intelligence and data mining tools became prevalent, companies like Citigroup, Colgate, and DuPont had to rely on something else (e.g., leadership or market opportunities) to make decisions.

I’m not saying big data and analytics aren’t important. But I do believe that goals should drive the focus of data collection and analyses. Without goals, big data or metrics are simply pointless.

Sure. Everyone (especially executives and shareholders) loves to look at metrics. It’s like looking at your final grades at the end of school year (if you studied hard). But your transcript doesn’t give a holistic picture of your academic performance unless you know what you’re focusing on. The same idea applies to every business. An increase in site traffic might be deemed a “successful” metric, but if that increase happened due to more money pouring into media, or even due to a higher cost per acquisition, can you still call such an increase a success?

Set a goal first, one with measurability and clarity. The competitor analyses, market trends, and business diagnosis will come later.

What are your experiences with big data and setting business objectives?

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