There is a fantastic new tool taking root across the senior living field. It’s called analytics.

As never before, operators are embracing analytics to improve performance and the bottom line.

By tapping into higher levels of data analysis, many communities are finding ways to deliver better care, are discovering new services to deliver, and are unearthing better ways to find and retain talent. And that’s just for starters.

If analytics were a medicine, we would call it a wonder drug. And by some estimates, the best is yet to come. But like anything else in the hands or minds of humans, it can be used to help or harm.

As Michael Harris and Bill Taylor point out in the September-October issue of Harvard Business Review, firms can lose sight of their overall strategy if they focus too narrowly on the metrics that analytics reveals.

Let’s face it, strategy can be a bit squishy and abstract. Terms such as integrity, customer focus and other strategy-friendly labels often fail the bar chart test. This can lead to hard numbers being used as a proxy. The authors even have a name for what can happen: surrogation.

As they point out, surrogation has had a hand in undermining some fairly big firms. Most notably, there’s Wells Fargo. There, wacky incentives that could be quantified led to underhanded business practices the brand is still reeling from.

If you think senior living is immune from the same dynamic, think again. If you are using performance metrics, there’s a very good chance surrogation already is happening within your walls.

Yes, analytics is one of the best things to come along in quite some time. But an obsession with numbers can have a real downside. That’s especially the case for a sector as customer-centric as senior living.

Analytics may not require a Surgeon General’s warning. But operators are well advised to treat this tool with the respect it deserves.