Biomarkers are needed to guide treatment decisions for patients with rheumatic diseases. Although the phenotypic and functional analysis of immune cells is an appealing strategy for understanding immune-mediated disease processes, immune cell profiling currently has no role in clinical rheumatology. New technologies, including mass cytometry, gene expression profiling by RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) and multiplexed functional assays, enable the analysis of immune cell function with unprecedented detail and promise not only a deeper understanding of pathogenesis, but also the discovery of novel biomarkers. The large and complex data sets generated by these technologies--big data--require specialized approaches for analysis and visualization of results. Standardization of assays and definition of the range of normal values are additional challenges when translating these novel approaches into clinical practice. In this Review, we discuss technological advances in the high-dimensional analysis of immune cells and consider how these developments might support the discovery of predictive biomarkers to benefit the practice of rheumatology and improve patient care.