How Data’s Takeover of Business Influences the Talent Economy

As data becomes the most valuable business resource, how does that impact the talent market and skills needed for the future of business?
Data resource

Data is now a hugely powerful resource. According to The Economist, data is now a more valuable resource than oil. E-commerce giants such as Inc. and the search engine prowess of Alphabet Inc.’s Google collect and host large troves of data that help them sustain their competitive advantage.

While data has become a major asset to today’s most successful companies, what does its emergence mean for the market for skilled talent?

Although large companies have access to vast amounts of data, it’s not the data itself that is important; it’s the people they hire to make use of it.

“It’s not enough for companies to have tons of data,” said Scott Dobroski, community expert at employer reviews website Glassdoor. “Businesses have to hire employees who can analyze and make sense and meaning from the data, and then have a process in place to apply the learnings and insight the data provides.”

As a result, the talent market will require more workers who can manage data, use technologies that can capture and synthesize data and then understand the stories it tells. “Although many businesses have an abundance of data, it’s only helpful if you have talent that can effectively communicate what the data means, the trends it reveals and how that impacts your business, including consumers,” Dobroski said.

One title that emerged from the rise of data is the Chief Information Officer, said Steve Nyce, a senior economist at Willis Towers Watson and director of the firm’s Research and Innovation Center. Aforementioned companies such as Google and Amazon, as well as Facebook Inc., are in nearly every aspect of our lives, Nyce said, identifying customers and selling to them. Other organizations are taking note and using data to attract clients and profit.

Companies must have someone on board, such as the CIO and those who they oversee, who has a deep knowledge of data and business strategies to manage all of the data coming in. “In some industries, data is king,” Nyce said. But the data itself is now most important. “You’ve got to know how to analyze it,” he said.

Others echoed this sentiment. “It’s not data,” said Steven Hunt, senior vice president of human capital management research at SAP SuccessFactors, a human capital management software company headquartered in San Francisco. “It’s your ability to extract information from it.”

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Artificial intelligence, or AI, will help businesses analyze more data and allow them to make recommendations based on the insights it provides. But business leaders will still need skills beyond knowing how to gather and use data. They must use their judgment in making decisions. While access to data is always going to be a valuable commodity, too much of it can actually bog down decision-making.

“How much data do we need to make a decision, and when should we just make a decision?” Hunt said. Leaders will then need to balance knowing when to use the information at hand and when to ignore it.

The talent market does need more people who can understand data, though, and business leaders should already be working to recruit people with expertise in the field. Hunt recommended that CEOs push the education system to get more serious about math and science. Specifically, he said people should have a deep understanding of mathematics that includes taking of calculus courses, as well as statistics and probability. Willis Towers Watson’s Nyce added that workers will need to code in core languages to build out software that can digest the information, as well as be able to use more unstructured approaches to see patterns in data, such as through data mining.

But leaders should also educate their current workforce. Especially for roles that will be eliminated due to digitalization, organizations should communicate with those workers to educate them about the future of their work, Hunt said. It’s also important to connect employees with knowledge sources, which Hunt noted are increasingly easy to come by with the popularity of online courses. One company of note that does this well is AT&T Inc., which is providing its workers with the education necessary to perform in the company’s evolving business.

Hunt added that it won’t be enough to simply say that the company is preparing its employees for the next job; we don’t yet know what that will be. Instead, business leaders should tell employees, “we’re going to try to train you for the next level of our economy, which is this digital world,” Hunt said.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email