Many talent executives and CLOs acknowledge that the digital transformation toolbox can help engage employees and change their behavior, and they are preparing their organizations to support AI, machine learning, blockchain and gamification as best practices for optimizing performance. In a larger context, this adoption calls for examination of the role of big data in business and in our overall culture.

The excitement surrounding big data is that web browsing, location tracking and social networks can help deliver automated, meaningful measurement and predict consumer behavior. Organizations can mine our e-mails, social network interactions and mouse clicks for programmatic insights. These days, life insurers can learn more from our internet histories than from a blood test. Personality assessments can accurately measure worker behavior and predict fit and performance.

“With an increase in the amount of employee data, we’re able to run many types of exploratory analytics to derive insights that we wouldn’t have been able to a decade ago” says Steinar Hjelle, vice president of talent management at global memory and storage company Micron Technology, which has 35,000 employees. This ability to measure on a grand scale promises to transform organizational management. Can big data make for a smarter working world, with more efficient companies guided by data and analysis? Are there dependable processes for predicting behaviors, skills and preferences? Welcome to the relatively new field of workforce science, which adds predictive analytics to a talent development playing field that’s long been dominated by gut intuition.

“Talent analytics tells us which competencies we can address and which are missing” says Joel Cataldo, head of talent for 12,000 employees at cable television provider Altice USA. “By overlaying that [information] with performance data, we can understand and focus on the DNA of the organization.”

The value of talent analytics adds another benefit that effectively engages users: inducing them to provide more data. Gathering and leveraging user data feeds a virtuous circle, because when data-driven experiences become more insightful and relevant, they can deliver as much value back to users as to the companies that deploy them.

“Analytics on people and organizational capability can deliver a measure of objectivity” says Scott Willett, principal at organizational effectiveness consultancy Pennington Human Dynamics. “This objectivity can inspire people to take action on learning because it brings performance gaps into tighter focus while helping clarify for the organization overall where to prioritize their learning investments.”

“Data moves training towards organic, personalized development within your job,” adds Cataldo. “With personalization, we begin to know where people are … in terms of skills and gaps, so we can spend energy and dollars optimally. The old adage ‘one size fits none’ is evolving into ‘one size fits each one.’”

Engaging onboarding and training experiences that measure user response can accelerate development, which puts new emphasis on improving self-led user experiences through data-rich digital communications approaches like gamification, particularly for a workforce that grew up on games. “Today’s learners are more distracted, overwhelmed and impatient than ever before. They expect on-demand access to learning, when and where they need it, and are empowered to find it on their own” says Hjelle. “They want to be connected [with] and learn from their peers and managers. Development is no longer just about classroom experiences. It’s about changing how learners think about learning, where it happens and how it happens.”

For now, humans still trump computers at engaging learners in the classroom and identifying the differentiators of organizational performance. This balance is shifting, as new tools parse and prioritize what we know about the workforce. “Talent analytics empowers an organization to optimize the greatest resource they have, by giving people the opportunity to own their own career development,” says Deb Kroeger, senior director, talent at LEO Pharma. “Forty percent of the workforce are millennials in their 30s and 40s who want to grow and develop. They grew up with digital. This is not the wave of the future; this is now.”