Big Data is the buzzword of the year. It’s almost impossible to read anything about management, leadership or technology without encountering it. The term is vague almost by design. But what does it actually mean to a frontline team manager? What does a CEO need to understand about Big Data in their workplace? As co-authors of The Decoded Company, we have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic. Here are the top five trends you should be thinking about.

1.     We are living in a data-abundant environment and it’s changing everything.

Most of the technology of management that we use today is designed around the assumption that data is expensive to gather and therefore infrequently available. Yet, data is abundant and incredibly cheap to gather, store, process and analyse. This epic shift has led to radically different business models on one hand, but only incremental management philosophy tinkering on the other. The tools we use every day, such as meetings and e-mail, were all invented by people who were born last century in a radically different world.

2.     People are the most important thing.

Language is critical. CEOs talk about their people as being their most important assets and resources without considering the definition of those words. Resources are defined as a source or supply from which benefit is produced; assets are anything tangible or intangible that is capable of being owned or controlled. Even the language of accounting can be viewed as somewhat brutalizing – employees are owed money for their time which makes them liabilities. The traditional approaches to management are predicated largely on the idea that people were interchangeable cogs in a production machine. Whether they were harvesting a field or adding a part to a widget making its way through a factory, people were essentially units of labour. Our shift to a knowledge-based economy has created highly specialized and differentiated requirements for the people that make up our organizations. Unfortunately, our one-size-fits-all processes haven’t evolved to match it. We should call people “people” (or “talent”) and we should adapt as much as possible to empower them to perform at their best.

3.     Big Data is no longer simply a technological issue, but a strategic one.

With the increasing popularity of Data Scientists’ roles within organizations, it is often easy to assume that dealing with the age of Big Data is as simple as outsourcing those responsibilities to someone with a statistical/computer science background. In reality, our ability to leverage data to answer challenging questions falls firmly into the C-Suite territory. The ability to use Big Data, both internally and externally, has become a leadership issue that must be carefully considered at the highest level of an organization. Without a leader’s vision and foresight to guide the organization, all the data in the world won’t be useful and in fact, can be quite harmful to company culture, performance and morale.

4.     Every company has untapped analytical resources; every company has the potential to be “decoded”.

Data has become such a plentiful resource that many companies are producing many streams of data already without capturing any useful insights. Being “decoded” is not a single state, but a broad spectrum on which every company should find its place. In that respect, identifying those analytical resources can help you better understand your organization’s needs and make the best possible use of both people and data.

 5.     Companies will need to develop and maintain ethical data practices.

As companies continue to use data to better understand their customers and their own people, the question of privacy and transparency have become critical issues to be addressed. We believe in creating and promoting ethical data practices that protect people’s right to privacy. Developing best practices that include transparency in what is being collected and how it’s being used is critical. That is why we have introduced a concept called the Corporate Public Record, to guide organizations to focus on collecting non-sensitive data in a transparent way – such as which clients an employee is responsible for, the number of people on a team, budget details, how often deadlines are met, etc. The idea is to tap into data to better inform and empowering employees, helping to create happy and humane workplaces.

If properly harnessed, technology can be a coach and a trainer, spurring people on. At the moment, most corporate software systems are more like referees, slavishly enforcing business rules even at the expense of your people’s time, engagement and sanity. It doesn’t have to be this way. We believe that the new key to a competitive advantage is to become more talent-centric, data-driven, flexible and fast.

“The Decoded Company: Know Your People Better Than You Know Your Customers” is a New York Times Bestselling book written by Leerom Segal, Aaron Goldstein, Jay Goldman and Rahaf Harfoush. Leerom Segal and Aaron Goldstein are the Co-Founders of Klick Health, a World Economic Forum Global Growth Company. Rahaf Harfoush is a Global Shaper and Co-Curator of the Forum’s Paris Hub.

Find out more on how new technologies are reshaping society, business and government in the Global Technology Leadership course of Forum Academy.

Image: People stand in front of a big data analytics logo during preparations for the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch