Corporate IT has to change the way it works

by on 26/04/2011

Smartphone showing Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn icons

The World Is Changing

Millennials, also called generation Y, are loosely defined as the generation born between 1980 and 2000.

This is a huge group of people who share many characteristics (see Pew Research‘s “Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next”), but key here is their familiarity with and hugely increased use of technology. These are the people who use Twitter and Facebook on a regular basis both as an integral part of their social lives and also for research and entertainment. They are digital natives, who believe that technology should not just be functional; it should be beautiful, convenient, real-time, collaborative and cool. Millennials are the people who have the latest tablets and smartphones and send 20 texts in a day.

As the baby boomer generation (1946 – 1964) retires, the millennials become increasingly ascendant in the workplace. This totally alters the demands made on corporate IT departments. Millennials are used to working with the latest technology and see no reason why they should not do so in the workplace.

There is an interesting shift at play here. Going back 50 years, technology was eye-wateringly expensive and only Governments could afford the latest hardware. As the price dropped somewhat, corporations began to lead the way with technological innovation, but the latest technology was still too expensive for the mass private market. Now, consumers very much lead technological demand and frequently have more powerful and innovative equipment at home than they have in the office.

How does this major shift effect companies?

Millennials are increasingly looking to work for a company that provides IT solutions that they are used to. In the next few years, companies that do not adapt to meet these demands will fail to attract the best candidates. IT departments need to make the shift from a controlling “one size fits all” approach to a much looser demand-led provision of IT.

Using smartphones as an example, they need to supply and support not just the traditional BlackBerries, but iPhones if the employee wants that. Or Android phones, or whatever. And the same is true for laptops, tablets and software. They need to support and encourage home working. And they need to allow, if not positively encourage, use of social media tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

This is a huge culture shift for organisations and their IT departments. There are valid inherent risks and concerns about time-wasting, security, cost of support etc. but these need to be overcome because millenials and their way of working are becoming the norm rather than the exception.

What should we do?

The most innovative companies are taking an entirely different approach. Giving each employee an amount of money, for example £1,000, they allow the use of any technology that is chosen. This gives staff the freedom to chose what they are used to working with and take pride in their company. IT becomes a part of the overall remuneration package, is a reason for a potential employee to chose a company and a factor in why employees enjoy going to work.

Moving to this model is a huge change for an internal IT department. It demands a change of culture, processes, guidelines, systems and quite potentially leadership. The change is easier if IT is outsourced, but still not simple. However, those that do not make the change are fighting the inevitable, and those that lead the way will encourage a happy and productive workforce.

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