Some think better lobbying is the key to senior living’s future success. Others say it’s all about harnessing favorable demographic shifts. Still others insist that enlightened leadership will lead the way.

There’s no doubt that those three amigos will be major players. For in their own way, each can open new doors and unleash new opportunities.

But there is a sleeper player that might trump even these obvious candidates. It’s a four-letter word we’d better get more used to hearing: data.

For like a person’s spine, data are going to be involved in virtually every activity this industry undertakes going forward. Here are just some of the ways.

First and foremost, data will allow operators to better manage existing tasks and functions. From staff scheduling to furnace replacements, data will increase both efficiency and effectiveness.

Then there’s that little matter of resident care. Data will deliver real knowledge about ways to serve customers better — from new insights about food and activity preferences to ensuring appointments are not overlooked. And much, much more.

Then there’s what might be the biggest payoff of them all: strategic insight. As no previous tool, data can help reveal where your organization might be able to do things better. It will also show whether you are doing things so well that a new business expansion makes sense.

Of course, those data-related payoffs are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Why am I so keen on data? It’s simple really. Senior living is a knowledge business. Data are going to facilitate smarter decisions. Just as important, it will reveal new options in less time.

Tomorrow’s senior living communities will need to do things better and faster than the competition. No tool can facilitate both better than data.

Of course, not every operator will opt to become more data savvy. Just the most successful ones.