If you aren’t familiar with the MyFitnessPal title, it is one of hundreds of iPhone apps in the personal Health and Fitness category on the app store. I mention it for two reasons. The first is that I have used the application and can say that it has helped me shed a few pounds. The second reason is that it relates to my pick of the week and the concept of “auto-analytics”. So let’s start with the former and why it actually worked for me.
Applications like MyFitnessPal fall into an area referred to as the “quantified self”, which has been a huge growth area over the last couple years. The area has become so hot that an entire community has formed on the topic including conferences and meetups all over the world. As co-founder of Quantified Self Gary Wolf points out in this YouTube video, the rapid rise has been driven by some key technology advances: availability of small cheap sensors, ubiquitous computing via mobile and distributed/cloud-based computing. In addition there are cultural shifts that have occurred that as individuals we have a wealth of data being tracked about us that is easily available. Having this data at our fingertips makes it that much easier to act upon that data. For me, it was all about setting a goal (target weight), understanding the drivers of weight (calories) and using a tool that helped me track my progress against the goal day to day (# of calories consumed, # of calories burned through exercise, daily weight). Ultimately I was able to achieve my goal. In addition to tracking my individual progress, I was able to “gamify” my activity by inviting friends to participate.
So how can we apply these concepts to a business (another consumerization opportunity)? Let’s run through what is needed. First, data collection is critical, both active (explicitly sharing or capturing data) and passive (for example location tracking). Second, we need to be able to combine and correlate different data sets to each other in what might be considered a non-traditional way (or at least not always considered simple).
Once we have the data, we can start to apply the concepts from H. James Wilson’s article on auto-analytics. Let me relate Wilson’s 5 reasons to my personal application of MyFitnessPal:
- Scientific management and experimentation: tracking my daily eating habits traded off against exercise. The more exercise, the more calories. Meanwhile I was measuring results against the progress toward my weight goal over time. This has a clear business application of target setting and modifying activity that are drivers of goals.
- Self-awareness: by knowing instantly the number of calories a Big Mac has versus a salad, I am immediately aware of the tradeoff without having to wait (or weight). In business terms, this is like having instant feedback from peers or managers.
- Consumerization: Having the technology easily accessible (sensors, mobile, social and cloud computing) all made tracking and participating easy. We are seeing this same consumerization happening in business, assuming IT can keep up. Otherwise they will be passed by.
- Personal connection to a greater good: From a personal perspective, it was hard to connect my personal gain to something larger. If I were to take the long view you could correlate my actions to things like living longer or even helping reduce healthcare costs for my company. The same can be said for a business. If we can relate ones actions (and give them an easy way to actively or passively collect data) to a company goal, either financial or non-financial, it can help individuals connect what might feel meaningless as being truly impactful.
- Platform for growth and innovation: I didn’t necessarily create my own applications, but I certainly used my first experiment using quantified self as a way to find other ways to innovate my health (by finding other health and fitness applications). But clearly giving individuals the ability to develop analytic applications to support auto-analytics can help organizations achieve goals. This may be as simple as allowing a business user to experiment with new tools to test a theory.
So how can one consider applying auto-analytics within a business context? I would suggest finding opportunities similar to how they are being applied in the consumer space. The analogies are applicable and can be easily adapted for any organization. It is just critical that the experiments are initially done on a small scale and grown as successes are accomplished.
Other Editor’s Choices:
How to successfully manage the consumerization of IT
Expertsourcing (Or, How to Test a Product Without Losing It in a Bar)
Six Ways to Tweet Smarter
Consumerization in 2012: Cloud and mobile blurs into other people’s IT