We’ve recently been circulating and discussing a really interesting article that appeared in Fortune: Why Big Data Isn’t Paying Off for Companies (Yet) written by Anne Fisher. It speaks to the some of the hurdles that are keeping businesses from truly benefitting from their data – and in some cases how their bigger data is actually slowing them down.

Their points were so eerily consistent with my own research that I couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been reading the eBook I wrote on KPIs: A Modern CFOs Guide to Finding the Right KPIs! (Just kidding, they probably haven’t read it yet but they should – I bet they’d feel even more vindicated.)

The one hurdle that I wanted to focus on from their article is around FOCUS. Imagine that.

As many of our customers know, I have strong opinions about measuring the RIGHT things in the business. In the eBook, A Modern CFO’s Guide to Finding the Right KPIs, I talk about one of the key tenets of a KPI being its tie to business strategy. An even clearer articulation of this concept is described in The 5 Do’s of an Outsanding Dashboard, I lay it out like this: “Before you even get to building a dashboard, you should determine what you are trying to answer…” Fisher references a similar point in her article when she talks about the first big hurdles that companies are facing is being in too big a hurry to leverage their data so that they aren’t staying focused or clear about what they need to know.

It is easy (and so very common) for business to have so much data in their arsenal that they can easily be overwhelmed with getting more information rather than useful, actionable answers. Every report and crowded dashboards is a testament to this point.

Companies are finding themselves looking at leaves. They are all shapes and all sizes. They are impossible to compare. They can’t even tell if it is autumn or spring as some of the leaves, when seen individual, are the lovely rust of fall while others are the brightest green of new growth. All this contradicting information creates disputes about what’s right, what matters and what to do.

My recommendation for businesses that are wanting to use all that data to their competitive advantage is to zoom out to the trees for a solid start. Reconnect with the business goals and agree (before you ever touch a leaf of data), what answers you would need to be able to show progress on those goals.

You should be driving your business with data in the passenger seat feeding you directions – not the other way around. Don’t look for your strategy based on data – look for data that helps you deliver on your strategies.

In short, forget the trees and leaves until you know what you are looking for. It will save you money, time, headaches. You need to start with the forest.

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