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Big data in the club industry

Clubs would do well to monitor big data


The club industry has been clamoring for ever-increasing amounts of benchmark data over the last few years. The Great Recession spurred clubs into seeking more and more information on which to base, or validate significant operating and, sometimes, event strategic decisions. While such information can certainly be very useful, club boards and management would do well to monitor the pitfalls experienced in the broader commercial from the “panacea” that is big data.

Big data is a term that describes the large volume of data – both structured and unstructured – that is available to a business on a day-to-day basis. However, the amount of data that is available is not as important as what organizations do with the data. Used properly, big data can be analyzed for insights that lead to better decisions and strategic business decisions.

As the social psychologist, Ron Friedman points out in his article Why Too Much Data Disables Your Decision Makingknowledge, we're told, is power. But what if our thirst for data is actually holding us back? What if obsessing over information actually reduces the quality of our decisions?” Friedman goes on to discuss a very interesting study by Princeton and Stanford researchers that suggests that the seduction of data can lead to an obsession for information that can lead us to make decisions based on statistics that really, in the grand scheme of things, are not that important.

How many times have you sat in a committee or board meeting at your club and suffered through endless conjecture on what a certain statistic or benchmark data point really means for your club? Does it really matter what the industry is doing if you have built a solid budget and governance structure based on the needs and expectations of your club membership as a whole? If no two clubs are like, as we are always told, then why benchmark at all? Benchmarking can certainly be a useful tool for establishing general parameters when first establishing your club’s budget – but what use is it after that? If, as we like to quote, we “built our budget to suit our mission,” and not the other way around, then surely continuous, daily, weekly and monthly benchmarking against peer groups of clubs, that may be intending to offer an entirely different value proposition to ours, is an exercise in futility? Many clubs would do well to listen to Friedman’s final cautionary words, before embarking on the pursuit of big data for their club – “In a world where every click brings the promise of a discovery, we are all at risk of becoming addicts. The challenge lies in differentiating between questions worth exploring and questions best left unasked.”