Millennials Don’t Want Enterprise IT to Party Like It’s 1999

There’s an invasion coming. In fact, it’s already under way, and you probably haven’t already realized that you’re about to be taken over. That’s right – Generation Y has entered the workforce (as anemic as it currently is), and is bound to become the dominant part of your enterprise within the next 10-15 years. What does this mean for your organization? How are the needs of Gen Y different from that of existing markets? And why does this have anything to do with Enterprise IT? The answers are below, but rest assured, the emergence of Millennials in the workforce is every bit a crisis point for your IT planning as dealing with the downfall of EA Frameworks and Cyberwarfare, albeit with most likely a positive ending.

What makes Gen Y different?

Wikipedia’s Generation Y entry provides some needed detail on what exactly we’re dealing with here:

Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, Generation Next or Net Generation, describes the demographic cohort following Generation X. Its members are often referred to as Millennials or Echo Boomers…commentators have used birth dates ranging somewhere from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s, but most agree on birth dates between 1982 and 1995. Members of this generation are called Echo Boomers, due to the significant increase in birth rates between 1982–1995, and because most of them are children of baby boomers. The term Generation Y first appeared in an August 1993 Ad Age editorial to describe teenagers of the day.

Ok, so they’re baby boomer spawn. Big deal? Well, not necessarily. Without exception, Gen Y’ers (let’s use the term Millennials from here on to simplify the writing) have grown up entirely in the information age. They don’t know a world without computers, cell phones, and MTV. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were already fighting by the time they were born, and the term minicomputer never even entered their lexicon.  But what makes the Millennials most relevant for the enterprise is that their experience of IT is primarily with the vast rate of change happening on the consumer side, rather than in the enterprise.

It’s not just an inherent technical fluency that separates Millennials from their peers. Milennials emerged in a world where instant communication in the form of email, texting, instant messaging, social networks, online gaming, virtual worlds like World of Warcraft and Second Life, and online sharing platforms such as YouTube were the norm. Because much of their lives were conducted in the public sphere, the notion of personal privacy has eroded. Will Millennials have the same respect for corporate information as that of their less publicly verbose colleagues?

Likewise, Millennials leverage the power of these mass communication and sharing platforms to revolutionize the way marketing and information sharing is done. Viral marketing, flash mobbing, internet memes, and spontaneous meetups are not only the new social cliques and in-culture of the generation, but the primary way trends are shaped.

This is all backed up by research. In a seminal report by Junco and Mastrodicasa, they cited the following results of a survey of the Millennial group:

College students, born between 1982-2003, used technology at higher rates than people from other generations. In their survey, they found that 97% of these students owned a computer, 94% owned a cell phone, and 56% owned a MP3 player. They also found that students spoke with their parents an average of 1.5 times a day about a wide range of topics. Other findings in the Junco and Mastrodicasa survey revealed 76% of students used instant messaging, and 92% of those reported multitasking while IMing.

But the far biggest impact on the emergence of Millennials in the workforce is that their expectations of what enterprise IT can do for them and the company is very different than their older peers. In the eyes of Millennials, they can get sophisticated IT stuff done without the IT department — in fact, many already have. So enterprise IT departments: prepare to win the hearts and minds of the Millennials lest they find competition for your services.

How will this impact Enterprise IT?

Millennials see IT as a tool to get things done. For them, however, they have a choice between using the tools of their daily lives (mobile devices, online applications, social networks) or the tools of their business lives (what we currently consider to be enterprise IT). As such, organizations need to understand the core needs of this critical user group:

  • Physical boundaries no longer exist – The fact that enterprise systems and data are behind a firewall are of little concern to folks who are very used to Cloud and SaaS-based system, mobile applications, and virtualization writ large. Location agnosticism is a must for future enterprise IT systems. This need is echoed in the Global Cubicle Supertrend, which forms a core part of ZapThink’s 2020 Vision of Enterprise IT. The Global Cubicle represents that realization that the enterprise is no longer confined to the physical boundaries of the office, and all the implications this has on IT and governance.
  • Mobile as a first-class participant – The days of treating mobile apps as a red-headed stepchild or third-class citizen in the enterprise IT landscape are over. There are far more reasons to make enterprise capabilities available inherently on mobile apps than not. Especially when your users spend more time on mobile systems than they do on the ones the enterprise IT department creates.
  • The Need for Immediacy – The “now” generation wants instant access to data and functionality. And they want it in a consistent manner regardless of the device they use or location they are at.
  • The Era of Function over Form is Over – The market has already proven that functionally equivalent (or even functionally poorer) applications with superior user experiences prevail over functionally superior, but user experience poor applications. Sound familiar? Well it should – most enterprise IT applications have utterly appalling user interfaces that are only modest improvements from the 1970s green screen era. Web based applications are 1990s hold-overs. It’s time to rethink the enterprise app.

How can enterprise IT address these needs? Fortunately, both the technology and know-how exist to solve these problems. As is often the case, the solution is most often design and architecture-centric and less-so technology centric. If someone sells you a Millennial Integration App, you should run quickly in the other direction. Instead, you should adjust your IT development and operations practices to meet the above needs:

  • Provide Immediate Gratification – Provisioning of IT capability has to be as immediate and agile as possible. Data and functionality have to be available and immediate regardless of device or location. The enterprise IT organization has to realize that it is in competition for the hearts and minds of the business users.
  • Design for Location and Device Agnosticism – Design for consistency of experience and action regardless of location and device. This emphasizes truly loosely-coupled Services & SOA design principles. If you haven’t been paying attention to loose coupling for the last 10 years that we’ve been talking about it, you should start now. Designing for loose coupling significantly complicates testing, security, privacy, and governance, but we’ve drilled down on these topics many times before.
  • Create a Compelling User Experience – User experience is no longer a luxury. You are competing with online, social, and mobile experiences. There is increasingly a fuzzy line between business & consumer IT. So, start learning from Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook’s examples and eliminate the Digital Divide.

This sounds like a tall order, but it shouldn’t be anything new for enterprise IT departments that are already looking ahead to the next generation of applications and value creation for the enterprise.

The ZapThink Take

The impact of Millennials entering the workforce becomes a crisis point only if organizations turn a blind eye to the different experiences and needs of this age group. The days of enterprise IT departments having sole control of the pace and scope of IT innovation in the organization are long gone. Millennials already know that they have sophisticated, highly usable, and instant IT capabilities available at their fingertips and online, so why should they be bothered when the comparatively slower and less-sophisticated enterprise IT department can’t get their needs met? A smart enterprise IT department will realize that internal as well as external market forces impact the scope of what they need to get done.

Those that ignore the changing internal dynamics of the workforce will face a crisis point when the new generation takes increasingly more senior management positions. Those that see the emergence of this savvy audience as a good excuse to increase the pace of innovation will not only save their own jobs, but continue to make the enterprise IT department a champion and engine for innovation in the enterprise.