IT and the Millennials: Bridging the chasm

By Andy McLoughlin posted 08-19-2011 12:38



Much has been written about the Millennials / digital natives / MySpace / Facebook / latest social phenomenon generation entering the world of work and disrupting the traditional IT department. This is a generation that is accustomed to getting information in real-time: the Millennials have never known life without the internet. They keep in touch with friends and family via Facebook, share their pictures on Flickr and communicate using instant messaging tools such as Skype and GoogleTalk. Needless to say this is a generation that is unlikely to purchase a photo album or send a letter via ‘snail mail’.

When you drop this generation of Digital Natives, accustomed to flexibility and openness, into a workplace where the CIO holds the technology keys, they could be on an inevitable collision course. Faced with traditional inward-looking systems and lock-down on social networking sites, Millennials everywhere will be banging on the door of the IT department and expressing their disgust at the dinosaur-like technology in place, right? Not according to new research by GigaOM Pro and Isurus Market Research & Consulting,sponsored by IT support vendor Bomgar.

The survey of 400 20 – 29 year olds in the US actually revealed that they have a pretty high regard for their employers’ IT support systems. Almost three quarters (74 per cent) rate their departments positively and 45 per cent give them a 6 or 7 on a 7-point excellence scale. However, the research also throws up some interesting (but perhaps unsurprising) disparities between IT managers’ and Millennials expectations.

Accustomed to instant gratification and getting information at the touch of a button, Millennials expect near real-time response from the IT. The majority (59 per cent) of Digital Natives questioned felt that 10 minutes or less was an “acceptable” support response time. However, just a quarter of IT departments respond within this 10 minute timeframe. This discrepancy may help to explain why 61 per cent of Millennials turn to sources other than the IT department, such as Google, to solve their issues.

And what do the IT managers have to say about Millennials? In a separate GigaOM/Isurus survey of 200 IT managers, 81 per cent of respondents state that Millennials' tech expectations are "different to very different" from those of their older peers. Corporate IT policies are also a touchy subject. While more than half (53 per cent) of Millennials admitted that they tried to follow all IT guidelines, only 31 per cent of IT managers believed that this was the case.

The question on corporate IT policies highlights an issue that lies at the heart of the social software in the workplace debate: control.  Millennials are entering an office environment that is likely to have rigid restraints on what technologies can and cannot be used during working hours. Accustomed to unconstrained access to the likes of Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn and various other applications, Digital Natives are entering a whole new world where the IT department rules. However, a careful balance needs to be struck.  

To attract and retain fresh talent, IT managers need to be prepared to listen to suggestions from Milennials and examine whether some of the bleeding-edge technologies they use on a daily basis could actually be of use in the workplace. Yes, by introducing the likes of wikis, blogs and instant messaging into the work environment, IT departments are relinquishing control over what users can and cannot do. However, it could also result in more agile working practices and an opportunity to stay ahead of your competitors, not to mention improved job satisfaction for those demanding better tools.

There is a key area where both IT and the Milennials appear to be on the same page: anywhere access. According to analyst house IDC,the number of mobile workers will hit 1.2 billion by 2013. The Millennials will make up a large part of this mobile workforce, with 40 per cent already admitting that they use a smartphone or tablet for work at least once a week. A fifth also works after hours every day. Aware that providing teams with anywhere, anytime access is becoming increasingly important, the IT departments surveyed are already providing the required support. More than three quarters (77 per cent) already offer out of hours support, 84 per cent enable email access from personal devices and 58 per cent provide network access from personal devices.

While there is still a gap to bridge between the IT department and digital natives entering the world of work, steps are being taken to pave the way for the next generation of workers entering the office.


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