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Playing CIO to millennials

Millennials are bringing a new set of expectations into the work place, challenging traditional IT support systems

Masoom Gupte  |  Mumbai 

The latest for mobile telecom service brand MTS shows a young woman in the labour room with her husband recording the moment of the baby's arrival. The newborn is no regular wailing baby - he is a tech savvy kid who grabs the tablet the father was using to look up information on how to severe the umbilical cord, proceeding to apply the newly-acquired knowledge without much fuss. He stops to click a selfie with the nurse assisting the doctor on the case, posts his videos on the net, before finally walking out to announce his arrival to the world. The concludes with the tagline, "Born for the "

The core message of the commercial finds resonance with a generation that is indeed born for the In fact, it is a generation that was born with the and has grown up with it. Experts define the quintessential millennial as one born anytime between early 1980s and early 2000s. The oldest of this lot, at this point, would be a few years into their careers and possibly, having circumvented the teething problems faced by the newly-initiated-into-the-work-life-cult, settling down.

Mind you, this bunch is different. Mark Goodburn, global head, advisory services, KPMG, says: "If you looked around a room of successful 40-plus year olds and asked them what attributes make them successful, they'd probably say it's because they are loyal to their company, customers and peers or simply because they are smarter than the rest. Ask the millennial the same question and he'll say, because am passionate, can adapt to change quickly, etc. All these attributes are important but different."

As a group, can't be ignored any more. They are your customers and will soon be, if not already, the majority group within the organisation. They will bring to the table their own set of strengths and challenges. The most important thing they bring to the workplace is their born-for-the-internet lineage. It is a strength because they embrace and master new technologies with alacrity. Challenge because they show little tolerance for those who can't keep pace with their expectations. That means organisations that employ them have to be in step with the demands of their millennial workforce, adapting the information technology infrastructure with equal alacrity.

Indeed, the role of IT in the retention of employees is far greater today than given credit for. Goodburn gives the example of the iPad launch. "See the video of the launch. On several occasions, Steve Jobs just stops and says, "You have to experience this. This is really cool!" It is this 'cool' experience that we have to give our employees today."

A report by Isurus Market Research & Consulting sums up the consequent IT challenges for an organisation: expect immediate responses, prefer a wider variety of communication channels and, when it comes to problem solving, often turn to Google and outside resources before contacting support.

How is this changing the equation between the superior and the subordinate in an enterprise and how can technology iron out the creases?

The Prosumer
Today, technology, especially the hardware, doesn't reach the organisation first. A distant uncle or a friend's friend flying in from abroad is delivering the device/software in the hands of your millennial employee even before conversation about introducing it in the organisation kicks off in the corner office. or BYOD as a practice was developed by organisations as a response to this trend. BYOD not only helps you minimise your costs (as the need to provide hardware to employees goes down) but also lets you piggyback on the more sophisticated devices held by your employees.

Experts say this generation has moved from BYOD to BYOA or bring your own application. BYOA doesn't pertain to the flexibility in enterprise solutions alone but also to the fulfilment of social needs. This set of professionals expect the organisation to allow the same kind of interactivity at the workplace that they enjoy outside. Rangu Salgame, CEO, growth ventures, Tata Communications, describes this phenomenon as the rise of the prosumer - defined as a consumer who becomes involved with designing or customising products for her own needs - at the workplace. "The rise of the prosumer at the workplace has been dramatic. In the olden days, IT was driven top down. The decided which apps he would roll out, which apps would sit on your desktop and manage your email or trading or interface with your suppliers. Now, all that is being decided by the employees. He adds, "As consumers we are coming in and saying that I use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking websites in my personal time. I wish to communicate with my colleagues in the same manner.

are becoming very big in enterprises."

Tata Communications' response to the employees' demand came in the form of "Chatter", a social networking platform. The Chatter app, like its equivalents in a more personal space, can work on a number of screens - be it mobile, desktop, tablet and so on. The organisation, according to Salgame, does a lot of business through Chatter today.

Social networking apps, specific to enterprises bring in a personal touch to conversations. Coffee or pantry chats have moved to social apps like Chatter, thus making it easier for organisations to keep track of conversations. All the conversations between supervisors and their subordinates in the company that happened while walking around have now moved online, not because the decided that's the way to go. "Employees wanted it, asked for it. Nearly 8,000 of our employees actively use Chatter," Salgame says.

Effectively, demand that even business processes be delivered in a social environment. Therefore, IT department is no longer in the call and respond mode. This means the has to think differently about day-to-day processes and collaborate with other departments to deliver solutions.

Take the case of India: The firm has installed apps for basic functions such as filling time sheets and claiming out-of-pocket expenses. Even some bits of training can actually be managed on the app. Utkarsh Palnitkar, head, advisory and life sciences, India, says, "Thinking technology in the context of our young leaders' expectations is crucial. We help clients think differently and move towards embracing change."

The boss
With a growing number of millennials telecommuting, there are two new demands on the technology department. One, how does the boss know if and when their telecommuting employees are actually working? Two, how does the boss offer immediate feedback to millennials to produce better results more quickly?

In theory, these two things may not be very difficult to achieve in the new results-only work environment (ROWE), where employees are assessed on the basis of their performance. The ROWE strategy, developed by former Best Buy human resources managers Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, allows employees to work whenever they want to and from wherever they are based as long as the work gets done. While a ROWE strategy may not be feasible in all kinds of businesses (hospitality, retail etc), it is making social performance platforms such as (formerly Rypple) and WorkSimple popular. Entire teams in an organisation can see who the best performers are.

Some organisations are sweetening the deal further. Pricewaterhouse Coopers, according to its website, uses a system called Acclaim Points. The firm allocates a certain number of points to employees, which they can then award to colleagues and managers when they reach certain milestones. Each point is worth about a dollar and can be redeemed at an online store for a range of things - from iPads to travel packages.

Needless to say, CIOs must be prepared for all of this. While these may appear to be internal challenges, soon similar demands will start flowing from customers and partners, an overwhelming majority of whom will be millennials.

IT policies must be formulated anticipating changes and the pace of change: Andy Chow
Andy Chow
Interview senior director, APAC Oracle

The ‘consumerisation of IT’ as a trend is attributed to millennials entering the workforce. To what extent is this group influencing the framing of IT policies?
Surveys show one out of three students (including those fresh out of college) will choose the workplace depending on the flexibility it offers in terms of device usage, mobility offered, freedom to use social networks over money. It is almost like you can pay them less if you allow them to use Facebook at work. The latest generation has embraced a whole new set of social media platforms. You have photo sharing apps like Instagram and instant messaging apps like Whatsapp. The lifespan of these platforms is decreasing. The hype cycle around a particular platform is constricting further. What this means for IT policies is that there is a need for a quicker turnaround time.

If one looks at IT on a piecemeal basis, it is possible that current policies will become obsolete very fast. A policy framed today may have to be scrapped tomorrow. IT policies must be formulated anticipating changes and the pace of change. No one expected iPhone or Android to scale popularity charts so decisively only six years back. All we can do is keep our infrastructure ready and in place to deliver.

The flexibility demand started with the device but is now extending to the ‘application’...
It is what some people call BYOA — bring your own application. It’s not technically an emerging trend. Even with the desktop, people did install their preferred software, like say the internet browser of choice. The difference was that any information on the device was locked and secure. With cloud coming in and information getting stored not on the device, there is a chance of sensitive, competitive information leaking out. Policy must be framed around what information can or cannot be uploaded to cloud. The freedom to use applications must come with a rider and even restrictions on occasion. BYOD and BYOA work in tandem for users. Companies should remember that the device for the user is an everyday device used for personal consumption too.

Even with noise levels around BYOD picking up, one observes that companies are happier providing the employee with a primary screen (desktop or laptop). The employee’s device remains a second screen. Why is it so?
There are two considerations to BYOD: one, where it may be adopted simply for providing convenience to employees. For instance, in cases where the employee is constantly on the move and needs to stay connected and execute functions on the go. Two, whether the business model itself demands it. For example, one of our Indian clients, a media company, has empowered its ad sales team that routinely goes on field and interacts with the customers to use Oracle technology. The sales team can now take orders on the spot and submit for approval. Earlier, they would meet a customer and negotiate for an ad sale but wouldn’t be able to close it if there was a question mark over the discounted rate. In cases such as this, you realise that mobility solutions don’t just provide convenience but also become a part of the business model.

How do you see the role of CIO evolve over the next couple of years?
The CIO and his team will be partners, guiding the business to take decisions about processes and the very manner in which it undertakes operations. IT will lead to fundamental changes in the way business is conducted. Consider smart metering. Earlier, you’d have to send someone out to physically read the meter. Today, you get an updated reading every 15 minutes. This has changed the business model for utility companies. They can bill the customers as per the time of the day. May be they could charge the customers more for usage during peak hours, encouraging them to shift their usage patterns, in favour of non-peak hours. IT is no longer a call centre in the organisation. It must participate actively in strategic decisions and play its part in the corner office.

First Published: Mon, May 19 2014. 00:20 IST