Is your greatest asset people, or data?

James Petter
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Most of us spend our entire careers working for organisations where the prevailing attitude is that “people are our greatest asset”.

In the service sector in particular, the expertise of an organisation’s people, their ability to work together, deliver an outstanding service and build strong relationships with customers is a cornerstone of its proposition. Often it is the decisive factor that influences whether a customer selects your company’s service over a rival.

Attitudes are changing, however. It now seems that many organisations no longer believe that their employees are their greatest asset. New Pure Storage research reveals that the majority of British businesses admit that the data their company holds is more valuable than the people it employs. As the data revolution rapidly transforms our economy and workplace, the findings cast fresh doubt on not just human value, but our role in an organisation.

On a broader level, it also raises existential concerns about what will happen to our jobs and careers.

So what is driving the change in businesses perception of the value of data?

Put simply, it’s the dramatic rise in our use of connected devices, such as fitness trackers, fridge and heating sensors, scales and smart toasters that’s driving this. And the trend is set to continue as analysts Gartner predict that the world will use 20.4bn connected devices by 2020. As a result, as organisations hold greater amounts of data and as their ability to analyse and interpret the data improves, the value of that data will increase exponentially.

The growing value of data to businesses is clear. However, the fact data is now valued above employees will be a concern. A rising number of people are already worried that new technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence will threaten their careers. This is backed up by a recent PwC study that suggests AI will sweep away up to a third of jobs by 2030.

However it is entirely possible these will be offset by gains in other sectors of the economy. Figures from the Centre for Economics and Business Research back this assertion, predicting that 182,000 new UK jobs in big data and Internet of Things (IoT) will be created in the next three years alone. If the number of new jobs created broadly covers the number lost through automation, it will be a welcome development.

Our study reveals another interesting finding. It shows that business leaders consider that data is now so important to business today that over two thirds think it should be shown as an asset on the company balance sheet.

So it is conceivable that data could one day become a business asset that is evaluated and entered onto a balance sheet, just like other. This big data age could revolutionise the way we value our companies.

The new connected world will undoubtedly bring significant challenges around how data is managed, collected, stored, and used.

For instance, our research found that 61 per cent of businesses believe that unstructured data is putting pressure on storage. As IoT and smart devices become more widespread, unstructured data will flood organisations, potentially overwhelming existing storage solutions that were never designed to handle these kinds of emerging workloads. So businesses need to think hard about what they protect, and how they store their data.

If the value of an employee declines relative to assets such as data, how will that play out on the way they are treated and valued in the future?

The answers to this are difficult to predict. But it will certainly be a key issue for politicians, businesses and individuals to deal with as our world becomes ever more connected.

It is important that we consider carefully now the policies, and the measures we need to take to protect people’s jobs and careers as we enter this new data driven age.

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